One of this year’s most eagerly awaited books about freedom of religion, The Persecution of Catholics in China (La persecuzione dei cattolici in Cina, Sugarco Edizioni, Milan, pgs. 144, Euro 12,50), was presented to the general public at Palazzo Valentini in Rome at an event organized by the “Laogai Research Foundation. In addition to the book’s editor, Ms Francesca Romana Poleggi, and the president of the Italian branch of the “Laogai Research Foundation”, Mr. Toni Brandi, the evening’s speakers included journalists and politicians from differing backgrounds, such as Aldo Forbice, a very popular voice on Radio UNO, Federico Iadicicco, vice president of the Cultural Commission of the Province of Rome, and Fabio Bernabei, editor of a recent book on Christians in emergency situations in various parts of the world. In his opening speech Mr. Forbice used some concrete data to call to mind the drama of the absence of human rights in China: in fact, there are between 8,000 and 10,000 executions each year, but this figure has most likely been rounded off downwards due to the non availability of credible estimates from official sources. Naturally included among those condemned to death are not only ordinary criminals, but likewise political dissidents, enemies of the party, and above all those moral and spiritual authorities that dare question or challenge the materialistic ideology spread by the omnipresent public and freedom-killing apparatus: paying the highest price in this last case are Christians, and Catholics in particular. As we know, the Chinese regime still considers the only official Church to be the one financed directly by the party (the so-called ‘patriotic’ Church created in 1957 by the dictator Mao Tse-tung [1893-1976]), and despite some recent steps forward in the area of diplomacy considers the Catholic Church to be a foreign power, which has neither the right to exercise freedom of choice in appointing bishops, nor to live an autonomous and independent life with respect to the state. As we read in the book, many indeed are the witnesses of the faith who have paid in person for this fidelity to the Holy Father and the universal Church, while other Christians have become renowned throughout the world in the wake of striking international episodes (for example, the 2010 Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is still under arrest for having repeatedly and resolutely called for the respect of human rights in his homeland). Recalled as well are two heroic bishops about whose whereabouts no one has known anything for years (AsiaNews, the missionary news agency of Fr. Bernardo Cervelliera, launched a recent campaign all on its own to bring them back on the radar screen): Most Rev. Giacomo Su Zhimin (80 years old, 40 of which behind bars, and under arrest somewhere unknown since 1997) and Most Rev. Cosma Shi Enxiang (90 years old, 51 of which in jail, and no news of his whereabouts since 2001. In the face of such episodes Mr. Forbice therefore stigmatised the passivity on the part of western countries, which continue to entertain self-serving trade relations with the Chinese economic giant (but where offsetting the dizzying pace of development is the fact that 70% of the people still live below the poverty threshold, and 200 million people are reported to live with less than one US dollar a day), carefully refraining from requesting minimum guarantees regarding common standards of freedom and democracy.
According to this journalist, however, this does nothing but worsen the situation, especially at the expense of the Chinese people themselves, who witness the foreign superpowers ignoring that culture of rights they so often proclaim in a superficial manner. Mr. Bernabei spoke very much along the same lines, and yet highlighted the fact that the accurate studies carried out by the “Laogai Research Foundation” also project some signs of hope; for example the many ‘underground’ conversions in the recent past, and a thirst for spirituality and truth often nurtured at the cost of death itself (in some cases also among exponents of the Communist Party at the helm of the country).
Mr. Federico Iadicicco then took the floor to revisit the parabola of the totalitarian atheistic regimes in power during the XX century, dwelling on the fact that “once God is cancelled from the horizon of politics and the economy, experience shows us that sooner or later man is cancelled as well”. Then again, and albeit from different yet mirror-like viewpoints, aren’t lagers and gulags an outcome of one and the same Hegelian-Marxist concept of history? What is even more surprising today, nonetheless, is the following fact: while lagers and gulags – also in the wake of a political and cultural battle lasting decades – strike a certain chord in the awareness of public opinion at large, the same cannot be said about the laogai, about this ultimate experiment still underway (leaving aside the ‘strange metamorphosis’ witnessed over the last few years with the ruling Communist party in the process of rendering legitimate the most unbridled forms of post-modern capitalism), and this can be ascribed to widespread ignorance proven by the fact that the selfsame evocation of this name of death (laogai literally means ‘labour camp’) no longer triggers the same reaction of outrage. After the downfall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, people in the XXI century find it hard to believe that somewhere in this globalized world there can still be concentration camps where human beings are treated like animals, bereft of any rights whatsoever and with no dignity at all. In China, however, this is the dramatic situation of daily life for many Chinese citizens, for many parents of families (according to the latest census, more than 1,000 of these ‘labour camps’ are reported to open to date).
Toni Brandi, on the other hand, dwelt upon another aspect ordinarily disregarded by the major mass media and which reveals new and rather alarming responsibilities of the regime: this is the widespread trafficking of human organs at the expense of persons condemned to death, often in contempt of any elementary rule of law. Worthy of note in this regard is the publication edited by the Italian branch of the Foundation (China. Trafficking in death. Trade in the organs of those on death row, Guerini Editore, Rome 2008), as well as the fact that constant updates are accessible at www.laogai.it. In conclusion, Ms Francesca Romana Poleggi, the editor of the book and member of the Executive Committee of the “Laogai Research Foundation” recalled the importance of “religious roots”, highlighting how the presence of Christians in China is not a recent phenomenon, as people believe at times: this presence dates back to the VII century, passes through the heroic missionary work of Fr. Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), and after numerous inculturation efforts with contradictory results, comes down to our present day and age, likewise surmounting the terrible period of the so-called ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-1976), which was the cause for one of the greatest mass massacres of our times (even among historians no one is sure of the exact number of victims, but the total is reported to be between 5 and 7 million people). However, as the courageous testimonials of so many men and women of civil society illustrate (Mr. Poleggi referred to the latest case of Chen Guangcheng, the renowned lawyer and pro-life activist blind since birth, who has repeatedly denounced the single child policy applied in the country, and is now in the United States in the wake an international diplomatic face-off), there is also another China, which exists and people have to know about, because this is a China that each and every day, often underground and in most dramatic conditions, continues fighting for the respect of human dignity and freedom: no one who really takes the cause of justice to heart can take the liberty of leaving this China all on its own.