GONG SHANG COLLEGE
The first part of the school's French identity to be diminished was its devotion to the French language. Students would be attracted to a school that used French as its principal language of instruction, it had been thought, because they would have special access to jobs as engineers for the French-owned railroads or as managers in the French commercial houses. But in north China, the political and economic power of France was waning. As a "Note on French Influence in the Tianjin Institute" observed in 1933, "Railroads that utilize French-speaking engineers have gone into Chinese hands. As far as commerce is concerned, even in the French houses, there is not much place for people who speak only French and no English." Moreover, in the middle schools that were the primary source of recruitment to the Institut des Hautes Etudes, the primary foreign language was English, not French. Therefore, the primacy of the French language was "paralyzing the development of the school."
For a way out of this problem, the Jesuits solicited the opinions of competent persons, "in particular members of the French colony [sic]." They agreed that "English [not Chinese!] was the language of commercial affairs and industry in China." The Jesuits decided, therefore, that they had to adopt English as the school's principal foreign language. "If an evil, this is a necessary evil."
They took great pains, however, to assure their French friends and supporters—and perhaps to assure themselves as well—that, even without the language, the school would still purvey French culture. The school would still use "French methods, French books, translated into English or Chinese[,]… Chinese professors trained in France, and a total system of general education completely different from the American system of departments and the Chinese system, which is a copy of the American." The school had a reputation of being French, and the students who came to it demanded, "if not an education in French, at least the education of France."
The school could maintain a French-style education, however, only if it controlled the shape of its curriculum. In 1933, this capacity, too, was taken away. The school was forced to seek accreditation under the Nanjing government's Ministry
At first the Jesuits were reluctant about seeking accreditation from Nanjing. From the beginning they had prided themselves on the independence of their school from Chinese political control—though not from French government approval and support. As a condition for Chinese government approval, they would have to appoint a Chinese president and a Chinese prefect of studies and ensure "equal treatment for Chinese personnel." Furthermore they would have to officially register the school's name—a Chinese name—with the Ministry of Education. The formal control of the school would pass from French to Chinese hands, and the formal identity of the school would become Chinese.
In the long run, though, there was no way to resist the need for accreditation. Without official recognition for their degrees, the students could not get jobs in Chinese organizations. Though they could get jobs in foreign firms, these were gradually being taken over by the Chinese; and it was clear that the days of the foreign concessions were numbered. The French Jesuits would be acting within a world in which they could no longer rely on French culture to provide the buffer separating their Catholic community from the non-Catholic world. Finally, the argument for accreditation was sealed by appeal to political and ecclesiastical authority: "the French foreign ministry recommends it"; and Cardinal Constantini, the Vatican's Apostolic Delegate to China, approved it. Thus in 1934, the school was duly registered in Nanjing under the name Gong Shang College.
In the thinking of the French Jesuit missionaries, however, the school could fulfill its religious mission only if it were at least informally under French clerical control. To facilitate the accreditation, they had named as president a Chinese Jesuit with a doctorate in philosophy from Louvain, Fr. Francis Xavier Zhao Zhensheng. Fr. Zhao was chosen, the official Jesuit history says, "to legally represent the Institut in its official relationships." From the tone of their discussion, it seems clear that this talented Chinese priest was only a figurehead. The person really in charge of the college was not the president, but the rector, Fr. Rene Charvet. Once accreditation was granted, Fr. Zhao was replaced as legal president by a Mr. Hua, who had been working in the service of one of the French priests, was "well in the hand" of this priest, had been educated in France, and was a "Francophile." The French Jesuits remained firmly in control of the college.
But their ability to exercise their control gradually waned, not because of anything the Chinese government did, but because of a lack of Jesuit personnel and funds from France. Although the lack of funds caused by the depression in Europe was serious, even more serious was the lack of manpower. Even as the Gong Shang College had expanded in size and complexity—in the 1930s, for instance, it added departments of architecture and chemical engineering—fewer Jesuits were available for the mission in China. Out of fifty faculty members, only six were Jesuits. A report written in 1937 by Fr. Pollet, the vice rector, noted that only 33 out
The attenuation of priestly influence now meant, Fr. Pollet thought, that the school had to be more discriminating in the work that it undertook. When the Jesuits first established their Institut des Hautes Etudes, they were unclear as to their goals. Now they had to define more clearly what they were about. For instance, the college had recently added a department of civil engineering, even though there were no Jesuits trained as civil engineers to be part of such a department. Should they refrain from adding new departments if there were no priests to be part of the staff?
