Peter R. Moody is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Notre Dame. He has taught about and written on Chinese politics, Chinese political thought, East Asian political systems, and international relations in East Asia.
Li Ruohan, the pseudonym of a writer from northern China, has compared the September 2018 provisional agreement between the Vatican and the PRC with the 1801 Concordat between the Vatican and Napoleon Bonaparte, finding striking similarities–all of them to the detriment to the dignity and independence to the Church: both validate the restructuring of dioceses by the state; both give the state control over religious activities, allowing merely formal recognition of the powers of the Pope; both work to the advantage of clergy that had previously cooperated with the state over those who had resisted the state’s attempts to subjugate and replace the Church.
Various sources, including the Chinese section of the Voice of America, have been carrying speculation concerning the rising prominence of Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), wife of State Chairman and Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, in the official Chinese media. Miss Peng is Xi’s second wife. When they married in the early 1990s she was a noted entertainer and singer, and continued her own career after marriage, often living apart from her husband. She has been appearing together with him at various state functions. The picture above shows the various foreign grandees attending an import exposition in Shanghai, with Chairman Xi and his wife front and center, no other Chinese leaders featured.
The New York Times has published an extended critique by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun (陳日君—Mandarin pronunciation: Chen Rijun), Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, of the September provisional agreement between the Vatican and Beijing, whereby the Vatican agrees to recognize those Chinese bishops appointed by the political authorities (via the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association), and the political authorities in turn allow the Pope a veto over the appointment of future bishops. Zen asserts that the Pope has been fooled both by the Chinese authorities and by his own bureaucracy. The Pope is an Argentine and all of his life has seen communists as the oppressed. He does not understand that when they gain power they become the oppressors. The Pope desires that the official and underground communities in China come together again, but the consequence will be “the annihilation of the real church in China.” “If I were a cartoonist,” Zen says, “I would draw the Holy Father on his knees offering the keys of the kingdom of heaven to President Xi Jinping and saying, ‘Please recognize me as the pope.’”
The dragon is a gentle beast. If you indulge him and humor him, you may ride on his back. But beneath his throat there are transverse scales a foot long, and if you touch those scales, he will kill you. The lord of men also has transverse scales. Someone who is able to avoid touching the ruler’s transverse scales is well on the way to mastering the art of persuasion.
This is a passage from the Han Feizi, considered to be one of the early masterpieces of Chinese prose. The book named for its assumed author, Han Fei (c.279-233 BC), the major thinker in the “Legalist” tradition. The Legalists believed that the way to public order was through a strict set of laws rigorously and impartially enforced. They assumed human beings were inherently self-seeking: each one of us is out for one’s self. The way to stable order is to assure that good behavior, as set forth in the laws, is rewarded, and that violations of the laws punished. Good behavior will then accord with self-interest. There is much in Han Fei’s thinking that is consistent with contemporaryrational choice theory.
On September 22, the Holy See announced it had reached a “provisional agreement” with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops. This deal may undermine Chinese Catholics, many of whom may secularize or go Pentecostal. Or the deal may subtly undermine the Communist Party’s authority by recognizing some papal authority.