Much of the success in China’s controlling  the Covid virus was due to local communities taking responsibility.  Volunteers manned roadblocks and prevented strangers from entering into their village or estate.

In the countryside this enabled life to go on almost as normal after an initial one month of strict confinement to homes. Once that ban to movement was lifted people could do business as usual within their own village or district, safe from outside threats.  

In certain parts of the Chinese countryside the proportion of Catholics is so high that they are known as ‘Catholic Villages.’ Their population could be from 3,000 to 6,000. These villages have a similar sense of autonomy and responsibility. Despite national programs to eradicate religion, they continue to gather for morning prayers (at 5.00 am!) and again for evening prayer.

Even though a priest, when available, only visits them once a week or a month they themselves continue to instruct their young in the faith and gather to celebrate. These are the communities which produced a new generation of priests and Sisters, keeping their beliefs and hopes alive.

Because they are in the countryside these communities may be expected to be old fashioned and conservative but in fact they are using the latest technology and social media to share and develop their faith.  They use the media to discuss the new challenge facing them and look for ways of responding.

The creation of such communities in Ireland would not only help create safe ‘bubbles’ in which  people could  return to normal life but be a solution to the challenges of passing on the values of faith from one Irish generation to the next.  

The Virus, there and here

With the Covid rate and fear increasing in Ireland every day, it is interesting that in China, with a  population of one and a half billion, the number of new cases is minimal and stable.

How did they manage that?

Back in January, once the threat of the virus was officially acknowledged, they immediately ordered a strict lockdown in Wuhan, where the virus started to spread. Gradually the restrictions were implemented in other parts of the country and for the next three months over half of the population was confined to their homes. After three months the regulations were gradually eased and now the only concern is that the virus will come back through people returning to China from abroad.

So they have made it difficult for people to return.  I know some Chinese students who have being waiting since May for a chance.  The odds are against them. The number of flights is restricted and the cost is about five times what it was.

Besides that, they have to get a Covid test before they leave and that costs at least E180.

When they do arrive in China they have to enter a quarantine center for two weeks for which they have to pay themselves.

Despite the rigid lockdown, the economy seems to have survived, though it took a beating.  The government offered no compensation to those put out of work or to small businesses that had to close.

How did our response differ and why? We value our freedom, they value their security. 

Dublin’s new Mayor

I have never met the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, but I know the villages in the New Territories of Hong Kong where her parents come from and I know Guilin in south China  where she was a volunteer teacher for a year.

I am also familiar with that amazing ability, typified by Hazel, which enables a remarkable number of people of Chinese descent to move quickly from hardship to financial stability and social service.  

Her parents came separately to Ireland and first met while working in the same restaurant in Dublin. They opened a restaurant themselves and Hazel worked there when she was young, washing dishes and cooking. Today her mother runs four restaurants.  

Hazel graduated from UCD in history and politics and went on become a barrister.  Over the next few years she worked for a number of ngos and companies to repay the cost of her studies.  

In 2009 she took time off to go to Guilin to teach is a poor county school.

In 2016 she joined the Green Party and became the first Green Party councillor in Dublin (Pembroke district) in 2019. She was elected chair of the party.

In June of this year she was elected mayor of Dublin, the ninth women to hold that post.

Unfortunately she has also been a victim of racism, being attacked aggressively on social media. A proud Dubliner, she says she can cope with the abuse and will continue her contribution to the city with the same energy and social concern that got her this far.    

Closer than You Think

What city in the world has the greatest interest in religion? It is Beijing, China.

The New York Times reports that since May, Chinese hackers have infiltrated the Vatican’s computers to spy on its preparations for a Vatican-Beijing meeting in September.

One attack was a virus hidden inside a document that appeared to be a legitimate email from the Vatican to Msgr. Javier Corona Herrera, the Vatican representative in Hong Kong

Chinese hackers and state authorities regularly use cyberattacks to gather information on groups of Buddhist Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs and Falun Gong practitioners outside China. Inside China surveillance is taken for granted.

The Communist Party is suspicious of all religious groups because they have alternative values and priorities, and their local communities are not under complete Party control.

The hacking in Hong Kong was also directed at the offices of the Catholic Diocese and of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), a large missionary group there.

The International Headquarters of the Columban Fathers is also located in Hong  Kong so this development must be a source of concern for them also.

Is Dialogue Better than Confrontation?

Two years ago the Chinese Communist Party and the Vatican signed a two-year agreement to seek agreement and cooperation. Yet the Party continued to implement a harsh anti-religion program reminiscent of the Mao era, removing all religious symbols in public and forbidding young people to attend religious services.

The Hong Kong South China Morning Post has being reviewing the situation. It quotes a researcher who is a Communist Party member but asks not to be named.

“This is rooted in an outdated Marxist outlook that sees religion as a backward and reactionary idealism, Crackdowns and containment are the only response. Religions and religious believers are products of an evolving society. Completely denying the value of religion today is no different to completely denying the value of our own society. This is pure self-sabotage.

“The Chinese authorities overlook the complexity of religion in China and treat believers as ‘opposing forces’. But persecution will only lead to faster growth of unauthorised religious groups, especially among Christians.

Wenzhou diocese that had more than 3,000 baptisms last year under the leadership of underground bishop Shao Zhumin, who remains a frequent target for local authorities.

“The church must keep lighting the candle of hope, trusting only God can bring forth the change. If we lose hope, we will lose everything.”

Entry Regulations in Asia

As we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of letting foreign tourists into Ireland, consider what is happening in Asia. Here we ask for a self-regulated quarantine on arrival, there it is more rigorous.

If you are a Korean national wanting to return home, or a foreign tourist, you have to do a 14 day quarantine in a designated hotel. It will cost you E2,000, which covers room and meals, plus medical checks and transport.