In response, Fr. Charvet, who served several stints as rector of the college, wrote that the addition of new departments should be based on national need rather than simply the availability of a priest. For instance, it was important for the college to have a chemical engineering department, even though there were no Jesuits available who were trained in that field. Chemical engineering was important for the development of Chinese industry—for making Chinese products meet international standards. It seems that Fr. Charvet's view prevailed.
What was going on in this debate was a further shift in the Jesuits' understanding of how they should draw the boundaries between their Catholic academic community and the world. Now that the distinction could no longer be based on French culture, it was based more exclusively on French clerical authority. The school was Catholic not because it formally taught much that was distinctively Catholic and not even because it inculcated a way of life that made its students visibly different from non-Catholics. It was Catholic because it was controlled by priests, who were themselves under the authority of the Catholic hierarchy.
This way of thinking can be understood in terms of the sociological distinction made by Ernst Troeltsch between church and sect. These two forms of religious life have contrasting styles of origination justified by contrasting ways of thought. The mentality of the French Jesuits in charge of Gong Shang College was typical of that in Troeltsch's model of a church.
Unlike the ideal typical sect, which is an exclusive group of active believers out to change the world, the church is an inclusive institution that conforms to the world. The leaders of a sect would deem themselves successful to the degree that they get all of the members of the sect to fervently believe and practice its common teachings. The leaders of a church would not expect all of the church members to be fervent believers, because the church is inclusive—it embraces good and bad people alike. The success of the church is measured by how many people it brings within its realm. As long as they are within that realm, some bad people will
But without French cultural or political influence to back up their ecclesiastical authority, the priests had to work harder to patrol the boundary between the Catholic community and world. In the meantime, it became easier for Chinese currents of culture and politics to pour into the school. To an ever greater degree, in other words, Chinese students shaped the school for their own purposes. Nonetheless, they could never completely ignore the boundaries established and still shakily maintained by the Jesuits. The school amplified certain aspects of Chinese culture and dampened others.
Whether they were Catholic or non-Catholic, did the kinds of students attracted to Gong Shang College tend to understand their identity and role in society in ways different from students who attended Protestant or state-run schools? The best available source to consult in order to assess student mentalities is the annual yearbooks issued by the school—I have editions from 1937, 1939, 1940, 1948, and 1950. Like yearbooks in American colleges, these were edited by graduating seniors, under the supervision of some faculty members—usually including, in the case of Gong Shang College, one of the priests. However, the entries have a freshness, a naïveté, a spontaneity that suggest they represent authentic attitudes.
One of the most striking qualities of the yearbooks is what they leave out. There is hardly any mention of religion. Even on the pages of pictures of the school, there is hardly anything—perhaps only a single small picture of a statue of the Blessed Virgin in a campus grotto—that would suggest the college was a religious school. In the 1937 yearbook (published in June, just a month before the outbreak of war with Japan) students each state what person they most admire and wish to emulate. Twenty out of forty-eight students mention Chiang Kai-shek. A half dozen mention Sun Yatsen. Some invoke foreigners like Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln. A few cite Confucius or Zhuangzi. Only one says Jesus.
The yearbooks have more to say about morality, but it is not very profound. They are prefaced with platitudinous moral exhortations from the Jesuits. For example, Fr. Pollet, then serving as dean of studies, urges, "Believe what you think to
Socially, the students seem naive and sheltered. Consider their accounts of the two months of military training mandated by the Nanjing government, at a military camp near Baoding during the 1936–37 school year. The Jesuits were unhappy with this requirement—concerned about the disruption to the academic year, worried about how the students would suffer from being away from home and living in primitive conditions, and anxious about temptations to the Catholic students' faith and morals. But many of the students seemed to have found this training to be one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives. The yearbook contains a long essay describing one student's experience, and there are a number of shorter references to the training. It is apparent from these accounts that most of the students had never traveled far from home, and certainly not lived in the countryside. They are moved by the poverty and primitive living conditions of the countryside. The long essay describes at great length the barracks, bathing facilities, and meals at the military camp, which were considerably harsher (though probably not nearly as harsh as most peasant accommodations) than anything the writer had experienced before. But the students felt that they gained tremendous benefits from this training. It had toughened their bodies, strengthened their wills, and given them a patriotic way of thinking. One of the students wrote a poem upon reaching a summit after a day's march: "Who says that north China produces traitors and running dogs. / We are still the sons of China who will construct China. / Sleep! / We will use our blood and sweat to cleanse away our fatherland's shame. / Don't forget! / This is a day to remember." Several accounts spoke of the students weeping bitterly when the training was over.
