Marja Grim Simpelveld
Precisely the mystery of this long silence about what has been called the Zhengding incident, the Zhengding disaster , or the Zhengding Church Massacre has become the occasion and the challenge to undertake a search operation. In the Netherlands and in France it was not clear what had really happened, who the perpetrators were and what their motive was. “Why this slaughter? Since the Boxers’ time never anything similar has happened” .. In bishop Schraven ’s family people said: “We’ll never know indeed”. Countless directly and indirectly, nearby and faraway concerned persons have heaved this lamentation .
Several newspapers and news agencies were spreading contradictory information about the disappearance of 9 Europeans and later on about their death. Depending on their roles, party and interests, disappearance and death were imputed to the Chinese or to the Japanese . This contradictory information caused confusion and uncertainty about the question who the perpetrators had been.
This real manipulation of the facts is going on up till now, 2014. If done in a subtle way: the result of today’s research is called falsification of the history; if done in a coarse way: the Zhengding Church massacre is called a figment of people’s imagination. The fact that this case after 75 years still touches upon tender strings seems to show rather that something is going on in this affair. The developments in the use of the internet with its possibilities to examine all kinds of documents and newspaper accounts from the past will always produce stray documents with which some people can substantiate their points of view. It is therefore very important to study in their context the collected material of letters, documents and accounts, among which Chinese and Japanese ones too, dug out from international archives, and to compare them with each other, to analyze them with precision in order to unravel the knot that has come into existence over the years and to tear down the arisen wall of silence.
Historical circumstances helped the mysterious haze, in which this massacre was shrouded (at least for European people), to get thicker through the uncertainty about the perpetrators and the motive. Through the research it has become clearer than ever before which factors have contributed to this haze.
1. Japanese censorship made a taboo out of the massacre at Zhengding. Japan’s role in China and elsewhere in the world silenced political and ecclesiastical authorities (indirectly): not only in 1937, but even a long time afterwards.
2. The Zhengding vicariate had been decapitated: the missionaries and the population had to do their utmost to survive under the Japanese occupation. So there was no time to sort out all the problems. Fr. Chanet CM often complained in his letters about the amount of work.
3. In Europe, the countries to which Msgr. Schraven CM and his companions belonged were adversaries to each other. Germany, Austria and Italy were sympathetic to Japan. In brief each country was completely taken by its own sorrows. International exchange about the slaughter or its motive could not be reached (anymore).
4. In 1945 the Iron Curtain was set up. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, countries where the Servants of God came from could not be reached anymore. Reconstruction of the countries and own activities had the priority.
5. After 1949, China was, so to say, locked for all the missionaries. A “virtual wall” broke all contact off for scores of years; only in the 1980s the door was set ajar slightly.
When looking for documents or even clippings in the archives of the concerned countries in Europe, one feels personally how much impact the war and the Iron Curtain have had on Central Europe and how dismal the international mutual communication must have been about this case. The collection as many documents as possible from archives produced an exceptional awareness about the genre of the material, about the interests of the different parties, their biases and about the glasses through which it is possible to look at the story. By way of illustration I shall give two examples, an European and a Japanese on a same phenomenon, to wit manipulation of the truth.....
1. When Fr. Edmond OCSO was reading in the newspaper of December 2 the results of the first official Japanese investigation of November 2 to wit that the Chinese were guilty of the disappearance of 9 Europeans, as if on November 18 (locally) the involvement of the Japanese army had not been admitted by the second official Japanese investigation commission, he wrote: “Tell lies without end, something will stay on even when the truth is known .”
2. The Japanese priest and key figure Rev. Taguchi presented a number of very interesting views in a radiobroadcast on January 10, 1938 in Tokyo on account of his 2-month stay in Northern China :
a) [...] “Japan’s first objective in the present conflict is protecting herself and neighbours from the ever present menace of international Communism”; b)[...] “an extremely intelligent Press-Campaign has succeeded in blinding the outside world to the reality of this danger and therefore to the sincerity of Japan’s primary motive”; c) “Men can only form a true judgment of the fact if they know the facts and there are undoubtedly powerful influences interested in obscuring the truth about the present situation”. d) “The suppression of the truth about the horrors of Communism has been described [...] as a conspiracy of silence” . (Cursive in the sentence, MG). Rev. Taguchi reacted on the ways of manipulation of the truth about International Communism.
At that moment, Rev. Taguchi was not being concerned anymore in the Zhengding Church affair. Did he realize himself that he also revealed the ingredients of a strategy necessary to hush up the truth about the Japanese army? Are 1) a press-campaign to blind the outside world, 2) prevention of knowing the facts and 3) the assistance of powerful influences interested in obscuring the truth, carefully prepared methods in a strategy to overcome an ever present menace of the Japanese army’s honour being harmed or blamed? Rev. Taguchi’s words seem to be applicable and exchangeable to this affair: “The suppression of the truth about the horrors of the Zhengding Church massacre, in spite of its obvious news value, can be described as a conspiracy of silence”. Meaning: SILENCE about what happened, about the perpetrators, about the motive, about the martyrs.
What does the archival documents reveal about this possible strategy?
SILENCE ABOUT THE EVENT
From the discovered archival documents the following is clear: The Japanese would have been back at the Church compound the next day and they would have proclaimed that everyone had to keep silent about the event . The Chinese priests and also the refugees were (completely) traumatized. Nobody indeed could have thought it possible to abduct all the Europeans. The Japanese had some respect at least for Europeans. They despised Chinese people. Who could still be in a position now to defend the Chinese people and refugees?
On October 12 Fr. Ramakers CM (马鸣岐,Ma Ming-qi) came to the residence to have a look. It was not a habit of the bishop to send nobody to see how the minor seminary was doing. Outside the town Fr. Ramakers saw only army vehicles and soldiers; he had never before felt so pale-faced European. In the town he saw only empty houses and no population. It was deathly silent in the Church compound, people stared at him in the long avenue; one man said softly to him that the bishop and 8 Europeans had been seized. The Chinese priests confirmed this bad news. He was totally upset. The whole week he slept fully clothed. He tried to find out what had happened, but he did not quite succeed.
People were afraid that he might be seized, too. Father Ramakers (马鸣岐) tried to be given a pass to go to Dingzhou, but he did not get one. He looked for a courier among the refugees. On October 19 he was allowed to go back under escort of two soldiers to the minor seminary with the seminarians. At their own initiative brave refugees informed Father Vonken CM ( 温文炳, Wen Wen-bing) in an out-station and the prior of the monastery of the Trappists, Fr. Gérardin OCSO. This required a lot of courage: risking caught at it was trifling with your life. Without the letter on silk from Fr. Gérardin and without the visit of Fr. Vonken Fr. Chanet would never have believed the information that day on November 16. Fr. Ramakers ’s courier arrived one day later .
Who is FR. Chanet, (艾类斯, Ai Lei-si), Vincentian missionary and director of Dingzhou district?
Fr. Chanet is a French missionary in the vicariate of Zhengding since 1903. He adored the challenges missionary life offered. When most Chinese left Dingzhou before the arrival of the Japanese army he organized an interim administration and the post. He was known for keeping calm and being successful in dealing with military and diplomatic issues. That was the reason why Prior Gérardin informed him about the serious affaire and more or less ordered him to take immediately care whether it is a matter of delivering the imprisoned persons or if it is a matter of only provoking an inquiry by the highest-r anking officials .