In China, it is similar. You must stay in a designated hotel and it will cost E50 a day.

If you return to Hong Kong from Beijing (same country?), even a Hong Kong resident has to spend at least one night in a designated hotel and then two weeks in quarantine at a place of their choice  with an electronic tag that will tell if they stray from where they are supposed to be.

Despite this, the virus has started to spread again in Hong Kong. With 52 new cases yesterday, face masks are back on, bars are closed and parks such as Disneyland out of bounds.

Public gatherings are reduced from 50 people to four which is a relief to the security forces as the city tries to figure out just what the new security laws imposed by Beijing mean for businesses, families and individuals.

10 Million doing the Leaving

The Leaving Exams were cancelled in Ireland this year but in China ten million students sat for the Gaokao, the local equivalent, early this week.

Irish students might think the Leaving puts a lot of pressure on them (and their parents) but it nothing to what the Gaokao means in China. Students there study day and night for five years to prepare for this exam which will decide their future and their parents leave no stone unturned in effort to see their child succeeds.

Those efforts include appeals to the spirts of Einstein, Newton and Confucius. At exam time fruit, flowers, food and written prayers are offered to their statues, often located in public places.

At this moment in Chinese history, when the government is engaged in what it hopes to be the ultimate program to exterminate all forms of religion, this expression of public religious belief must be a disappointment.

The students’ parents were born around 1970 but they still display the Chinese confidence in the afterlife and the ability of the deceased to influence the present.

It is interesting that they appeal not to those who succeeded in business or media but to those famous for their learning. Their ‘saints’ are those who changed our understanding of what it is to be human (like Confucius) or our knowledge of the world around us (like Newton and Einstein).

It is this refusal to see religion and science as opposed but rather as two partners in the search for truth that distinguishes the Chinese even today.

1 July: Celebrating what?

I was in Hong Kong on 1 July 1997 when the city officially was reunited with the mainland government.  It was a joyous occasions.

At the time of the handover there was a promise that the Beijing Government would not interfere directly in Hong Kong affairs for 50 years but on the 23rd anniversary of that promise, on 1 July 2020, the same government imposed a new security law on the city.

Now anyone who organises, plans, commits or participates in independence movements, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign countries can be imprisoned for life.

One of the reasons for this drastic measure was the demonstrations over the past two years for greater civic freedoms and accountability. Though the vast majority of the demonstrators were peaceful, a violent minority did cause unnecessary disruption and damage. Now anyone, peaceful or violent, who gets involved in such protests can be jailed for life.  370 were arrested on the first day for protesting against the law.

Hong Kong is part of China but its people are unhappy that, despite modern prosperity, decisions that affects them are decided by a distant government that does not listen to them.

I liked the photo of the Hong Kong leaders celebrating the handover and new security laws on 1 July. Were they wearing masks to show they would be silent from now on?

An Ireland-India-China Connection

I discovered a connection between the twenty Indian soldiers killed in the recent border dispute with China and a distant relative of mine.

The link was Sir Henry McMahon ((1862-1949) who helped negotiate the McMahon Line between India and Tibet/China in 1914. India and China are still fighting over the boundary as last week’s events show. 

Sir Henry was the great-grandson of Arthur McMahon, a McMahon of Oriel, in mid-Ulster, to which our MacMahons belong. Unusual for a MacMahon, he became a Presbyterian minister.  The family had settled in Downpatrick but moved to Kilrea in Co Derry when Arthur was assigned to the church there.

The red-headed Arthur was called ‘a most daring and pugnacious man’ and became a member of the National Directorate of the United Irishmen.  He was a colonel in Ulster during the 1798 uprising and fought in a number of battles in Ulster. Afterwards he had to flee to France. There he joined Napoleon’s Irish legion and died fighting, probably at Waterloo, in 1815.  

His son, Captain Alexander McMahon, was born in Kilrea in 1791 and became an officer in the East India Company.

His son (Sir Henry’s father), Lt-General Charles Alexander McMahon (1830-1904), was a notable officer in the East India Company and became a distinguished geologist. As could be expected, Henry ended up in India too. As Foreign Secretary of British India he signed the 1914 Simla Convention which fixed the McMahon Line along the crest of the Himalayas as the boundary between India and Tibet and, now, China.  

I now know where the McMahon Line is and that not all MacMahons stayed at home in Monaghan and neighbouring counties.  I note that Arthur’s family spelt their name with a ‘Mc’. There are no Henrys, Alexanders or Charles’ in our branch of the family, though there was a Columban McMahon from Monaghan named Arthur (no relation).

Photo: Sir Henry.

Good bye, Audrey

Just eleven months ago I wrote a blog on an autobiography written by ‘An overseas Brit and a Sichuan country girl’. She was Audrey Donnithorne who died in Hong Kong,  9 June, aged 98.

Audrey was born in China, studied in England, taught in Australia, researched economics in Hong Kong and travelled in and out of China for 40 years before being banned.

She was one of the founders of AITECE, the organisation with which I worked in Hong Kong, sending volunteer teachers to China to work with Chinese students and improve cross-cultural relationships.

Audrey had a deep interest in the progress of the Church in China, especially in recent years.

Like most people familiar with the situation in China she was pessimistic about the outcome of the agreement between the Vatican and Beijing in 2018.

In a recent article she said, “The full resumption of diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See will probably come eventually, but in God’s time, in this millennium or the next. But we must bear in mind that, perhaps, the greatest long-term danger to the Church in China may come not from government oppression but from government patronage and that, as in the fourth century West, the switch from one to the other might arrive with surprising speed.“

She will be missed by many, in many countries.