In the early 1950s, Gong Shang College was dismantled and its libraries and other resources used to form the basis of the three main institutions of higher education in Hebei Province—Hebei University, which occupied the Gong Shang campus in Tianjin, Hebei Normal University, which was built in Shijiazhuang after 1953, and Hebei Normal School, which is located in Zhangjiakou. During the Cultural Revolution, Hebei University was moved from Tianjin to Baoding. The campus built by the Jesuits is now used by the Tianjin Foreign Language Institute, although a small part is still used to house Hebei University students and faculty who need to do research in Tianjin.
For a few years after the Jesuits left in 1951, the public chapel remained open and one of the Chinese priests came daily to offer mass. Control over the Chinese Catholic Church steadily tightened, however. The government began a movement to force Catholics to renounce foreign ties and to submit to "Catholic reform committees" controlled by the government's Religious Affairs Bureau and the Communist Party's United Front Work Department. Eventually, by the mid-1950s, the government had set up a mass organization called the "Catholic Patriotic Association" to be the liaison between Catholics and the government. The Vatican denounced these arrangements. The government arrested bishops and priests who supported the Vatican, a persecution that reached a high point during the anti-rightist campaign. At the same time, a small percentage of China's priests and bishops supported the Patriotic Association. One of the most prominent among them was the Jesuit Bishop Francis Xavier Zhao Zhensheng, the first Chinese figurehead president of Gong Shang College, who had in 1937 been ordained a bishop and made the Vicar Apostolic of Xian county. In 1957, several Chinese bishops carried out ordinations of new Chinese bishops, who had been elected by the Catholic Patriotic Association but not approved by the Vatican.
Thus was born a tragic split within the Chinese Catholic Church between those who supported the Patriotic Association and were allowed to continue to worship publicly and those who resisted and were forced to carry out their religious activities underground. Most bishops and priests who supported the underground were put into prison, becoming in the minds of most Chinese Catholics martyrs for the faith.
During the Cultural Revolution all religious activity, even that associated with the Patriotic Association, was suppressed, and all churches were closed. In the post-Mao era of "Reform and Opening," the government allowed public Catholic religious life to resume. This led to an extraordinary resurgence in Catholic life.
The troubles of this new situation are the result of the confrontation between a new political situation and the older forms of community we have seen exemplified in the history of Gong Shang College. Now, as then, Catholic identity is defined in terms of status within a hierarchical structure of authority. Now, as then, an important part of the responsibility of the priests and bishops who occupy higher levels of the hierarchy is to patrol the boundaries between church and world and to protect ordinary Catholics from that world.
In the current political situation, protecting one's Catholic flock confronts Chinese bishops and priests with terrible dilemmas. Should they—as the Jesuits did at Gong Shang College under the Japanese—make compromises with the powers of this world in order to protect a space for Catholics in their charge? Or should they resist heroically, even though this might invite a hostile government to completely suppress their community? Many of the bishops and priests who have cooperated sufficiently with the Catholic Patriotic Association to be allowed to work aboveground are not opportunistic collaborators but simply people who are doing their best to protect the church under difficult and ambiguous conditions.
Because the Chinese Catholic community sees itself in such a hierarchical fashion, enormous responsibility is placed on the shoulders of these clerics. But now it is doubly difficult to fulfill that responsibility, because the authority of many of the clerics is questionable. In the first half of this century, during hard times like the Sino-Japanese War, the difficult decisions made by priests like those at Gong Shang College were not open to debate by those under them. But now the Chinese Catholic community bitterly debates the decisions made by its priests. Still following a Counter Reformation model of the church, many of the laity might say that they ought to give unquestioning obedience to a legitimate priestly authority. But it is unclear who is legitimate, because the Vatican has no diplomatic relations with the People's Republic and it cannot send a papal delegate to adjudicate between the claims of, say, the three bishops who claim to be the legitimate authority in the Tianjin diocese.
Although one way to solve this problem would be to reestablish a clear chain of command to the Vatican, another way would be to deemphasize the importance of hierarchy in the Catholic Church. This could be done by emphasizing a biblically based vision of the church as a "people of God." If taken seriously, this would lead to a less paternalistic kind of church, one that did not try to protect believers from the world but inspired each believer to take an active, mature responsibility for his or her actions in the world. In line with the principle of Catholic social philosophy called "subsidiarity," which emphasizes the need for responsible authority to be exercised at the lowest practicable levels, this vision of the church would also encourage believers to govern themselves in most matters from the bottom up, rather than wait for authoritative commands from the top down. In the mid-1960s, the Second Vatican Council, inspired in part by the theological vision reached by Teilhard de Chardin while he was in Tianjin, called for just such a new understanding of the church—a Catholic community that would not try to dominate the world or to set itself apart from the world, but would learn God's will by discerning the signs of the times within the history of the world. Because of its long isolation under the Communist regime, the Chinese Catholic Church is only now, very slowly, beginning to assimilate this modern Catholic vision.
The problems of the Chinese Catholic Church are in some ways reflective of problems of contemporary Chinese culture as a whole. Chinese cultural traditions are very complex, and there are strands that could support an open, entrepreneurial modern society as well as strands that would support a relatively closed, static society. In the twentieth century, the Maoist Communists played on the latter, in effect combining some of the worst of East and West into a political culture that, though changing now, still shapes life in Mainland China. There are many strands too in Catholic traditions, some of which are quite compatible with open, pluralistic modern societies. But the version of European Counter Reformation theology that was propagated in north China in the first half of this century resonated with some of the more defensive, authoritarian strands of Chinese culture—indeed, some of the same strands that Communist ideology resonated with. The Catholic idea that paternalistic authority figures must protect those passive subjects under them has its parallels with Confucian paternalism. The concern about building barriers between the church and the world has its parallel in a Chinese obsession—encouraged also by conservative Communists—with building walls to keep out foreign influences and unsettling thoughts.
And the crisis of China at the end of the twentieth century is parallel with the concurrent crisis of the Chinese Catholic Church. Too much of the population is too oriented to authority, inclined to be politically passive, never having had the opportunity to develop habits of responsible self-governance. But at the same time, they can no longer accept the legitimacy of the authorities governing them. Out of such painful dilemmas, we may hope, might come new forms of religious and political reformation that will combine some of the most forward-looking elements