Fr. Chanet wanted to go to Peking himself but did not receive a pass. He took necessary measures and left for Zhengding by bike. He has sent 6 couriers to Beijing. Only Mr. Yen, appreciated postman at Dingzhou and Fr. Vonken (温文炳) arrived at its Bishop Msgr. Montaigne CM (满德贻, Man De-yi) on respectively the 22nd and 25th October ! The Bishop warned the French Embassy; which in his turn, informed the Japanese Embassy. So, for the Japanese it was very easy to find out that Mr. Yen had been courier and they have put him in prison on November 6, 1937 .
October 23 Mr. Lacoste, secretary of the French Embassy in Beijing sent a telegram to the French Ambassador in Shanghai to inform about 1) the kidnapping by a gang dressed in Japanese military uniforms October 9; 2) the Japanese Ambassador had been asked to provide news about the missionaries of Zhengding; 3) he had just informed the Japanese Ambassador about the disappearance without mentioning the Japanese uniforms of the kidnappers in order not to endanger the hope of saving the prisoners . That same day the news was radio broadcasted.
Next day the news was published in Beijing that the French Ambassador has just been informed that Chinese bandits had captured members of the Catholic Mission of Zhengding and that there was no information about Bishop Schraven . An Italian edition of October 25 spoke about nine missionaries of the Mission of Zhengding captured by Chinese bandits and mentioned the nationalities of all the prisoners . A translated Reuters report was sent from Shanghai to Tokyo October 25 and filed as “secret” material . Its content says: “According to a belated report to Peiping, Dutch Bishop Schraven and 8 persons, Dutch, French, Austrian, Czechoslovakian and Polish were kidnapped from the French Catholic Church in Chengtingfu. Details are still unknown.” Remarkable facts in this report: 1) there is no mentioning of the perpetrators; 2) the knowledge about the nationalities is very precise. The news about this event was not allowed to be published in Japan.
Meantime in Zhengding people were still filled with fear. On October 22 Fr. Chanet arrived in Zhengding. Li Yuan said about this: [...] “everyone was filled with fear, not knowing what to do, like a vessel that had lost its helm; and, suddenly, they had a captain ”. Fr. Chanet went immediately after his arrival to General Tani to ask for all necessary measures to secure their lives and to release them ; since General Tani had left, he wrote him a letter with this request . Fr. Chanet tried to get everything back to normal in Zhengding Church: already for fourteen days the cathedral had been closed, the bells had not rung; people had not prayed in common, they had not eaten together. He tried to strengthen the self-reliance in the Chinese priests and in the personnel of the Church. Fr. Chanet wrote in his Notebook [and in his letters] that in the beginning the Chinese priests did not tell him anything. They were still terrified. End October/begin November they replied guardedly and told something, but it is contradictory. From the beginning Fr. Chanet let it appear that what the Chinese told him is useless. He had no eye for their PTSS, from which they suffer. He spoke about them in a derogatory way. So there is reason to study Fr. Chanet to see if his reports have been influenced by this.
There are some things which catch the eye and which must influence our understanding when reading his documents. Fr. Chanet loved to be with Japanese officers; both the refugees and the Chinese priests criticized him about this. But he could not understand their fear. Chanet little by little believed less (he did not believe) the Japanese army was implicated in the murder; it took him a long time to get all the facts completely settled on paper. On November 2 he presented the Japanese officers who had come to investigate the kidnapping his account ‘dommages aux personnes’ (personnel damages). It is strange that Fr. Chanet mentions Fr. Ramakers nowhere; it is almost unimaginable that he never spoke with Fr. Ramakers to learn what information he had received. Nothing at all about that. One can imagine that Chinese priests in shock do not dare to ignore an order of the Japanese army to keep silent.
The Japanese occupation authorities succeeded in keeping quiet about what had happened till November 17. Laying down a cordon of silence, preventing free traffic of people and of goods, among which mail (bold censorship) proved to be effective. Several correspondents choose the day of the Japanese investigation commission as a breaking point for the silence around the event. Hushing up what had happened seems broken a little, but it is not complete; proof of this is Bro. Friedrich’s (方道林, Fang Dao-lin) letter. He entrusted details about what had happened to paper December 1938. Did he find a faithful courier only then to post his letters? He revealed: “Now they would like to hush up the murder. They think: Now we are the masters, woe to him who opens his mouth about what happened, nothing happened, nothing – nothing” . Is this imposed secrecy the reason, why the burial of Msgr. Schraven and companions has to be postponed? It is significant that the coffin with the bones and ashes, exactly a year later, had to be smuggled out of the town with cunning and secrecy . A ceremony of inauguration of the commemorating monument to which Cmdr. Yokoyama and Fr. Taguchi would assist, is not reported after November 19, 1938. Did the Japanese want not to draw attention to the affair?
Once it has become clear how the nine Europeans have reached their demise, we meet with the shifting of an accent, to wit the silence about the perpetrators.
‘SILENCE’ ABOUT THE PERPETRATORS
Research of the archival documents show quite a range of perpetrators. The pendulum swings out from “Japanese soldiers -soldiers [Manchu – Korean] in the service of the Japanese army” at one side to “Chinese people in the service of the Japanese army” –“ a gang of ten individuals” – “remnants of Chinese soldiers” – “Chinese bandits” at the other side. Why, truly a colourful pallet from which people can choose, dependent on their role, their interests and their nationality.
In a very early stage choices have been made as have been pointed to in the previous section.
A survey of the perpetrators will pass in review in this section, according to the calendar.
Far-away from Zhengding the news had already been spread October 23. At an official and public level it is significant that the publication in Beijing has already determined the perpetrators as Chinese bandits, which differs from the French Embassy ’s kidnappers in Japanese uniform. So, at a public level the accent is immediatedly on the perpetrators. If the Chinese were the real perpetrators, why then could this news not be allowed to be published in Japan? Why had this event to be kept silent and filed “secret” in Japan for so many years?
Normally the Japanese had the habit to inform the other embassies about the well-being of their subjects in occupied territories. This time the French Embassy had to ask for information, because the Japanese embassy kept silent about the lot of the missionaries of Zhengding. The French embassy informed the Japanese embassy about the kidnapping without mentioning ‘the Japanese uniforms’ of the kidnappers. Who spread the information that Chinese bandits were the perpetrators? Acting on information received the French embassy would never have spread this kind of news. It is a known fact that the one who succeeds to publish his news first, has taken his chance: the first blow is half the battle! Was this the start of an intelligent press-campaign? It seems to be a plausible assumption that the ‘Chinese bandits’ version was made public by the Japanese in China . If the real perpetrators were Chinese bandits, why was the translated Reuters report sent to Tokyo October 25, filed as “secret” material; why should this affair be kept secret in Japan?
Most of the discussion about the perpetrators took place at Zhengding. Besides the key figures Fr. Gérardin OCSO and Sister Poulieu DoC deserve a special mention.
Fr. Gérardin OCSO writes to Fr. Chanet CM on October 16 in his SOS note: that “it seems that they are not their own soldiers, but men from Manchuria: red-bearded people, as they are calling themselves”. The prior himself indicates that his information is only incomplete. He mentions one more important detail; the military authorities are alluding to it that it was another army, when people came to town for a further inquiry. The only thing that could be done was: just waiting till the recently appointed prefect for Zhengding had arrived. If this had been a diversionary tactic or a delaying tactic, would that not have been possible in the case of the “red-bearded ones” too? October 26, he admits that it is difficult to distinguish between Japanese and some other people (Manchu or Koreans) and most people do not want to go into this question!
The account of Sr. Poulieu DoC noticed a before and afterwards: since November 17, the arrival of the Commander and Msgr. de Vienne the town is well guarded by the Japanese... “The 1st regiment, which harmed so much, is forbidden to enter the houses of the inhabitants. Because of the martyrs they are confined to places that are guarded by police . What is this about? Can this be understood as some indication of arresting the perpetrators of the robbery or of the massacre?
