CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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A dove flying against the wind

LOS ANGELES (SE): Brother Peter Zhou Bangjiu is indeed a dove that flew against the wind. When the People’s Republic of China was about to be proclaimed, Brother Zhou was a young seminarian with the Benedictines in St. Andrew’s Abbey and had just taken his first vows when Chengdu was captured by the Communist army in 1949.
 
Although originally a foundation from Belgium, the monastery eventually relocated to California in the United States of America and Brother Zhou, who is now 91-years-old, is the only living link with its Chinese past.
 
Brother Zhou has now written a book on his experience of some 30 years as a prisoner in China, between his arrest in 1955 and eventual release in 1985, entitled, The faithful dove flies against the wind.
 
In recommending the book, Brent Fulton writes in ChinaSource that Brother Zhou originally received a 20-year sentence, but it was extended twice due to his refusal to repent for his crimes against the state.
 
“During one episode of intense interrogation in 1970, he was handcuffed and arm-cuffed for a period of three weeks, his limbs bound painfully behind his back,” Fulton summarises.
 
“When guards realised that this torture had permanently disabled Zhou’s right hand, they removed the cuffs and instead shackled his feet. The shackles would remain for five years.
 
“To keep his mind active while in labour camp, he composed poems commemorating various incidents leading up to and during his imprisonment. Having no access to paper and pen, he committed these poems to memory.
 
“They would eventually number more than 2,000. When Zhou was finally released he began to transcribe them and, later, to translate many into English and French,” Fulton notes.
 
Brother Zhou’s poetry provides a prisoner’s-eye view of the turbulent events that took place outside the labour camp. But interspersed with his commentary is his hope that he would one day be released, tempered by his insistence that he would not bow to official pressure in order to win his freedom.
 
When his third appeal for a reconsideration of his sentence was rejected, he mused:
 
I wielded my pen to upbraid the slanders,
Showing my loyalty once more,
The three thousand words express
My high ideals and my fervent sentiments.
I prefer to sit in the jail cell for the Lord
Until its bottom breaks
Than to bend down!
 
Brother Zhou was finally exonerated and released in 1981 as China’s reform and opening policy brought a new official stance toward religion. In his own words, he said, “I didn’t change my attitude; they changed their position.”
 
He later discovered that his missionary brothers had regrouped following their departure from China, not to their native Belgium, but in Southern California. He recorded the joy of their reunion in Return to My Monastic Home in Triumph.
 
With Jesus assisting in fighting,
I had defeated again and again
The struggle meetings, beatings, shackles and handcuffs.
Throwing out my chest, I departed from prison;
Holding my head high, I left the country,
Now, finally, I celebrate my reunion with my monastery!