Joseph Zen was born in Shanghai 70 years ago. Because of the Communist regime, he was obliged to leave the People´s Republic when he was young. He returned to China in 1989 and taught in several seminaries of the official Church until 1996.
Following his episcopal appointment and some public speeches, he is now a persona non grata for the regime. “I can no longer go, I am on the blacklist,” he said with a smile. “Things are still more difficult for me, because after the government´s campaign against the canonization of the Chinese martyrs, I wrote a very strong article in a Hong Kong newspaper.”
Here, he analyzes the religious situation in the country, against the backdrop of U.S. President George W. Bush´s visit to China.
Q: If the canonization had not been on Oct. 1, would they still have had this campaign?
Bishop Zen: I think so. They needed a pretext to see if they were able to make the bishops of the official Church submit, who are no longer obeying them.
Q: Are you saying that the problem of the Chinese government at present is the bishops and priests of the official Church?
Bishop Zen: Exactly! Now almost all of them are recognized by Rome. The government fears losing control.
Q: Is the government aware of this approval?
Bishop Zen: If I know it and you know it, do you think the government doesn´t know it?
Q: Do other religions also have many problems in China?
Bishop Zen: Yes, but not like us. They yield far more easily.
Q: Do you think that much more time is needed to unblock this situation?
Bishop Zen: Yes, perhaps. However, one can still hope that things will change, perhaps over the period of three years. The Party Congress will now be held. There will be a first generational change of younger people. Then an even younger group will grow, many of whom have studied abroad. The only hope is an evolution within the Party and the political class. It is the only way to avoid a bloody epilogue.
Q: Do you fear a bloody outcome of the conflicts in China?
Bishop Zen: Yes, if they are not careful, yes, because there are many unhappy people in China.
Q: What do you expect from Bush´s visit to China?
Bishop Zen: I don´t follow politics. In any case, I don´t have much confidence in U.S. foreign policy. When other nations say something on human rights in China, Beijing is sensible. They pretend not to attach importance to it; in fact, they are afraid. We know they are afraid. It is in their interest to talk.
Q: You have taken a position on human rights many times in Hong Kong. Do you consider yourself a leader in this field?
Bishop Zen: I think the defense of human rights is part of the Church´s duty. The Gospel also calls for social commitment.
Q: What does the Church fear?
Bishop Zen: To date, they haven´t done anything to us, but they will soon do something to our schools. They want to remove our control of the schools. We have 300.
Q: When will this happen?
Bishop Zen: Soon. They have delayed it a bit. They will move slowly, but move they will. They don´t give up.
Q: How will you respond?
Bishop Zen: I have already written a letter to all the directors alerting them of the danger. For the time being, the authorities have put the plan to one side, but they will soon return to the charge. Then I will publish the letter. We need popular support because without it we will lose the battle. No, things are not going too well.
Q: Are you not optimistic about Hong Kong´s future?
Bishop Zen: Optimistic yes, in the sense that the people are wonderful. They have been able to build this city and will do even better things in the future, but this Communist system of government is ruining many things. Capitalism has also been ruined. There is no longer capitalism based on competition. Now capitalism must be developed with Chinese characteristics: all with cunning, friendships and recommendations. The rich have the doors open.
Q: With the Communist government also?
Bishop Zen: Yes. There is an open alliance between the rich of Hong Kong and the powerful of Beijing.