Key figures in creating and keeping silence
Looking at those persons who have been contributing to keeping enigmas concerning this pallet of perpetrators of the crime enigmatic, we must name, Fr. Chanet CM and the Japanese investigating commission.
Fr. Chanet (艾类斯, Ai Lei-si) created much confusion in taking a position in pointing at perpetrators; on one side he has to be very prudent. His freedom of movement was limited and admission to some places was limited, so he depended on the collaboration of the Japanese military authorities for further investigation. Thence he had to take care not to rebuff them. His priority was the recovery of the disappeared Europeans and not so much his pointing at the perpetrators. He racked his brains over the question who could have done it; his opinion in his letters slides from ‘Japanese soldiers’ to ‘soldiers clothed in Japanese uniforms’. Later he shifted the accent from soldiers to individuals, but in his Notebook he wrote “soldiers”.
The question of the first official investigation shows him as two-faced:
On November 2 two officers and the prefect of the town finally came to investigate, who insisted to ascribe the acts to irregular Chinese. In the journal section (Nov. 2nd) of his NOTEBOOK he declared: “What they want to avoid above all is the saying that the kidnapping was the act of Japanese soldiers” . November 5, in his letter to the Visitor of the Vincentians in China, he combines both contradictory views: “they have insisted – to avoid admitting these acts were committed by Japanese soldiers; but to irregular Chinese soldiers ”. But in his letter of November 3 to the French Embassy he only wrote about “The captain of the Japanese police force and another officer insist that the actions be ascribed to irregular Chinese “pien i t’oei”... Perhaps they are right”. Fr. Chanet notices that he has never said that Japanese soldiers had done it . Why did he omit his observation in his letter to the Embassy and wrote it two days later to the Visitor?
His account ‘dommages aux biens’ [damage to properties] which he had put at the disposal of the two Japanese officers was used gratefully; five days later their account was finished. Their conclusion was clear, “group of remnants of the Chinese troops in the district ”, but it was handed to the foreign embassies only on November 27. After that, it was made public by a spokesman of the Japanese army, November 28. Their conclusion and the reactions they evoked in others are put aside for a moment to introduce another important player in this field.
The Japanese investigation commission consists of two members: the Japanese Commander Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi, who received full instructions concerning their mission from the National Headquarters of the Japanese Army in Tokyo . HER MISSION IS: [...] “to endeavour to rectify the misunderstandings (between individual soldiers and the Catholic Church in some locations) and to bring about a better state of harmony between the Japanese Army and the Catholic Church”. It is important to realize that this Japanese investigation commission is not a religious but a military initiative. A reconstruction of their activities and whereabouts shows that certainly on the October 25 they knew about the disappearance of the missionaries and were asked with insistence to perform a searching investigation . Mr. Morishima suggested to the Minister of Foreign Affairs “to send Church personnel there and let them negotiate with the bandits [bold, MG].” But, Cmdr. Yokoyama often referred to inquiry committees, which in “its own time”, would go on the spot for the necessary establishments of facts . On October 29, Commander Yokoyama admitted orally to Mr. Lacoste, spontaneously, that it might have been shock troops consisting of Koreans […] and of Manchu [bold, MG], adding that, nevertheless, “the honour of the Japanese army was at stake” . That same day Commander Yokoyama promised to cable to Headquarters in Tianjin for an immediate investigation in Zhengding. But the two travelled first to Sien-hsien to investigate on the spot the bombing of 21st September. His promise has been kept. November 2, the first official investigation in Zhengding by the Japanese military authorities was done.
The agenda of the above-named persons went as far as 2 November. We jump one week.
A week later there is an increased activity by various persons. An important turn is drawing near.
A reconstruction of the calendar week November 10 to 17, 1937.
In the beginning of November, the anxiety in the other northern vicariates about the missionaries was so vast that Fr. Riera CM (叶义详) decided to travel to Zhengding on his own . Between November 10 -12 what remained of the 9 Europeans was found . Msgr. Montaigne CM (满德贻, Man De-yi) claimed that it was found on 10 November. On the 10th (!) Msgr. de Vienne CM (文贵宾, Wen Gui-bin) conceived the plan to go to Zhengding and asked for a pass. The French Embassy gave the information on November 12 : Msgr. de Vienne did not obtain a pass. Whatever people tried, passes were not given out; the regions to the south of Baoding were a forbidden region for everybody. This included even Japanese citizens . Whatever may have been the exact date of the discovery, it is absolutely sure that the local military authorities had been informed on the 12th of November, for Fr. Chanet asked that the place of finding be put under guard. This guarding did not happen. This fits the strategy of keeping silent as long time as possible and to suppress what had happened .
That same day Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) sent someone to inform Peking. Cmdr. Yokoyama telegraphed on 12th to Rev. Taguchi that he must come back immediately. On 14th Fr. Riera CM arrived in Peking and the news was telegraphed to the Netherlands. On the 15th the permission arrived from Japanese General Headquarters that Msgr. de Vienne (文贵宾) may accompany Commander Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi’s Japanese investigation commission. By that time the affair had become completely public. On 15th November, Msgr. de Vienne with Commander Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi dropped in at Msgr. Comisso’s place, according to Rev. Taguchi “in order to investigate the case of the disappeared missionaries, about which the newspapers had spread news” . Curious, their death was already known, but not allowed to be mentioned! Was Msgr. de Vienne now also wrapped up by Commander Yokoyama in the military train from Tianjin to Peking, as the French Consul has indicated: “to deserve more respect it would be better not to insist too much on the ’accident’ [...], as on the correct and favourable behaviour of the Japanese army after this event ?” Commander Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi had been well briefed in Tokyo before their departure to China, hadn’t they?
On 16th they left for Baoding where a good deal of the town and Church compound had been destroyed by bombings. All its orphan girls had been sent already on August 10 to Zhengding with five European sisters Daughters of Charity “to prevent accidents” . (NB Taguchi wrote this!) The travellers were Msgr. Zhou’s (周济世, Zhou Ji -Shi) guests. There they met Fr. Ramakers ( 马鸣岐, Ma Ming-qi) , who with a servant of the minor seminary was travelling to Peking. Fr. Ramakers was interrogated with questions up till 23:00 o’clock by Cmdr. Yokoyama on happenings in the minor seminary, for what had happened in Zhengding he did not know a single thing [sic]. Nevertheless Yokoyama interrogated him about the tenth (!) European. “How could Yokoyama know about him?” were wondering Ramakers and his confreres. He has just arrived from Tianjin and Beijing, hasn’t he? The “tenth man” is information which is known only in Zhengding . This could be an indication that the military Headquarters were completely informed about the affair. The question arises: does Commander Yokoyama take Fr. Ramakers to task and in what degree Fr. Ramakers’ statement at the French Embassy has been influenced by this? This question seems sensible because of the length of the conversation and because of the way Commander Yokoyama later on is questioning Fr. Chanet November 18 and recorded by Rev. Taguchi.
There is an absolute silence around this meeting: nobody among the concerned persons, Commander Yokoyama, Rev. Taguchi, Msgr. de Vienne and Fr. Ramakers mentioned this meeting. Fr. Ramakers visited Msgr. Montaigne (满德贻) and then the French Embassy, where he made a statement. In his detailed account about all that had happened and which because of fear he made Msgr. Geurts CM (武致中) send away, he did not mention it . Fr. Ramakers made certainly mention of it orally to his Dutch speaking confreres. What is his role in the silence about the perpetrators? We shall return on the subject of Fr. Ramakers yet.
