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By Emmanuel Hanquet
In a Country
Embroiled in Civil War
Translated by Albert de Zutter
From Peking to Hungtung, November 4-17, 1945
At that time, taking a train from the Peking station required some travel experience on the part of the ordinary tourist. The volume of travelers meant that there could be no reserved seats, most especially in third class, which is how I traveled. You had to get your ticket the day before, then throw yourself into the melee and elbow your way in to grab a spot. But fortunately I was dressed in a way that gave me a position of prestige which helped on several of my trips. As prisoners of war we had been supplied with American Marine Corps uniforms, down to our underwear. This sheltered me from controls and verifications.
It was, then, in the image of a liberator that I left as a forward scout to return to the apostolic prefecture (nowadays we would say diocese) of Hungtung, three days’ journey by train from Peking. For the sake of security I avoided night travel because of the civil war and the possibility of Communist guerilla attacks. The rail lines were still guarded by Japanese troops, even though the emperor had capitulated four months earlier. That had been a part of the surrender agreement signed by Hirohito.
I left Peking on December 4, having bought my ticket the day before, hoping thus to secure a seat by arriving a quarter of an hour in advance. But when it was time to leave I still had to find my glasses and say my farewells before mounting a bicycle which I intended to leave at the station. I arrived with no more than five minutes to spare. The train was not in bad condition. The third class cars – 1930 models – were clean. (In this model the compartments were made up of benches facing one another, two three-person seats on one side and two single-seats on the other. NDLA) But that morning the train was full to the point of bursting – people were seated everywhere, a dozen instead of eight in each compartment. There were two or three passengers in each toilet, and dozens of others were perched on the roof or hanging from the platforms. Thanks to my American uniform, and by pushing back with my backpack – which I had sewn in the concentration camp with a view to escaping -- I was able to create a foothold for myself in the last row of the exterior platform.
Finally the train shuddered and started up, leaving behind many disappointed would-be passengers who were not able to get aboard. It was cold, but I was consoled by telling myself that I was departing from Peking and on my way to my mission at Hungtung. After an hour’s travel and several stops, I succeeded in forcing my way inside the car where I found three Scheut Fathers who were returning to KuiSui, Mongolia, via Shansi. They traveled with me as far as YuTse.
Suddenly a woman passenger complained of feeling ill. She had to be passed from shoulder to shoulder to reach the platform where she could breathe some fresh air. To get off the train, people had to climb from shoulder to shoulder. I thanked heaven that I had not brought anything but a backpack and a briefcase. Even though I was one of three people sitting on a bench for two, I was able to say my breviary prayers and even study a little Chinese.
Towards noon we arrived at the PeiHo River. As the bridge had been damaged, we had to leave the train and walk for 20 minutes to get to another train which had to wait for us. People jumped out the windows and hurried all over the place to reach the other bank first. Alas, the wooden bridge over the river was in poor repair, and ended up being a single plank. We had to perform like acrobats, and as there were close to 2,000 passengers, needless to say there was much jostling and shoving. Nevertheless, I reached the other side of the river fairly quickly, but there was no train there. We waited two hours before a train from the south arrived from Paoting. That one also was packed. People disembarked and entered by all the openings, truly a battle without precedent. The Apostolic Vicar of Chenting was hoisted up by two Scheut Fathers, and he landed on his head in the compartment. As for me, I pulled myself in and ended up in a former sleeping car of which nothing remained but the shell. My backpack served as a cushion, and I was squared away to meditate on the scarcity of window panes.
At 16:30 hours we arrived at Paoting, and I took part in a meal with some Chinese merchants, traveling companions who invited me to dine. That was a welcome snack as I had eaten nothing all day except for two “pingtze” (I could find no translation – A. de Z.) and some persimmons. When I arrived at the mission at 19:00 hours, there was no supper, but I was bombarded with questions about life in Peking and in the Weihsien camp. Monsignor Chow, the bishop, spent the evening with me, but the unheated room was very cold. War had left its mark there, leaving a legacy of poverty.
On December 5, in the hope of finally finding a seat, I arose very early and hurried my breakfast. When I arrived at the station, the train was almost empty; it would not leave until 9:30 hours. I had decided to make use of my American uniform to travel without cost, and a smiling Japanese soldier who was guarding the railroad, opened a door for me. All the length of the tracks the Japanese provided surveillance and protection against attacks by Communists. There were fortifications a dozen meters high every three kilometers.
When we arrived at Shihmen toward 17:00 hours, I came upon a station severely damaged by American bombing. I departed from there without difficulty to return to my mission where I was welcomed by Lazarist Father Chanet, a repentant public adversary of Father Lebbe. He was in charge of the residence, and would receive the Scheut Fathers after me. The house was very lively as it was occupied in part by Chinese generals who also held secret meetings there. Chinese priests were also in residence, and we had to sleep in the hallways after a much too light supper, which reminded us of Weihsien. We passed the evening with a young Chinese physician, a graduate of the University of Aurora in Shanghai. He was a cousin of T.V. Soong, and director of the small mission hospital.
