THE WAR YEARS
With the outbreak of war, the faculties and many of the students of the great state universities of the north fled to southwest China to continue their intellectual work in such a way as to aid in their government's resistance against Japan. Yanjing, the American Protestant university in Beiping, was closed after Pearl Harbor, and its core students and faculty also went to the southwest. But like Fu Ren University, the Catholic University in Beiping, Gong Shang College remained open where it was. The Jesuits seem not to have given any serious thought to moving to the southwest.
Now the challenge of maintaining the boundaries between their urban university and a wartorn world was more difficult than ever. The Jesuit solution was to defend the boundaries more energetically than ever, even if this meant bearing the moral burden of making personal compromises with worldly powers in order to protect the students behind their walls.
There were good Catholic theological reasons for rationalizing that it was more important for the church to be present in the midst of a troubled society, offering its sacraments to Catholics and incorporating as many social institutions as possible under its hierarchy, than for the church to be effective in pursuing any particular human cause. Thus the Jesuits of Gong Shang College focused their attention on the sheer survival of their institution, and were willing to make what compromises were necessary in teaching and behavior in order to ensure that survival. There was a logic, a moral integrity to this position. But to outsiders unsympathetic to the church, it would look dangerously like collaboration with the enemy.
In other Catholic institutions, theological reasons were found for a more active resistance. Notably, behind the walls of Fu Ren University in Beiping, Chinese
Thus, in 1938, there arrived from Japan a Fr. Borsch, the first in a series of German Jesuits who would be assigned to the Jesuit community at Gong Shang College to help the Jesuits mediate with the Japanese occupation forces. Fr. Borsch and his successors also ministered to the spiritual needs of Catholics in the Japanese military community. He said mass for them, heard their confessions, and offered spiritual counsel. If the Jesuit educational mission in Tianjin was no longer identified with French culture and politics, it was no longer unambiguously identified with Chinese culture and political aspirations either. Serving China's enemies, as well as Chinese themselves, it projected a vision of Catholicism as standing above all culture and politics. The survival of the church—and the major institutions affiliated with the church—was an end in itself. Even if the church could do nothing, would do nothing, directly to help the Chinese people fulfill their greatest immediate historical need—the need to resist Japan—the church, by surviving, by maintaining a presence through Gong Shang College among the upper classes of Tianjin, could in the long run, in God's mysterious ways, bring them eternal benefits.
In the meantime, the Jesuits did what they could to alleviate some of the misery of the war. They distributed food and clothing to refugees streaming into Tianjin. They continued to carry out baptisms—they rejoiced to report thirty new baptisms in 1938—and to administer the other sacraments. And in Tianjin, they continued their educational enterprise.
In ways the Jesuits could perhaps never have anticipated, that enterprise indeed flourished. Since Gong Shang College was the only institution of higher learning still open in Tianjin, it drew in more students than ever before, students whose affluent families were willing to pay the high tuition necessary to support the college. The number of students in the handsome campus on Racecourse Road went from about six hundred in 1937 to almost two thousand by 1945. In 1943, the expansive tide was running strongly enough that the Jesuits opened a new women's division
To all external appearances at least, the school atmosphere remained completely apolitical. There is something eerie about reading the school yearbook for 1940. It is full of stories of athletic contests waged, friendships formed, technical skills acquired, eternal verities learned, good traits of character— "honesty, energy, straightforwardness" —developed. But there is almost nothing that would suggest that a war was raging in China, and for that matter in Europe. The closest one gets to a feeling that there is something amiss is a poem written by one of the graduating students: "We are now preparing to enter a dark [heian] society. We have to change it—make it glorious…. We have to make a new society—or at least not allow ourselves to be corrupted by an evil society. Before you, you see thorns and wild beasts—but this is your chance for glory. Take up sword and spear, and hoe." Whatever agonies such a student would face, however, would come after he left the sheltered walls of the college. Gong Shang College was an island of light and serenity in a dark and storming world.
The Jesuits kept it that way by, among other things, keeping all books "critical of a certain country" out of the parts of the library open to public access. If such books were to be consulted, they could be done so only by specially approved students, and the books could not be taken back to dormitories. Besides suppressing any public criticism of the Japanese, the Jesuits acceded to the Japanese demand that study of the Japanese language be required for graduation. A Japanese teacher sent from Japan was added to the faculty for this purpose. The Jesuits also submitted themselves to regular scrutiny by Japanese inspectors. They seemed to develop good rapport with the inspectors. In 1943, they even received a visit— which "went very well" —by a delegate from the imperial household.
Some students nonetheless carried out anti-Japanese activities, including it seems, in 1944 at least, sabotage against Japanese property. When the Japanese became suspicious of some of the students residing in the school and came to investigate, the Jesuits protected the students by getting rid of any evidence that would have compromised them. If the evidence had been found, "this would have led to the ruin of the University and the condemnation to certain death of the students." Because the Jesuits protected the anti-Japanese students in this way, "some of our students were not willing to accuse us, as they were pressured to do later, of being imperialists and enemies of China."
The Jesuits were indeed eventually accused by the Communists of being Japanese collaborators as well as imperialists. They might claim that they did nothing to advance the Japanese war effort and cooperated with the Japanese only enough to ensure the survival of their college and their mission. They would point to the way that they shielded some anti-Japanese students from prosecution. But they also did
Protestants such as those who ran Yanjing University might have answered in the negative. They might have thought that no institution is indispensable for conveying God's grace, since God speaks directly to each believer's heart. They could justify moving their institution away from Beiping to Chengdu so that it could carry out its work without compromise. For Catholics, God becomes present through the institution of the church. The church has to be present in all of its essential hierarchical order in every place under every circumstance for sacramental grace to be conveyed. Therefore the fundamental institutions of the church had to be preserved in north China, had to remain available to the faithful no matter what hardships this might cause its ministers, even if this entailed compromising with the principalities and powers of a sinful society. Of course, there is nothing in Catholic theology that says a church-run college is a fundamental institution of the church. But it is easy enough for people who have invested their lives in building up such an institution, in a belief that this was part of their God-given vocation, to tell themselves that it was God's will that their school continue at all costs.
If for the French Jesuits the effort to keep the school open sprang from a theologically inspired vision of maintaining the presence of the church, for many of the Chinese who attended the school and taught in the school it presented a practical opportunity for making the best of a bad situation. The college was not as good as, say, Nankai, but it presented an opportunity to continue one's education or to practice one's profession in a hard time. Almost all of the nonclerical foreign teachers who had been at the school during the 1930s left at the outbreak of the war. The school provided job opportunities for an increasing number of talented young Chinese scholars. For its increasing numbers of students, the school provided a good technical education and a living space with some serenity and security. During the war years, Gong Shang College became more Chinese than ever. The proportion of non-Catholic Chinese students to Catholic students increased, as did the proportion of secular Chinese faculty to foreign Jesuits. The school gained a place in the hearts of wealthy Tianjin families who in other times would have sent their students to Nankai or Beiyang Universities. But the school became Chinese in a way that associated it with a particular kind of Chinese identity—a kind that would not fare well in the ideological campaigns of the Maoist era.
Whatever the theological rationale for staying in Tianjin, the paternalistic, protective orientation of Gong Shang College provided Chinese urban middle classes with a model for being Chinese in a time of great stress. If you cannot avoid a situation, then passively accept it, make some compromises to stay close to those family members and colleagues for whom you bear special responsibility, try to escape the vicissitudes of a bad time by dwelling on timeless truths, conceal your true feelings from those hostile to you, keep yourself under control—and wait. While the