‘Recognition’ and the ‘act of commitment’
Msgr. de Vienne(文贵宾) , Commander Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi arrived at the Church compound on November 17 in the evening. Fr. Chanet reported on the events and the 18th was spent investigating. Fr. Chanet and Msgr. de Vienne participated in it starting from the thought that they wanted to act according to the mentality of the Church: a mentality of peace and not of revenge .
Then the decision is made on the elbow-room and on the reading-glasses that we have to wear to understand the main objective of the Japanese:
1 Yokoyama’s demands: on local level, no publications in the news papers in order not to widen the affaire (“pour ne pas élargir l’affaire”) etc.; so, Fr. Chanet and Msgr. de Vienne had been made complices in this way and their hands had been tied up.
In his letter to the Embassy 28-11-1937, Fr. Chanet does not say that he “had to” show his correspondence. What he added actually to it: “and to arrange the affair among ourselves, for the well-being of everybody” [“et d’arranger l’affaire entre nous, pour le bien de tous. . .”].
From the view of Fr. Chanet From the view of Rev. Taguchi:
(manuscript ACMP C178-I-a-4) (Report for Msgr. Marella, 03-12-1937)p. 124
“He begged of me not “to enlarge the affair” in these times that the relations among the powers are difficult, and not to keep on and on in the newspapers, (bold MG) and he asked me to whom I had written … I told him … and as he wanted to know the meaning of my letters I gave him copies of the two letters written to the Embassy and of those for Msgr. Montaigne… Rev. Taguchi told me later on that my candour had touched him”.
Official formulation to French Embassy, 28-11-38: (ACMP C178-I-a-4; MAE 652/189)
“He begged of me not to widen the affair, above all in these times that the relations among countries are difficult to handle and to arrange the affair amongst ourselves for the well-being of all”. [cursive, MG]
« As principle of solution of the question, Mgr de Vienne and Fr. Chanet propose the following: The mentality of the Church being a MENTALITY OF PEACE, NOT OF REVENGE, the Mission wants this question to be solved only as a private local question, without involving nations because there is only question of missionaries. Only because there is also a Hungarian layman, the Mission cannot be held responsible. The mission will see to it not to give the newspapers an excuse for anti-Japanese propaganda. [bold, MG]
The Commander thanked the Mission very much for this benevolent attitude, but he added that the Japanese army would also take the necessary measures for the solution. … for the honour of the army and the punishment of the criminals, after a serious investigation.
2. Taguchi revealed the reading-glasses with which we need to look on these bargaining procedures: ‘in order not to blame the Japanese army’ [“afin de ne pas blesser l’armée japonaise”] it is not permitted to inscribe on the memorial monument more than just the names of the victims and the text . (Fr. Chanet: no insulting texts). Fr. Chanet and Msgr. de Vienne committed themselves to keep a promise. The Japanese had free scope about what was going to be published and Chanet could not correct anything. Rev. Taguchi “was betraying” here the true goal which is hidden under all those instructions: the Japanese army must not be blamed. The instructions, received from Tokyo, present them with enough means to reach that goal.
He wrote also that according to the observations of Fr. Chanet regular soldiers of the Japanese army were excluded from involvement, but if regular Japanese soldiers would have committed the crime it was certainly not by order of Japanese officers . Rev. Taguchi and Cmdr. Yokoyama excluded any involvement of regular Japanese soldiers. Japanese officers involved is not mentioned.
In his report Rev. Taguchi told how Cmdr. Yokoyama was questioning Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) minutely and was noting down everything minutely ; how Cmdr. Yokoyama also recognized that the bones and other objects had belonged to the priests.
On 22nd November there was a religious service in commemoration of the victims with two hanging scrolls with generalissimo Terauchi’s inscriptions and a telegram; a forty Chinese and Japanese dignitaries were present. When Rev. Taguchi’s account is compared with Fr. Chanet’s, it can be noticed which details were not allowed to be revealed: 1. the rank of the representative (of Generalissimo Terauchi); 2. the content of the telegram; 3. the ‘error’.
From the view of Rev. Taguchi From the view of Fr. Chanet CM
Rank representative Colonel Kobayashi representative of Generalissimo Terauchi. Colonel Kobayashi representative of the Japanese Army
Telegram Telegram read out by Fr. Chanet before the ceremony: The Japanese army trusted the Catholic Mission very much and this sad fact has been caused only by some soldiers. A telegram of condolences, read at the cathedral in the beginning of the ceremony. It read: to the Catholic Mission of Zhengding. Offer my sentiments of profound condolences. Generalissimo of the Japanese Army. XK 21/11/1937.
Attendants Short list Extended list
Error (malentendu) Not mentioned in relation to the ceremony. Cmdr. Yokoyama gives a conference to the officers to prevent misunderstandings in the future
In his report on the memorial service, Fr. Chanet indicates that later on the officers were given a detailed “lesson” about missionaries and so on so as this kind of tragic misunderstandings [“malentendus”] would be prevented in future. The sentence added with Yokoyama’s permission at the end of this especially written account, which was going to be published, made public what ought to have remained a secret for the outsiders. BUT, a ‘misunderstanding’ [malentendu] is an explanation by Commander Yokoyama (Cmdr. Yokoyama does not have another explanation). It belongs to his assignment to solve ‘misunderstandings’ between the Church/Mission and the Japanese Army. Putting some action down with the predicate of ‘misunderstanding’, however, does not mean without more ado that the predicate coincides with the reality of the action. Was this indeed a ‘misunderstanding’? The part on the motive will shed light on this question.
Distinction ‘local’ from ‘official’ (public known) and its continued effect
At the Church of Zhengding two circuits were laid down: the number one on local level: recognizing the slaughter under the responsibility of the Japanese Army as a consequence of a misunderstanding. All four of them agreed on that. The two Japanese were going to transmit to Headquarters in Tianjin the Church’s five proposals about arranging the affair by mutual consent , one of which, the memorial service on 22nd November, had actually already been executed. Above all, this had to remain a local affair! But there came also a circuit on official and public level. Cmdr. Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi on one side and Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) and Msgr. de Vienne (文贵宾) on the other side were to report on what was allowed to be known.
The official circuit (Church and Embassies) recognized immediately the formalizing; their reactions bore witness to that fact: Msgr. Montaigne CM (满德贻) expected Msgr. de Vienne to come back with an authorized version or official version of what had happened with a good deal of details . In the meantime the French Embassy had recorded a statement of Fr. Ramakers CM November 19. It delayed its reaction until in the morning of the 25th of November, Msgr. de Vienne informed the French Embassy: “He confirmed formally Msgr. Schraven and his 8 companions’ demise; murdered by soldiers of the Japanese Army. The local military authorities and the officers charged with the investigation have recognized the facts”. Msgr. de Vienne posted also Msgr. Comisso, who felt disappointed because of Msgr. de Vienne’s restrained communicating. He asked for a report; he got one on 29th November and was disappointed with it too . Later on, the Dutch plenipotentiary minister in Peking was to conclude that in circles of the Church “people knew more than they wanted to divulge .”
In brief, it seems to be so that Msgr. de Vienne was abiding by the agreement nicely. Nevertheless, in the evening of Nov. 25, 1937 the French Embassy is able to inform the French Ambassador in Shanghai and to specify these ‘soldiers of the Japanese army’ in a second telegram sent same time : 10: probably 3 disguised Chinese; 7 certainly soldiers of Japanese army, Manchu or Japanese. The source of information is unidentified. Who had given this information?
