Responding to Cardinal Parolin’s recent comments that appeared to downplay the existence of Christian persecution, Dalù says persecution is actually too gentle of a term for the dire current situation in China.
By Bree A. Dail, November 17, 2020
A journalist, whistleblower and political refugee from China has criticized Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin for what the Chinese asylee says is a dismissive attitude toward present day persecution in China. The Chinese journalist Dalù was responding to an interview of Cardinal Parolin with Italy’s La Stampa newspaper conducted days before the Vatican renewed its deal with China last month.
Dalù spoke to the Register on Oct. 27, International Religious Freedom Day. In the interview, he highlighted La Stampa Vatican journalist’s question to Cardinal Parolin on the continued persecution of Christians in China, despite the Sino-Vatican agreement signed in 2018, to which the Vatican Secretary of State replied, “but persecutions, persecutions … You have to use the words correctly.”
The Cardinal’s words shocked Dalù, who received political refugee status in Italy in 2019 after his defiance of the Chinese Community Party, and caused him to conclude: “Cardinal Parolin’s comments may make sense. The term “persecution” is not accurate or strong enough to describe the current situation. In fact, the CCP authorities have realized that the persecution of religions needs new, innovative methods to avoid a strong reaction from the outside world.”
Hailing from Shanghai, Dalù was once one of the most popular journalists in Chinese media prior to his 1995 reporting to expose the truth of the Tiananmen Square Massacre to his radio listeners, despite the Chinese government’s attempt to control the narrative about the event. Dalù converted to Catholicism in 2010, which he said, increased the Chinese Communist Party’s antagonism against him. Then, in 2012, after Bishop Ma Daquin of the Shanghai diocese was detained, Dalù used social media to persistently call for the release of the bishop, eventually leading to the journalist’s interrogation and persecution.
Dalù received the legal status of political refugee in Italy in 2019. The following interview was edited for clarity and length.
What is the situation of the Catholic Church in China?
You know, the Chinese Church is divided into the official and the underground. The official Church is fully controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and it must accept the leadership of the Patriotic Association, while the underground church is regarded as an illegal Church by the CCP because its bishop is directly appointed by the Vatican. Isn’t this ridiculous? The Church was established by Jesus, not by the CCP. Jesus gave Peter the Kingdom’s Key, not the Chinese Patriotic Association.
The Vatican has just renewed its accord with China, the details of which have yet to be made public. What was your personal experience?
The priest who baptized me invited me to be the head of the Church’s media department for spreading the news and Gospel of the Church through social media. Since China has been blocking the Internet, domestic believers cannot access the Vatican News website. I forwarded the Holy See’s news and the Pope’s speeches every day. I was like a frontline soldier.
I had the opportunity to get to know many priests, including Father Ma Daqin, who later became Bishop in Shanghai. On the day of his consecration as bishop, Bishop Ma renounced his association with the CCP’s “Patriotic Church” and was immediately isolated from us by the Patriotic Association.
Later, we learned he was forced to attend an intensive communist indoctrination program. With childlike impulse, I called for the release of our Bishop Ma Daqin on social media, every day. My behavior received a strong response from believers, but it also attracted the attention of the Patriotic Association. They asked the Internal Security Police to threaten me and my family. I suffered hard interrogations because I violated the CCP’s propaganda discipline. They forced me to stop calling for the release of Bishop Ma on social media and sign a confession admitting that my actions were wrong and that I regretted them.
This was just one small episode. I lived with the awareness to be constantly monitored for my closeness to the Church and threats to me and my family were very frequent. The interrogations were very hard and my mind has worked a lot to remove those memories.
On the morning of June 29, 2019, about nine hours after I had just published the details of Cardinal Parolin’s “Holy See’s Pastoral Guidance on the Civil Registration of Chinese Clergy” on the Chinese app, “WeChat” platform, I suddenly received a call from the Shanghai Religious Bureau. They ordered me to delete the Holy See’s “Pastoral Guidance” document from the WeChat platform immediately, otherwise action will be taken against me.
The tone of the man on the phone was very strong and threatening. This “Pastoral Guidance” document is the first document issued by the Holy See to the official Chinese church after signing a secret agreement with China. It was due to these actions that I had to flee my country.
Dalù, your career as a popular radio host in Shanghai was cut short by the regime long ago. Why?