On December 6 we celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas with coffee in a third class wagon. Our departure was quite eventful. There were people on the roof, and there were several laborers trying to find a way to get aboard. One of them latched onto a cross-bar between two cars while holding a sack of cotton with his other hand. After a while, seized with a cramp, he had to let go his hold while the train was rolling. Happily, he fell at the side of the train and got up with no apparent harm.
I continued to travel without paying, with people sitting on my knees or standing all around. As the four of us were foreigners, we presented the Chinese who surrounded us with an enigma. A self-assured Chinese man was giving a discourse about our noses. “This one with a hooked nose and a beard – he is no doubt a Russian”; “that one with a turned-up nose, that is most certainly an American”; “that other one with an ordinary nose, that must be a Frenchman.” As for me, they spared themselves the trouble of identification. Up until then my uniform had been recognized, but further on people asked themselves on seeing me, “Is that an American or a Russian?”
We were now leaving the plains and entering the mountains of the Shansi Province. The governor, Yen Si Shan, had been given the title of “model governor” because he had been a good administrator of his province; perhaps a little too good. For example, the railroad tracks crossing his entire province were constructed in a narrow gauge, different from the width of the tracks in the other provinces. That prevented the rail cars and locomotives from leaving his province. It was necessary, therefore, to transfer goods and passengers upon arriving at the borders of his province. Yen Si Shan also had his own currency and troops, who had rallied to the central government upon its reentry into Nanking.
During the last six months American airplanes had damaged most of the locomotives, and those which pulled our heavy train did so with difficulty. As we entered the mountains tunnels became more and more numerous, and we were half-choked in traversing them because our doors and windows would no longer close. At each station the people riding on the roofs were warned to lie down on entering the tunnels. Several days earlier, in fact, a half-dozen who had not taken that precaution were decapitated. In one of those hell-holes that we passed through the Communists had planted a mine several days before. The result was 30 people killed and many wounded. The explosion flung the carriage up to the arch of the tunnel, crushing the people on the roof.
We made a stop at Yung Tsuan, half-way toYu Tse. The resident Italian priest received us with good will, and we gave 2,000 yuan to his cook so she could find us some meat. But once again we had to camp because the Japanese still occupied a part of the mission.
On December 7, after an early morning Mass we gained entry to the station quite easily, thanks to the helpfulness of the station chief, a Christian. That was fortunate as lines of 100-200 meters formed at each ticket window. It enabled us to get settled without difficulty. Our train had to climb till 14:00 hours, huffing and puffing all the way, before reaching 1,075 meters of altitude, which brought us to the threshold of Shansi. The locomotive was at its limit, and had to stop for half an hour every 10 kilometers. Happily, once arrived at the top, all we had to do was coast to Yu Tse. But shortly before we arrived, I witnessed a scene that can be described at least as picturesque: the passengers on the roof, not being able to contain themselves any longer, shamelessly hosed down anyone who passed through the doors and windows!
As I had many friends in the diocese of Yu Tse, I decided to spend the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with the Franciscans of the Province of Bologna, who always received me with good will. I was not sorry to sleep late and spend time with Monsignor Pessers, apostolic prefect of Kiang Chow, who had traveled for 10 days to get to Yu Tse and found that he was stuck there. He was taken by my energy and decided to resume his journey soon. My course was already decided: I would be on my way again the next day in an attempt to get to Fenyang by evening where I was to meet the apostolic vicar. I used my time on the way to get information about the state of the railroad tracks from the merchants heading south. I also paid a visit to a sick friend, Mr. Jen, who had accompanied me to Hungtung when I arrived in China in 1939.
On December 9, even though it was a Sunday, I set off toward the south. The station master accompanied me onto the train to reserve a place for me in a rail car. We were packed in like cattle, and it was very cold. We arrived at Ping Yao at 15:00 hours. That was where I had to get off to get to Fengyang, I had been told. But I had been misinformed. That route was occupied by the Reds. I consoled myself in passing the night at the home of Father Tchang, who extended me a warm welcome and asked me a pile of questions about the Society of Mission Auxiliaries. He was so eager to have my colleague Father Wenders come and teach at the seminary in Hungtung that he was willing to get on his knees to beg him to do so.
Some merchants informed me that the railroad
was cut off at Fu Kia T’an, leaving me
150 kilometers to cover on foot! Because of the proximity of Communist troops, I reverted to my Chinese clothes to be less noticeable. On December 10 I learned that the Reds had destroyed one or two kilometers of track, and that I would have to wait three days for them to be repaired. I took advantage of that delay to visit several schools and churches and meet with some Christians. I also spent some interesting hours with the old parish priest, who had a positive interest in my work. Unfortunately I was afflicted with a very bad cold contracted in the unheated or badly heated places where I had been staying.