Fr. Ramakers might be candidate because his statement is very particular and rather brief in its construction. He wanted it to know that he had interrogated the Chinese priests and domestics three days after the event. In the beginning it says:
1. “a number of ten kidnappers wore Japanese uniforms and all soft hats . This is what the Japanese Military Authorities report of November 7 says, but unknown for Fr. Ramakers. The only ones who might have this information at their disposal are Cmdr. Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi. Therefore this could be an indication of the meeting Fr. Ramakers had with Cmdr. Yokoyama.
2. Then immediately followed with the statement: “Two or three among them were Chinese speaking. They declared they were “red-bearded” of Manchu, [...] Those who accompanied them were “maybe” Japanese, but all of them belonged to the Japanese army.
The way it is formulated is exceptional: a) It does not mention Chinese, but Chinese speaking, which is quite different ; b) It shifts the accent to those who accompany: seven others ; c) and these “maybe” between apostrophes accents Japanese and seems to suggest: “for sure”. From this way of reading we could understand the telegram 310P that mentioned 7 Manchu or Japanese. The presence of the Manchu south of Baoding will be denied by the Japanese military spokesman three days later.
That SAME 25th November the REUTER agency received some information about the death of missionaries, that Manchu soldiers, serving in the Japanese army committed the murder out of revenge . Did this news item make the Japanese Headquarters angry and did it cause a reaction from the Headquarters in Tianjin? It is a fact that on November 27– ahead of Fr. Chanet’s (艾类斯) finishing his report – the French Embassy received through the Japanese Embassy the Japanese report of the Japanese Army’s headquarters dated 7 November. The French Embassy had hardly recovered from dismay and indignation, when on November 28 the Japanese military spokesman gave a press conference about the perpetrators: they are remaining Chinese soldiers!
The Japanese Army and the Japanese Embassy – on the army’s service – were playing the yes-no back and forth with the other teams concerned. It was a ping pong game without referee. Japan seems to be the favourite. Each for its own reasons the French and Dutch Embassy on the one hand and the Propaganda Fide on the other , choose the strategy not to inform the newspapers about the Japanese authors of the crime. This kind of discretion created a vacuum, in which it was very easy for the Japanese army to score by propagating its own view attributing the crime to Chinese bandits. Italian and other Japan favourite’s agencies followed this vision.
When the Trappists in Zhengding saw the Peking &Tientsin Times of December 2, they became furious . Fr. Edmond reproached Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) that he had let those two Japanese, whom he had praised so much, screw him . How was it possible that on 27 November they published a report based on an inquiry of November 2, as if the murder had not yet been discovered? Fr. Chanet’s reaction of December 9 showed great loyalty towards the Japanese Army together with prudence so as not to harm his own interests at the upcoming negotiations .
At the official level the affair with deadly results which had taken place in Japan’s occupied territory can no longer be kept silent, but it can still be obstinately denied and twisted. Mr. Morishima clarified that “military circles officially could not admit that the Japanese army was responsible and that also the amount of compensation should not give the appearance of an admission of responsibility of the Japanese army. Nothing would make the ‘État-Major’ change his thinking about the theory of the murder by Chinese refugees, that he had adopted ‘his honour would not permit him to adopt another theory’” .
Therefore, official acknowledgment would blame the Imperial Japanese army; which would be ‘an over my dead body’ for the Japanese État-Major. This explains why at the highest level of the army and embassy there could never be achieved an agreement regarding the perpetrators; all arrangements must remain outside the public domain, and nothing might ever be reduced to an involvement or recognition of the facts by the Japanese army at the official level.
At the end of march- beginning of April 1938 the yes-no back and forth ended when the French Ambassador with blackmail extorted a second compensation, which the Japanese army accepted on the one condition that there would never again be talk about Zhengding. The last hit was a deciding smash for Japan: silence about the events and no talk anymore about perpetrators. In the official circuit the matter was closed, but the lack of clarity about the measure of involvement of the Japanese army remained.
At the local level however the matter was not yet closed. For the Japanese army would build a monument in memory of the victims; the Japanese army approved the design, had paid 1000 Yen and had taken on itself the transport of the marble stones . On November 11, 1938 a year after the finding of the relics of the bishop and his companions, Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) wrote a statement about the monument, in which suddenly ’Chinese from Manchuria in the service of the Japanese army’ would be the perpetrators. This had not been heard from Fr. Chanet before!!! From where do these indictments come, what is the reason for it now that the official circuit with its discussion about the perpetrators has been closed? Did Fr. Chanet have to satisfy the Japanese army command this way, in order to secure the interests of the Church in Shijiazhuang? The headquarters of the Japanese army occupy the Church compound of the Vincentians there and prevented its enlargement. They had slowed down the realisation of the monument considerably and had moreover not agreed to put on the 4th panel of the monument the text “The Japanese army”. This indication of the perpetrators by Fr. Chanet remains a strange given.
About the measure of involvement of the Japanese some ideas are alive with several local missionaries, but this cannot be written about. There are indications of discrepancies with Fr. Chanet.
This does appear in 1940 when Msgr. Job Chen CM (陈启明) visited Msgr. Geurts CM, cousin of Msgr. Schraven CM (文致和), accompanied by one of his missionaries. Msgr. Geurts CM took the opportunity to ask Msgr. Job Chen who the perpetrators were. The answer was short and adequate: “not the Chinese, but the others were the criminals” (be aware: Msgr. Geurts CM was still not able to write down ‘the Japanese’, because of the fear his letter would be censored). Nothing is mentioned about a motive.
This certainty appears again in a letter of 1944, in which canon Roland, on grounds of private letters describes the point of view of Fr. Chanet CM: not a gang as one had thought of before, but “real Japanese soldiers!” Doubt about the inconvenience of publication of these facts makes him ask questions about the well founded opinion of the Congregation. The answer is not known, but careful comparison of several texts with the book in 1948 shows that the chapter about Chanet is so much edited and shifted that this point of view no longer can be reduced to Fr. Chanet, but the conclusion still sounds: Msgr. Schraven and companions have been killed by some Japanese soldiers. The story of the massacre is completely moved to chapter Bertrand, where the point of view is further weakened to ‘soldiers of the Japanese army’. This shows again how long and how far the influence of the Japanese army reached, and how people helped to build a wall of silence about the true perpetrators out of fear the Japanese army might damage people.
1. Chanet added to the uncertainty of who the perpetrators were by:
a. His attitude: much consorting with Japanese officers who are polite and suitable.
b. His disbelief almost from the start about any involvement of the Japanese army;
c. through these prejudices his consideration of the weight of the information given to him is influenced.
2. Fr. Chanet and Msgr. de Vienne (文贵宾) committing themselves to the Japanese aim: ‘do not harm the Japanese army’.
3. At the local level common agreements were made about naming the ‘perpetrators’.
4. Excluded from involvement were regular soldiers of the Japanese army and Japanese officers.
5. The reports of Chanet had to be read with the necessary reserve and with the right glasses: it is an authorized version. When one reads the documents of other people care must therefore be taken to see if one does not deal with a copied text of Fr. Chanet.
6. There is therefore a clear distinction between the local level and the official level.
THE SILENCE ABOUT THE MOTIVE(S)
The complete disappearance of 9 Europeans and the total silence have raised questions not only about who had taken the Europeans away, but already very early on about why they had been taken away and killed. Numerous speculations about that circulated. The Trappists are fairly active in discussing the possibilities:
hiding Chinese soldiers; being spies; hate for the Europeans towards the Mission is exceptional but they are very convenient with us . Revenge: What kind of revenge could it be? Chinese - dissatisfied of the Mission - would have accused the Fathers of hiding soldiers; revenge of the Buddhists; our Chinese are thinking more (in guarded terms) about denunciations coming from enemies of Monsignor, which he had made by his wanted isolation from the dignitaries of the town and his attitude sometimes a little bit cold (at least from outside) towards certain people.
Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) is not concerned much about the motive. As official representative on behalf of Zhengding Church he is the negotiator and concerned with the negotiations and most other affairs, because the vicariate of Zhengding has been decapitated. In his letters from the beginning of 1938 until November 11, 1938, he claims not to have time anymore to finish the report about the massacre and to check up on what the motive could have been.
In his statement of November 11, 1938 he writes: “In the evening they took away all Europeans who were in the residence for unknown reasons, took them to the wooden tower ‘Mou T’a’, 300 meters west of the residence” (bold, MG).
Fr. Ramakers CM wrote to the General Superior in January 1939: “If I knew the motive, I would let you know in writing” . BUT, in his Dutch letter of condolences dated 19-12-1937 (!) to Mr. Wouters Fr. Ramakers writes something very enigmatically: because they had left earlier, Fr. Vonken and he himself escaped the fate of the 9. “And it is only by a miracle that the Sisters were not taken away and murdered. Those nine instead!” In the Dutch language this is an uncommon construction. In a cryptic way a coupling is delicately made between ‘the 9’ and ‘the Sisters’; the 9 are taken away and murdered instead of the Sisters. This can possibly indicate a motive, and shifts the attention to phenomenon: women (and soldiers).
The silence about women and soldiers
There is one item, to which Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) surprisingly had paid little attention, and about which he speaks repeatedly in the weeks before his arrival in Zhengding, namely SOLDIERS AND WOMEN. After the arrival of the Japanese army in Dingzhou Fr. Chanet himself had to intervene several times in his Church compound ; before his arrival in Zhengding he writes about it twice to a commander. In these letters he indicates that each good Christian, priest and catechist chooses death rather than the handing over of women .
In Zhengding on the other hand this is hardly a theme. The only thing he indicates in his Notebook is: “No rape of persons, neither with the Josephines nor with the Sisters. But what a ruins !” For him this is the end of it. The commanders have long since [October 11, MG] the soldiers under their control again and there need be no fear any longer regarding the banditry of October 9 and 10 . But the Sisters have quite different opinions about that!
In their Journals they noted that still October 16 there were atrocities and horrors in the night and morning. At 5 pm the war was over. “In the streets there was a prohibition for soldiers to enter houses; but the refugees hesitated to return home, especially young women and women always exposed” .
October 11 – 12 [sic] even more refugees arrived: women, young girls and little children emaciated by hunger and the Sisters were not able to feed them enough because of all the refugees and lack of food. But they could not send these new ones back: “this would equate to deliver them to the soldiers. Wealthy pagans sent us their 18 year old daughters because they will be safe with us before the soldiers who do not respect anything or anyone" . October 13, the refugees have been warned to return home; there would be order now .
Fr. Chanet does write that the Sisters (after the kidnapping) were afraid that they or their refugees would also be taken; or that the fear hits them when soldiers stand on the roof. Why does Fr. Chanet mention nothing about the Japanese order of October 23 that all female refugees staying with the Sisters must leave before 7 o’clock in the evening? From his letters from Dingzhou it appears that he considered the flight of women as a sign of blind panic. In the archives in Paris such a Japanese order is found in Fr. Chanet’s correspondence dating October 13, which does not exactly reassure a woman . That order does recognize that there was/is misbehaviour by soldiers. Implicitly does Chanet indicate that the soldiers had their eyes on the refugees: that is why he lets Job Chen (陈启明) CM keep his eyes open with the refugees .
Close reading of the report from the hand of Fr. Chanet about the memorial service in the Zhengding Church shows the following: “They have died for us”. That is what the Christians and refugees say when they attend the memorial service as a token of gratitude for what the missionaries have done. Is “they died for us” a well edited text, which nicely connects with the suggestion made for the inscription of the stele: “They have given their lives for their sheep”? Or is it a real citation? It is a small mysterious sentence in a large spun cocoon of silence.
How should we understand this citation when we are aware that it is November 22? Fr. Chanet knows he is duty bound “not to enlarge the affair”; is not allowed to publish anything in the newspapers except with agreement. One should not forget the other reading which Rev. Taguchi revealed in his document: anything that might harm the Japanese army should be avoided. That is the most important aim; (and the end justifies the means). That also implies that all misbehaviour of the Japanese army must be covered up and hidden. And that later, after the good instructions from Japanese officers, in order to receive more appreciation/respect on the part of the Japanese army, it would be better not to insist too much on the ’accident’, as on the correct and sympathetic behaviour after this event .
When we review all this, we understand that Fr. Chanet(艾类斯) , Msgr. de Vienne(文贵宾), Cmdr. Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi are not the obvious persons to uncover the motive. On the contrary.
No demand of women in the Church compound?
One can say: the women in the Church compound were not raped. So nothing has happened, and it was therefore no subject matter in Zhengding. It is a well known given that women were a favourite object. It was not for nothing that they fled in large numbers to the Church compounds. At the capture of the town demands were made for women from the church, from the parson, or from the bonze .
From a declaration made already on December 1, 1937, by parson Hill of the Swedish Mission in Zhengding, at the Dutch embassy, it appears that at Zhengding Church women too were demanded .
Fr. Van Leeuw OCSO also narrates that on the same October 9, 1937, less than 3 km from the town, the soldiers at least twice combed out the buildings of the Trappist monastery; when they have seen everything, they ask: where are the women ? In Dingzhou (Tingchow) Japanese soldiers did also come to demand women; therefore this was not an unknown theme for Fr. Chanet. Did he not research this in Zhengding? Did no Chinese tell him about it for fear of his manifold contacts with Japanese? The Chinese after all knew that witnesses could pay for it with their lives. Did he set it aside as a fable and therefore did not mention it?
When in the evening the soldiers return to take the bishop and the other Europeans, they are again looking for women: they want to be taken to the European women. Fr. Tchang has to bring them. A synopsis of texts on this theme demonstrates the readings are very divergent, which learns a lot – in the perspective of history - about the sensibility of this theme and the need to minimize “the insisting of the soldiers”: from 2 hours (reading of the Sisters) to “they did not arrive at the Sisters” (Notebook of Chanet) or “in the garden they changed their minds and left” (latest redaction of Fr. Chanet) . In this way of minimizing the intention of the soldiers to go to the ‘European women’ and the time the soldiers insisted, Chanet’s commitment and the influence of the Japanese mission not to blame the Japanese army can be recognized.
If there would be a connection between ’the disappearance and the murder’ and ’the refusal to give women’, why then did the soldiers not return the next day to take the Sisters and other women? There were finally no Europeans anymore to prevent it. From the narrative of the Trappist Van Leeuw OCSO it appears that some officers were better informed: when the officers (on October 10) left the minor seminary to take a look in the town, they returned with the information: “In Zhengding we have lost face”. Something therefore must have gone terribly wrong….. which can be seen as a disgrace for the Japanese army. It is not unimaginable that other officers also understood the drift of that disgrace, considering the following fact: The coast was clear: nothing to prevent the soldiers from taking women and the Chinese protests would not be taken seriously.
So, if the soldiers had returned the next day and had taken away as many women as they wanted exactly, then THE CONNECTION between the ‘motive’ and ‘the disappearance resp. the massacre’ would be as clear as daylight and with it become public knowledge! That would be ‘disgrace upon disgrace’ and would have harmed the international regard of the Imperial Japanese Army even more . Evidently an urgent order had been issued forbidding the taking of women from the Church compound according to the usual method, in that way masking the motive. That is why the hunt for women had moved to the surrounding villages, and those women fled to the Missions, about which Sr. Poulieu DoC and Sr. Groenweghe DoC had written.