Yes, before now my journalistic career already violated the CCP’s propaganda discipline. June 4, 1995 was the sixth anniversary of the “Tiananmen Square Massacre.” I was a well-known radio host and I made public that event. Those innocent young people who demanded democracy in the great Beijing Square were massacred by the tracks of the tanks and I could not forget that. I had to tell the truth to my people who knew nothing of this tragedy. My live broadcast was monitored by the CCP’s propaganda agency. My show was stopped immediately. My press card was confiscated. I was forced to write a confession, admitting that my wrong remarks and actions violated Party discipline. I was fired on the spot, and from then on, I began to live a life marginalized for 25 years.
My life was spared because China could not afford to make such a popular Sunday broadcaster disappear in Shanghai. They were thinking of joining the World Trade Organization and they had to look like a normal country. My notoriety saved my life but the CCP has marginalized me forever. The political stigma is recorded in my personal file. No one dares to hire me because I became a threat to the CCP.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin was interviewed by La Stampa’s Salvatore Cernuzio, wherein he addressed his work brokering the renewed deal with the CCP. He was asked, among other questions, about the increase of religious persecution in the country, after the initial deal in 2018. Did you read his answers, and did they surprise you?
Yes. I was surprised. However, I calmed down and thought about it. I think Cardinal Parolin’s comments [which seem to dismiss the persecution in China] may make sense. The term “persecution” is not accurate or strong enough to describe the current situation. In fact, the CCP authorities have realized that the persecution of religions needs new, innovative methods to avoid a strong reaction from the outside world.
For example, they have suspended the demolitions of crosses, and now the new order is to place the national flag onto churches. The church holds the flag-raising ceremony every day and even the portraits of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping are arranged on both sides of the altar cross. Surprisingly, many believers are not opposed to this because they believe it is symbolic of the crucifixion scene of Jesus: Two criminals were also nailed to the left and right.
It is worth mentioning that now the Patriotic Association no longer prohibits believers from reading the “Bible.” Instead, they tampered with the “Bible,” inserting that Jesus admitted that he was also a sinner. They are not opposed to priests preaching the Gospel, but they will often organize them to travel or arrange entertainment activities for them — eating and drinking, and giving them gifts. Over time, these priests will be happy to interact with the CCP.
Bishop Ma Daqin of Shanghai does not appear to be detained now. The CCP uses a new word for this — reeducation. Let the bishop go to designated places for regular “training” and let him accept Xi Jinping’s proposition: Chinese Catholicism should be managed by the Chinese themselves, free from the shackles of foreigners. When Bishop Ma Daqin was receiving “reeducation,” some of the priests who fought against his detention were often called to “drink tea” with the Chinese police. “Drinking tea” is a very cultural word that the CCP is now using as a euphemism for what usually will be hard and violent interrogations. This fear, this use of our ancient culture and these tactics are forms of torture. Obviously, the real “persecution” has been concealed by elegant packaging. Just as China’s Constitution also claims that China has freedom of speech, freedom of religious belief, and freedom of demonstrations and assemblies. But you find out after tearing off the packaging, all these “freedoms” must be strictly reviewed and controlled. If we say that “Chinese-style democracy” is just another form of democracy, then I suppose you can rename “Chinese-style persecution” as just a new civilized act.
Based on these new revelations, can you still use the word “persecution”? Obviously it becomes inappropriate, as we are witnessing a structured institution of daily humiliation. Which word might be used instead?
As a Chinese Catholic, do you have a message to Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin?
Pope Francis has just written, “We are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all” (Fratelli Tutti, 32). China’s problems are the world’s problems. Saving China means saving the world. I am an ordinary believer, I am not qualified to speak to His Holiness and Cardinal Parolin. What I might express is summed up in one word: HELP!
What drew you into the Catholic Church in 2010, and what keeps you within the Church as you witness what Cardinal Zen and others have protested as a deep betrayal, even a “murder” of the Church in China?
In the 25 years of living on the margins of society, I have been thinking that if China does not change, my life cannot be changed. Many Chinese who desire freedom and light, like me, must not face the end of their lives in huge concentration camps. The descendants of all Chinese people will live in a darker and cruel world than they are now. I never found a way out of the darkness until I met Jesus. His words made me feel “never thirsty” and fearless. I understand a Truth: the only way to get out of the darkness is to burn yourself. In fact, the Church is a melting pot, making believers who truly believe and implement Jesus’ words candles that illuminates the world.