At last I was able to get back on the road on the 12th, and continued to journey free of charge, on the strength of a “let-pass” note written (in Chinese) by Father Raymond de Jaegher upon our departure from Weihsien. All the other travelers were still subject to scrutiny. Toward 10:00 hours I arrived at Kie Hsio, where I needed to get off to continue to Fenyang. I had a short visit with the Chinese parish priest, who lent me an old bicycle, and I left all alone toward Fenyang. After 15 kilometers I stopped at Siao Yi, at the house of the local parish priest to break bread with him. The bicycle was not in very good condition, and the tires needed to be reinflated.
The parish priest urged me not to continue because there would not be many travelers on the road during the afternoon. But I overlooked those fears and again found myself launched toward the unknown. I lost my way and at sundown the chain on my bicycle broke. There was not a soul or anything else in sight, not even the walls of Fenyang. Pushing my bike, I set off at a gallop and finally sighted the walls of the town at nightfall, when the gates had already been closed. I had to negotiate with the Japanese, who still stood guard in the interior of China, and I arrived at the residence at 19:00 hours. The Chinese priests were delighted to see me, and we conversed until late at night with the young priests who were former students of Father Nicholas Wenders at Suanhua. They were very anxious regarding the reopening of the regional seminary at Hungtung. Later on I was received by Monsignor Liou, age 74, who had aged visibly, but was nevertheless in good health.
On December 13 I spent the day with Monsignor Liou discussing the problems of the seminary and of procurement. We then inspected the residence and the little seminary. He honored us with his presence at dinner, which he had not done for a long time for fear of the cold. In the afternoon I went to visit the orphanage and the buildings of the American Protestant mission, which occupied a part of the town. As I had entered freely despite the Japanese guard, to whom I had declared that I was American, there was an inquiry at the diocesan office about whether I was Belgian or American. Monsignor invited me to spend the evening with him where we partook of an excellent rose liqueur.
On the 14th I left Fenyang as I had already made a commitment to meet Monsignor Pessers on the 12th. We were to meet at Chieh Hsio to travel together toward the south. When I arrived at Chieh Hsio I learned that he had left the night before without waiting for me. Well and good.
I therefore left on my own the next day, and had to ride on a flatcar carrying anthracite. We lost a lot of time at Ling Shih in loading a dozen recalcitrant mules. We arrived early in the afternoon at Fou Kia T’an, the terminus of my voyage by rail. Lacking information about the way to go on foot, I merged with the column of travelers going south along the rail-bed, of which little of use remained. The rails had been toppled into the river below where they lay all twisted. Railroad ties and telephone poles were burned, and the banks of the road bed were cleverly excavated in places to prevent all except foot traffic. Nothing remained of the seven or eight stations that we passed except for a pile of pulverized bricks. Everything had been removed – doors, windows, etc., and there were no more tickets to be punched or signals to observe.
As I walked fairly fast, I found myself isolated after a while, with no one in sight behind me. Only three travelers were ahead of me in the distance, and I tried to catch up with them, but in vain. The wind, the cold and a blister on my foot foiled me. At nightfall I had covered almost 20 kilometers, and I was preparing to tackle five more when I was stopped by a captain of the local militia who urgently recommended that I break off my journey. It was dangerous at night, and he invited me to stay at his house, which I accepted without hesitation because I was exhausted. He took me to a walled village which he occupied with his 200 men, and he gave me the prettiest room in the temple situated on the village heights. We dined together on Shansi noodles, which I enjoyed. He had been a student of the Protestants in Chefoo, and he retained a regard for the church in general. Under the Japanese occupation he had been a sub-prefect and general of the provincial militia.
In contrast to Governor Yen Si Shan’s troops, his officers were trained and his troops’ moral was good. He promised to find me a carriage to travel form Hua Chou to Chao Ch’eng the next day, and made a telephone call to arrange it after supper. Then he had me visit the village defense positions after which I went to sleep on a well-heated khan (a traditional Chinese bed of bricks and cement containing a furnace). The heat was much needed as I only had one cover.
One the 16th, even though it was Sunday, I set out in the early hours of the morning. A soldier accompanied me as far as Hua Chou where – not without trouble – I found the requested carriage. I had just enough time to swallow a bowl of millet and then, forward on a cart pulled by an ox. The pace was exasperatingly slow! But as I still had to make 45 kilometers, I preferred to take it easy during the morning. About a third of the way out, the driver decided to turn back and I had to continue my journey on foot. After a forced march I caught up with a group around Chao Ch’eng. One person agreed to accompany me to the west to cross the river and reach Mamu, where we had a church. The direct route was dangerous, we were told. It was 17:00 hours when we crossed the river and I had eaten nothing since my morning millet, so I bought two pingtze and a bowl of soup at a little restaurant next to the road. We had to hurry because night was falling and we still had 10 kilometers to go. There was no moon in the sky.