Shooting holes into a wall of silence (role of the ‘anti-silentionists’)
Besides the employed way of reasoning with the aid of deduction, the archives have provided still important ammunition with which to shoot holes into the ‘wall of silence’. Fr. Planchet CM (包士 世 杰), the ‘historian’ of the Vincentians in China, has asked Fr. Chanet to document this case well, because it is too important to surrender it to oblivion . It is fortunate that apart from Fr. Chanet still others have been there, who with perseverance have been searching for information and have been ‘anti-silence’. Informally they have in time informed relatives about what they had come to know. Fortunately the importance of their letters was understood and they have been preserved in archives. Their letters show which relevant ’details’ are missing in the ’official’ version, and how much silence is imposed. At the end of 2013 4 European and 2 Chinese documents are on the table, all of them connected with motive.
Close reading brings interesting things to light. To begin with, there is the confidential statement of Reverend Hill, member of the Swedish Mission (Protestant) at Zhengding, made at the Dutch Legation in Peking on December 1, 1937 ; Mr. Hill trusted that judicious use will be made in view of various difficulties which are being put into the way of possible witnesses. (Diplomatic language!) Fear is clearly present. Points of attention:
1. Demand for young women by Japanese soldiers; 2. The missionaries would never deliver women, Japanese soldiers left; 3. Anger at the refusal of women could not have been the only motive! The attention has been drawn: no doubt about this motive, but about ‘the only motive’! Because they refused too and they are still alive. Another striking item is his relating the emotion of anger in combination with the refusal! Is this a memory of personal experience in this case, how delicate it is to sell ‘no’? Or does this coupling of anger at the refusal echo knowledge about the course of affairs, which are not expressed in this statement?
The connection of anger and refusal is in fact also mentioned in two other documents, viz. the document of the Trappist Van Leeuw and the letter of the Vincentian Father Olivers .
Fr. Olivers CM (李明源, Li Ming-yuan) had the opportunity to learn more particulars concerning the motive during his internment in Weishien and Beijing (1943). He met the Chinese interpreter, who was with the Japanese, when they entered the city and came to the residence of the Bishop and who was present at the massacre that evening. This letter has also very important clues.
1. On the day the Japanese entered the city, they demanded girls and young women for their soldiers. (Underlining, MG; after this being said, an enumeration starts ).
2. A Japanese Commander and several soldiers came to the bishop to collect young women, after having visited the Chief Bonze (=grand Bonze) of the temple next door; he promised them a few and referred to the Catholic Mission: there were girls for the choosing [!].
3. They spoke for a long time; with the Bishop in order to get what they wanted; but still, the bishop was adamant in his refusal; he should have said: you may kill me if you wish, but to give you what you demand – never! (What a brother has heard); so there was a witness!
4. After threatening the Commander has left furiously. So, no girls for the choosing! And it is not unthinkable since he left in such a fury, that he “has lost face” before his soldiers.
5. That same evening he executed his threats. ‘He’, refers to the Commander.
That combination of anger and refusal is narrated by Guest master Trappist Van Leeuw of the monastery of Our Lady of Joy as follows ; “The soldiers showed their intention to take them [young women, MG] away with them. One of the soldiers was soon in Schraven ’s office. Outside the room could be heard angry outbursts of voices and the noise of desk thumping. The Bishop did not budge. The soldiers left the office, slamming the door shut”. An observant reader will see the inconsequence: one soldier entering, more soldiers leaving, but this does not matter for the result: refusal and anger; but the inconsequence matters under the aspect of “losing of face”.
If you add to this the information which Bro. Friedrich CM (方道林, Fang Dao-lin) gives to the brother of Thomas Ceska CM (柴慎成, Chai Shen-cheng) that it concerned 200 women , the parson Hill could perhaps be right with his remark that ‘the anger about the refusal to give women’ cannot be the only reason; but in combination with the “losing of face” of a commander in the eyes of his soldiers, it becomes acceptable that in the evening there has been a revenge in order to repair the “loss of face”. He is supported by Fr. Zhao OCSO who is also thinking that revenge against the foreigners living in the church compound for the way they defended women [….] is not the only reason, but just one factor in the whole situation up to the massacre: revenge against the Bishop and the foreigners under him, on behalf of one of the Zhengding Chinese Catholic spies for the Japanese .
The number of 200 women has also been preserved in Chinese tradition. This large number makes it very improbable, that it was just intended for a limited number of soldiers, or that such a large number can just be asked for by any soldier, in such a large Church compound. This large number really supports the information which Fr. Olivers (李明源) gives: the commander came to demand young women for their soldiers! The number of 200 women was necessary to provide for a regiment. At the head of a regiment is a commander!
Mention needs to be made for another Chinese tradition: “According to what people have told me, the soldiers had asked to be provided with 300 young women, in order for the Bishop and priests to be released. Hearing this, the Bishop shouted from the truck: “I am the Bishop. I would die before I let such a thing happen” .
Although for Fr. Olivers CM and Fr. Van Leeuw OCSO it is the Bishop who refuses to give women (who else there was still in the room is a well kept secret), the witness of the Chinese manager of the Mission in the confidential statement of Parson Hill, in which he speaks of “missionaries who would never deliver the girls to them”, is not without meaning. Fr. Chanet informs the serving commander in Dingzhou plainly the same before his arrival in Zhengding . Fr. Zhao OCSO has declared that everyone knew that the Bishop and his Council take major decisions; it was not only his decision .
Contribution of the Japanese soldiers [to the breaking down of the wall of silence]
A precious archival source was made public and with it open to study . This source too made it clear that the Japanese military leadership did their utmost to hush up or deny everything.
Yet Japanese soldiers themselves have broken down the wall of silence by making public the connection between the motive and the massacre. Brother Franz Friedrich CM (方道林) wrote about Japanese soldiers who saw the pictures of the martyrs and asked why they have been burned. They said: “We know nothing. If they had given us the desired 200 comfort-girls, they would not have been burnt ”.
The Zhengding church massacre had an enormous impact on missionaries of Northern China. The soldiers tried cleverly to make use of it, as appears from the following: Four months later in Luanfu, where Dutch missionaries (Franciscans) were, they also asked for young women for their enjoyment. When they were refused, the soldiers threatened them with the words: “Do not forget what happened at the Catholic Mission in Chengtingfu” .
We hear an echo of this with a special reverberation in the series of articles by Li Yuan: “A similar thing happened in Lu An Fu city, Shanxi Province. The Japanese soldiers were wont to say: be careful. Do not forget the Zhengding incident. But what was the Zhengding incident? They did not know, and some did not even know that it was the name of a city” .
The fact that the soldiers did not know anymore and still used the saying as means of pressure to get women, gives indications about the factors time (duration), popularity and space (spread: not only limited to the surroundings of Zhengding).
Briefly, precisely the combination of ‘the demand for women’ and the means of pressure: “do not forget what happened in Zhengding” only affirms the motive of the massacre.