I followed Cardinal Zen a long time ago, an old man who dared to burn himself. In fact, the Chinese underground church has been supported, assisted and contacted by Bishop Zen from the beginning to now. He knows the past and current situation of China’s underground Church very well. For a long time, he strongly opposed the CCP’s intervention in the missionary activities of the Church, and on various occasions repeatedly criticized China for lack of religious freedom. He also appealed to supporters of the Tiananmen Square incident and the Hong Kong democratic movement. Therefore, I think he should have the right to speak, to be heard, to offer his experience to the Pope at a sensitive time. It is a precious contribution even for those who do not think like him.
You are a political refugee -— how did this happen?
Had it not been for God to arrange for Luca Antonietti to appear, I might have been deported within three months. If it weren’t for this, I would likely be in a Chinese prison, today.
Luca Antonietti is not only a well-known lawyer in Italy but he is a devout Catholic. The next day after I arrived here, I went to the Church to participate in Mass. No Chinese have ever appeared before in this little village. Luca’s friend told him this information and I met him shortly after, on a September afternoon in 2019. Coincidentally, Luca received an MBA in Shanghai and he knew the Chinese Church but his Mandarin is quite poor so we could only communicate through mobile phone translation software.
After he learned about my experience, he decided to provide me with legal aid. He put aside all his business and prepared all the legal documents needed to apply for political asylum, working for me every day. At the same time, he took time to visit the Sanctuary of Merciful Love in Collevalenza. What moved me in particular was that he also provided me with a place to live. Now I am an Italian family member. My lawyer accepted the risk to his life and the lives of his family to help me. You must understand that being close to me, even in a country like Italy, is still a heavy cross to bear — I am under surveillance.
I was like a wounded man who fell on the side of the road and met a kind Samaritan. From then on, I started a new life. I enjoy the life that Chinese people should have the right to enjoy: fresh air, healthy and safe food, and stars in the sky at night. More importantly, I have a treasure that the Chinese regime has forgotten: dignity.
Do you consider yourself a whistleblower? Why come out now, and what message do you have?
I have always been a whistleblower. In 1968, when I was 5 years old, the Cultural Revolution broke out in China. I witnessed my father being beaten on stage. There were several such struggle rallies every week. I found that new rally posters were always posted at the entrance of the venue. One day, I tore off the poster, and no one attended the rally that day.
In 1970, when I was in the first grade of elementary school, I was reported by my classmates and interrogated by the school because I accidentally dropped a portrait from the book “Quotations from Mao Zedong” on the ground. When I was a middle school student, I began to secretly listen to Taiwan shortwave radio in violation of the national ban. In 1983, when I was in college, I called for teaching reform through campus broadcasting and was punished by the school. I was disqualified from producing any additional broadcasting and written up for later inspection. On May 8, 1995, I mourned the death of Taiwan’s most famous singer Teresa Teng on the radio and was punished by the radio station. One month later, on June 4, I violated the ban again and reminded the audience not to forget the “Tiananmen Massacre” on the radio.
On July 7, 2012, after Bishop Ma of the Shanghai diocese was detained, I was tortured and interrogated by the police every day when I called for the release of Bishop Ma on social media. In August 2018, before the opening of the Beijing Olympics, I organized human rights protection activities in the community where I lived. Taiwan’s “Voice of Hope” radio station interviewed me. I was monitored by the police and taken to the police station again. Isn’t it enough?
Now I am writing a book. I want to tell the world the truth about China: China, under the CCP, has become a huge invisible concentration camp. The Chinese have been enslaved for 70 years.
What hope do you have for future work in Europe for China? How can people help?
I would like to help free people understand how the communist dictatorship thinks, and how it is silently deceiving the whole world. The Chinese Communist Party knows the West perfectly. You, however, don’t know much about the dynamics of the Chinese regime. Also, I would like to go back to the radio, as a radio host, to talk to the Chinese about Jesus. It is a great dream and I hope someone can help me publish my memoirs to look to the future with realism and hope.
This is the time of truth. I spread my point of view about China through social media networks every day. I hope that the world will wake up soon. Many “people of good will” will respond to this call. I will never give up.
Bree A. Dail Bree Dail (Twitter: @breeadail) is a veteran Naval Surface Warfare Officer, and holds a Masters of Diplomacy from Norwich University and a BA from Christendom College. As an Internationally accredited journalist, she has published numerous articles and media content on military affairs, public policy and the Catholic Church. She works as consultant for a major defense contractor, and is the International Coordinator for Rosary Coast to Coast and the Holy League of Nations.