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Museum glorifies a hanging judge

BEIJING (AsiaNews): Village authorities in Dingan, Guangxi, plan to celebrate the expulsion of foreign Catholics from their area in 1856 with a museum celebrating the role played by a magistrate from the Qing era, Zhang Mingfeng, in sentencing a priest from the Paris Foreign Mission Society, St. Auguste Chapdelaine, to death.

The opening of the museum includes a poetry contest and the new facility boasts a six metre-tall bronze mural showing the condemned priest confined in a cage.

The region of Dingan is a major tourist area and local officials say they want to show the evil brought by those foreign devils and condemn the spiritual opium that still stifles many people in society.

The poetry contest is offering 1,000 yuan ($1,120) for the best couplets in praise of the hanging judge who presided at the trial of Father Chapdelaine.

Born on 16 January 1814 in La Rochelle, France, Father Chapdelaine was ordained a priest in 1843. In 1851 he joined the Paris Foreign Mission Society and on 29 April 1852 left Antwerp for Kuang-Si (Guangxi).

History records that in the early days of his apostolate in 1855 over 200 people received baptism. However, he stirred up envy and jealousy among local officials.

A certain Pé-San, who is described as a man of corrupt morals, learned that a woman he had seduced had become a Christian, so he denounced the presence of the missionary to the magistrate of Sy-Lin-Hien, an arch-enemy of the Christians, accusing the French priest of stirring up the people and fomenting unrest.

Zhang, the magistrate who is now being touted as a hero, sent guards to Yan-Chan to arrest Father Chapdelaine. However, he had been forewarned and had fled to the house of a Christian writer in Sy-Lin-Hien.

On 25 February 1856, guards surrounded and searched the house. Father Chapdelaine, four other Christians and the host’s second son were all arrested. Overall some 25 people were taken into custody, beaten with bamboo sticks, chained and collared.

On February 26, the missionary was questioned, accused and whipped hundreds of times with a bamboo stick that left welts all over his body. 

The next day he was chained by his knees and bent over iron bars for two days while waiting for Christians to pay a ransom.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, from the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, was quoted by UCAN as saying that history has accused Father Chapdelaine of collaborating with corrupt local officials and raping women. 

But in fact his detractors are confusing him with a bandit called Ma Zinong, who lived at a much later stage in the Qing Dynasty.

Father Chapdelaine was sentenced to die in a cage. But on 29 February 1856, he was hanged by the neck until dead. 

Beatified on 27 May 1900 by Pope Leo XIII, he was proclaimed a saint on 1 October 2000 by Pope John Paul II as one of the 120 Chinese Martyrs.

The decision to canonise the missionary—along with other people from China on the day that celebrates the foundation of the People’s Republic of China—proved to be a red rag to a bull.

An article published by Xinhua in September 2000, titled, Unmasking the so-called saints, gave a list of crimes that Father Chapdelaine, St. Alberico Crescitell and a Spanish Dominican, Father Francisco Fernandez de Capillas, from the Qing era were accused of.

The Dingan museum is not just a nationalist tourist facility, but dovetails with the government drive of Sinicisation of religion in the country.

“Western cultural influence highlights a certain moral vacuum in today’s Chinese society, caught between widespread corruption and the worship of money, where the Communist Party has lost its pivotal role,” AsiaNews was told. “Thus, Sinicisation is meant to provide society with other values.”

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