SILENCE ABOUT THE MARTYRS
The motive has indeed become clear: revenge for the ‘loss of face’ of the Japanese commander because of the refusal by Schraven to hand over 200 women for the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese commander Yokoyama has certainly known about this motive. It is very striking that Commander Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi would like to write a condolence letter to the Pope. Why? For what purpose? As Catholics to unburden their conscience? At the end it is their initiative. A day before the official memorial service in Beijing Commander Yokoyama signed a condolence letter in behalf of the lieutenant-general Okabe of the Headquarters in Tianjin, a letter translated by Rev. Taguchi into French, addressed to the Apostolic Delegate and intended for the Pope, in which he admitted that Schraven and his companions “have died as martyrs for their missionary ideal ”. In the presence of Rev. Taguchi this letter was handed to Msgr. Comisso by Cmdr. Yokoyama. In view of the fact that at an official level mention is always made of ‘victims’, the term ‘martyrs’ must be called very striking. Both Comdr. Yokoyama and Rev. Taguchi as expert on canon law know really well the distinction between ‘victim’ and ‘martyr’. It is remarkable that the priest who was very reluctant and weakening the involvement of the Japanese army in his report of December 3, 1937, in this case recognizes Msgr. Schraven and his companions ‘martyr’ …
Msgr. Comisso has been regularly in contact with the investigating commission in the beginning and in the end. He chooses to end his report with the sentence: “ Bonus Pastor dat animam suam pro ovibus suis”. (The Good Shepherd gives his soul for his sheep). Is this his way to affirm the recognition of the martyrdom in a condolence letter by the Japanese investigation commission on behalf of the Japanese army?
December 19 Commander Yokoyama wrotes exactly the same letter to Fr. Morelli, the senior Vincentian of the vicariate of Zhengding and provicar. As soon as Msgr. de Vienne (文贵宾) heard about the contents of this letter he let Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) know that this letter must not under any condition be made public in the newspapers . It confirmed: 1. ‘martyr’ is rather different from ‘victim’; 2. Publicity of acknowledgement of the involvement of the Japanese army must be avoided. Msgr. de Vienne CM showed himself to be a faithful and loyal collaborator in protecting the honour of Japanese army by preventing such a publication and by hushing this up!
The Vatican played also a role in keeping the silence about the martyrs of Zhengding Catholic Church. In May 1938 they informed all ecclesiastical dignitaries in China and prohibited any speculation about the blood of the martyrs . This is the result of a long report from the French Ambassador to the Holy See in Rome. These measures were probably taken to avoid the anger of Japan and to protect the Missions and Missionaries in China.
It took the Vatican a long time to decide on the successor of Msgr. Schraven. January 1939 it became known that Job Chen CM (陈启明) had been appointed. A letter of congratulations has been found - with the promise of Cmdr. Yokoyama to see Job Chen CM and to congratulate him with his consecration probably at the end of May 1939 .
The situation in Zhengding probably would not allow the Vincentian Job Chen to be consecrated, on the one hand because of the worsening of the situation. As witness just a few examples: the difficult realisation of the monument without the solemn blessing (in the promised presence of Yokoyama and Taguchi), the ‘furtive’ interment of the bodily remains of the Servants of God on the Pait’ang; and the ukase from the State Major enforced for the official circuit starting on April 12 1938 , that speaking about ‘October 9 in Zhengding’ would never again be allowed.
On the other hand, the young missionary Paul Gunth CM at Zhengding Church disclosed an emotional discussion between two camps in Zhengding, when in April 1939 he wonders why the Catholic world knows so little about the dramatic tragedy that had been played out in Zhengding. He writes: “The interested ecclesiastic authorities, either because they were bound by a given word, or because of a totally different motive, have not been willing to make public the details of the unbelievable drama” [….] What is the use, they say, of exciting the spirits? What is the use of stirring up the famous ashes in order to look for the responsibilities? The dead are dead and we cannot resuscitate them ”. Are people afraid of these ‘anti-silentionists’? Msgr. de Vienne (文贵宾), meanwhile also Apostolic Delegate for the occupied territories, and therefore loyal to and dependent on the Japanese army, doesn’t he dare to take risks with the anti-Japanese sentiments? This consecration of the first Chinese Bishop of the vicariate of Zhengding, where such a massacre had taken place, will of course draw the expected (international) attention and also the expected guests.
The fact is, that the consecration was moved to the vicariate of Tianjin of de Msgr. de Vienne CM. Must Msgr. Job Chen CM (陈启明) be initiated here into the silence? As secretary of Fr. Chanet CM (艾类斯) he knows after all a thing or two. Although Msgr. Job Chen apparently does locally not express himself about affairs with regard to the perpetrators of the massacre of Zhengding Church , he nevertheless as bishop chooses a significant heraldic device, whose clarity needs no further explanation: “Martyrium vestigia sequamur”; let us walk in the footprints of the martyrs. With it Msgr. Job Chen CM makes his own statement: the palm leaves; the pagoda of Zhengding on one side (new martyrs) and St. Peter’s in Rome on the other side (martyrs of the past), speak volumes without words.
In 2008 at his visit in Wittem (NL), the former secretary of Cardinal Taguchi, Shirayanagi, has declared to Mr. V. Hermans that the events of Zhengding have never been communicated. In August 2012 the diaries of Rev. Taguchi have been checked about the Zhengding incident; according to the Sisters who keep these diaries, only his presence in Zhengding has been mentioned, but nothing about the events. The Zhengding incident must apparently remain wrapped in silence. A silence which is also significant. The Zhengding Church incident must apparently remain wrapped in silence. A silence which is also significant.
Rev. Taguchi’s “contribution” in this case is his admission and recognition of the words “martyrs for their missionary ideal” in the letter to the Apostolic Delegate and meant for the Pope, affirmed by the signature of Commander Yokoyama on behalf of Lieutenant Colonel Okabe of the Terauchi Headquarters.
As imposing as the high wall around the old city of Zhengding is the constructed wall of silence around the event - the perpetrators - the motive(s) and the martyrs of the Zhengding Church massacre. Hundreds of archival documents related to the massacre contributed to show in which way the wall of silence was constructed, and at the same time enabled the unearthing of what should have been hidden from view.
On the one hand a huge number of archival documents helped to link and deduce a lot of information about origins of texts and their redaction, about facts, acts and whereabouts of the figures after the event, and to unveil unnoticed aspects or details. The archival documents have also brought into awareness that the ‘story’ - document(s) have an ‘authorized’ version of the history: it tells what is allowed to be known. The version of Fr. Chanet (艾类斯) has been copied regularly: it became ‘an official one’. Unauthorized letters offer a lot of detailed information which is supposed not to be known. Awareness about this is an important tool.
On the other hand Japanese documents unveiled a very important objective, which appeared to be a clue: The Japanese army should not be harmed or blamed. To protect the Imperial Japanese Army from the ever present menace of her honour being blamed a clever strategy has been developed: so, the silencing, denial, and distortion of facts have been used as a very effective method of hiding Japanese involvement from (official public) view and to obscure the truth. Equipped with a toolkit full of instructions (being pretexts) and strategies the discussion partner(s) of the investigation commission was (were) delicately instructed how to earn the respect of the Japanese army by not insisting on the ’accident’ but on the correct and favourable attitude of the Japanese army after the event.
It was not difficult to silence the discussion partners: out of fear and out of a different kind of interest towards involved persons, communities, countries, the future, and so on they commit themselves . In keeping silent in public they fulfil the proverb: silence gives consent, and in this way they cooperated in blinding the outside world about the truth.
The conclusion on this aspect is: The suppression of the truth about the horrors of the Zhengding massacre, in spite of its obvious news value, can be described as a conspiracy of silence.
The unauthorized letters of the local informal circuit and some‘anti-silentionists’ were of inestimable value to reveal the hushing up of the motive. Clarifying the motive was of decisive importance to solve the question of the perpetrators to wit: the ‘loss of face’ of a Japanese commander caused by the refusal of 200 women for the soldiers led to an act of revenge by a Japanese commander. This revenge was well prepared and executed by a group existing of an interpreter, Japanese soldiers with help of two Chinese speaking persons.
By speaking themselves the archival documents have contributed to clarify the silence.
September 27, 2014
Drs. Maria Grim.