In this extracurricular training, the students gained a toughness and a patriotic determination that their college had not provided. When they expressed their aspirations in the 1937 yearbook, the graduating seniors now talked in the nationalistic, patriotic terms that most of their young contemporaries would have used on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War. One difference between the patriotism developed at Gong Shang College and that expressed in places like Yanjing or Beida, however, was that the Gong Shang students were less willing to take matters into their own hands; they did not want to challenge duly constituted government authority.
For instance, according to a student narrative of the principal events of 1936, "the most satisfying part of this year was the attitude of our fellow students. Anybody who knows anything about society knows about the 1936 student movements. What use would it have been to have carried on demonstrations and to have boycotted classes to indirectly express unhappiness because of some unnecessary events? This was simply an opportunity for some leaders to achieve a kind of success. All of the members of our class—more than sixty of us—knew the futility of boycotting classes and demonstrating. We thought that any agitation that
In their own history of the college, the French Jesuits took pride in having discouraged student activism. However much neighboring university campuses like Nankai University might have been convulsed by nationalist movements of 1925, 1931, 1935–36, the Jesuits managed to keep the trouble out of their campus. It seems that the kinds of students who came to Gong Shang College were mostly willing to internalize this Jesuit attitude. The confluence between Jesuit convictions and student aspirations produced an apolitical school atmosphere. It sustained a vision of China in which intelligent elites of good character who worked hard within the established political system would make China into a better place, for the greater glory of God.
It was a vision that did not challenge the prevailing class system. The students of Gong Shang College were a privileged, indeed pampered, elite. Nothing the Jesuits taught suggested that they would have to give up those privileges. The logic of the school's religious orientation was protective rather than socially activist. If the social gospel encouraged students in Protestant universities to enter Chinese history so as to transform it (as suggested by the Yanjing University motto, "Freedom through Truth for Service"), the Counter Reformation Catholic vision institutionalized in Gong Shang College encouraged students to escape from Chinese history so as to be saved from it. When the Jesuits did encourage the students to engage in social service beyond the walls of the school, they did this only for the school's spiritual elite, a special association of the most devout Catholics among the student body. Members of this association not only attended mass daily but also participated in works of charity, such as visiting prisons, bringing Christmas toys to orphanages, and so on. But it was charity aimed at smoothing the rough edges of a harsh society without challenging the structure of that society and carried out under careful supervision so as to keep its practitioners from being sullied by that society.
In philosophy and social science courses, the Jesuits provided an intellectual rationale for this stance. A course on sociological theory offered in the 1940s was centered on "the social problem: critical examination of the various solutions that have been proposed (liberal, socialistic, Catholic doctrines)." I do not have any more detailed information about the content of this course, or about the content of an article one of the Jesuits wrote in the 1930s—in Beichen (Ave Maris Stella), a magazine for Catholic intellectuals established at Gong Shang College in the late 1920s but later moved to Beiping's Fu Ren University—about applying the teaching of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum to Chinese society. We may assume, however, that the Jesuit thinking followed closely the principles promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical
I doubt whether Gong Shang College students, especially the non-Catholics, were deeply influenced by hearing lectures or reading articles on this Catholic social theory. But the ethos of the school, its cultivation of the bonne bourgeoisie, its discouragement of political activism, its emphasis on moral character development and ameliorative noblesse oblige, constituted a living instantiation of this teaching. Unfortunately, such a vision of society was of little relevance to the brutal struggle that was about to engulf China as the Sino-Japanese War began.