Why China feels threatened by the ethical authority of a 90-year-old Catholic bishop

Cardinal Joseph Zen will stand trial on Sept. 19, 2022, in Hong Kong for his position as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Reduction Fund. This group paid authorized charges and medical payments for Hong Kongers protesting the Extradition Legislation Modification Invoice. This 2019 laws would have allowed extradition to the Folks’s Republic of China. Many residents considered this as a subversion of Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous political system, resulting in large-scale protests, political unrest and a police crackdown. It additionally prompted Beijing’s additional direct intervention in Hong Kong’s governance.

For the Chinese language Communist Celebration, this group’s assist of protesters and alleged collusion with international forces violated the party-mandated nationwide safety regulation. This regulation has since been utilized retroactively.

A retired bishop of the Hong Kong Diocese, Cardinal Zen has lengthy supported Hong Kong protesters, critiqued Beijing and criticized the Vatican’s rapprochement with the Chinese language Communist Celebration. Chinese language Catholics see the arrest as an try to intimidate and stop activism amongst Hong Kong’s Catholic group.

To grasp why the Chinese language Communist Celebration would really feel intimidated by a 90-year-old man and threaten him with life in jail, it is very important transcend slender, concrete results – resembling a cowed Catholic group – and establish the rules held by the management. As a former army diplomat presently researching the hyperlink between philosophy and international coverage, I argue that Cardinal Zen’s risk to the Chinese language Communist Celebration lies not in his assist for democratic reform, however as a competing supply of political authority.

The social gathering’s morality of hierarchy

The Chinese language Communist Celebration management continues to be formed by the rules of classical Chinese language philosophy. Regardless of official condemnation through the Mao years, the social gathering has extra just lately tried to bolster the foundations of classical Chinese language thought to legitimize its personal rule.

Throughout a 1997 speech at Harvard College, Jiang Zemin – then the final secretary of the social gathering – praised classical Chinese language thought and tied it to modern values and the state’s growth. In the present day, Normal Secretary Xi Jinping routinely mentions classical philosophy in his speeches and famous on the nineteenth Nationwide Congress that the event of socialism with Chinese language traits will construct upon Chinese language tradition’s conventional imaginative and prescient, ideas, values and ethical norms.

Classical Chinese language ethics start with the existential centrality of the household. Fan Ruiping, a researcher in Confucian ethics on the Metropolis College of Hong Kong, notes Confucianism sees the household as the essential construction of human existence, not merely a social establishment. Thus, the household turns into the usual towards which conduct is judged. For instance, to guard the household, Confucius argues it’s ethical for a son to cover the misconduct of his father.

In line with the Yongle Emperor, an emperor who dominated within the fifteenth century, all the world is a single household. Inside this method, one’s place is outlined by one’s position, grounded within the 5 Confucian relationships: ruler to topic, father to son, husband to spouse, elder brother to youthful brother, and pal to pal. Every of those is each reciprocal and hierarchical. The ethical particular person conforms to the position one fills in society and treats others in response to theirs.

Why China feels threatened by the ethical authority of a 90-year-old Catholic bishop
Confucianism teaches that individuals’s positions and obligations in society are primarily based on 5 key sorts of relationships.
Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Second by way of Getty Pictures

Even in modern Chinese language society, pals deal with one another as elder and youthful siblings, such that in any state of affairs there’s a hierarchical relationship – an older pal is addressed as “elder brother” or “elder sister.” In calling one other “elder brother,” one’s personal place in that reciprocal relationship – “youthful” – turns into apparent.

By way of identification of the household because the ethical customary and its extension all through society primarily based on the 5 relationships, Confucianism views an ethical society as a unified household, ordered hierarchically. On the prime of the hierarchy sits the emperor, whose relationship with topics mirrors that between father and son. One serves the rulers as one would serve one’s father or elder brother.

On this view, society is effectively organized when every individual fills the assigned position, paying acceptable deference to these above and performing benevolently towards these beneath. As Confucius said, “The ruler is the ruler; the minister is minister; the daddy is father; and the son is son. That’s authorities.”

In line with Confucianism, order, stability and prosperity are maintained when all topics fill their correct roles. The hazard of ignoring this lesson was highlighted by the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, when Chairman Mao Zedong used college students to assault these within the social gathering who opposed him. It was additionally evident within the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath, when the social gathering allowed the scholars to develop ethical authority and needed to resort to army power to crush peaceable scholar protests. The implications of shedding management was made stark two years later when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Cardinal Zen and problem to hierarchy

In line with its ethical rules, the social gathering can tolerate no competitors for authority, and has a protracted historical past of eliminating those that current a problem to the social gathering’s place. For instance, following the 1956-57 Hundred Flowers Marketing campaign that inspired engagement from intellectuals, Mao Zedong used the Anti-Rightist Marketing campaign to remove their rising authority. This marketing campaign sought to refute anti-regime commentary made by intellectuals, punishing about 550,000 of them, many with reform by labor.

Extra just lately, Xi Jinping has used an anti-corruption drive to remove intra-party challenges to his authority by purging outstanding figures, resembling Zhou Yongkang, retired public safety chief and former member of the Politburo Standing Committee. In Hong Kong, the nationwide safety regulation has been used to cost writer and democracy activist Jimmy Lai, whose media holdings often criticize the Hong Kong and Chinese language Communist Celebration management.

The precept of hierarchy may also be used to grasp and predict how occasions can unfold. For instance, if Cardinal Zen dies in custody, he might change into a martyr of the protest motion – hardly superb for the Chinese language Communist Celebration. Nonetheless, the management’s philosophy suggests it could be even worse for the social gathering to let Zen proceed his activism and change into a extra energetic risk to its ethical and political monopoly.

Moreover, arresting a cardinal might disrupt ties with the Vatican. Nonetheless, as political scientist Lawrence Reardon demonstrates, since 1949 the social gathering’s chief concern in relations with the Vatican has been whether or not the pope or the social gathering appoints bishops inside the Folks’s Republic of China. In different phrases, who sits atop the Catholic hierarchy inside the Folks’s Republic of China is extra necessary than anything the social gathering beneficial properties by relations with the Vatican.

To stay on the pinnacle of China’s ethical hierarchy, the social gathering might want to take away different sources of authority. By way of his criticism of the social gathering and the Vatican, Cardinal Zen has proven the potential of reworking right into a political chief in his personal proper.

As a doable different supply of authority, Cardinal Zen has change into the most recent sufferer of the social gathering’s ethical hierarchy; he is not going to be the final.

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