In wanting to avoid the more crowded routes we were set upon by two bandits who wanted to avail themselves of our donkey. I reasoned with them, saying this was a cart that I had rented. But they pretended to be sick and absolutely insisted on detaching the donkey from the cart. As they were getting ready to look into our baggage, we heard two peasants approaching in the distance. That bothered the bandits and I took advantage of their preoccupation to whisper in the ear of my companion that we should flee as fast as possible. But he had gotten frightened, and insisted on stopping at the next village. I managed to persuade him to come with me to Mamu by promising him hospitality.
The wind was getting stronger and stronger and it was hellishly cold. Upon our arrival at Mamu, the moon had risen and the village appeared to be half destroyed. There were houses abandoned and stripped of their innards. Burdened with taxes, the peasants chose to abandon everything and flee. The church along with one of our nicest houses was heavily damaged. The high surrounding wall had been destroyed to construct fortifications. All the furnishings, doors and windows had been carried off. Tiles were broken and, in many places, the roofs were damaged, and the same sight would greet me when I arrived in Hungtung the next day.
But waiting outside the gate I had to knock on the door for a quarter of an hour before a caretaker dared to answer. I identified myself. The residents were afraid of the local troops, who were undisciplined looters. They were waiting anxiously for the arrival of central government troops. The caretaker of the church, with a very welcoming manner, prepared a meal for me and even gave me a heated room.
As the sacristy had been sacked, I was not able to celebrate Mass. I therefore left for Hungtung, 10 kilometers from Mamu, on the 17th. As I left I saw that the church, which had been bombarded by the Japanese three years earlier, had already been repaired.
On arriving at the old city of Hungtung, I saw that the old thick walls of the city had been reinforced against the possibility of an attack by the Communists who had occupied the neighboring town of Chao Ch’eng for 15 days, which I had passed through the day before. They had leveled the fortifications of that town. Entry into Hungtung posed no problem, and I found, at the Episcopal residence, Monsignor Pessers and two of his priests, who had arrived the day before. They would leave us at 14:00 hours to continue their voyage to Kiang Chow, the neighboring mission. Seven or eight Chinese priests were also there to welcome me, among them Father Francois Han, the apostolic pro-prefect. The residence had a military air as even the main court was occupied by the officers of a general who had requisitioned a side courtyard. Lines of field telephones were lying on the ground and disheveled soldiers walked about here and there. The three courts of entry were occupied by some 300 soldiers, which made the situation complicated. One had to pass by guard units, show a pass or give a password to the sentinel, etc.
After consulting with Monsignor Han, I again put on my American military uniform, an action which aroused quite a few questions and some surprise. It had the desired effect. The next day I made a courtesy visit to the general, who failed to impress me. He struck me as a brutish bandit chief. There was no discipline among his soldiers, who freely engaged in inappropriate behavior. Two hundred of his men occupied the seminary outside the town. They turned it into a defense camp with fortifications, trenches and spikes, just like our camp at Weihsien. We would have our work cut out for us to rid ourselves of the evidence of this army rabble.
After having met with the priests and dealt with some urgent matters concerning the seminary and procurement, I summed up our situation. We were living under very poor – even miserable -- circumstances. The priests were entirely dependent on the charity of Christians who themselves were extremely impoverished. The troops of the governor, General Yen Si Shen (the second war zone) were constantly imposing themselves on the civilian population in an arbitrary manner. These troops were hated by the population. They had brought with them their wives and children, had too many officers and half the troops were unarmed. What’s more, in the course of my journey, I saw young Chinese recruits placed under the command of Japanese officers.
At the central residence and at the sisters’ novitiate we lived as best we could. We ground grain for the army and individuals. That enabled us to derive a few kilos of flour which we exchanged for millet or corn. The menu was the same every day. My arrival had permitted the purchase of some meat, but we did not eat any of it before Christmas and New Year’s. Nutrition at the minor seminary and the orphanage posed a serious problem. While the price of grain was lower here than on my journey, a pound of flour still cost 70 fapis. Despite the obstacles, certain priests had made some progress. Saint Pierre College had reopened its doors to 40 students and hoped to stay open with the help of Christians.
The main danger and the principal obstacle to reconstruction was the proximity of Communist troops. To the east of the town they were no more than 10 kilometers away, and they were equally numerous in the mountains, blocking all traffic to and from the central valley of Fen Ho. Even though they were ill-equipped (with grenades, primarily and perhaps five cartridges per rifle), these troops wreaked terrible ravages in the east. Every day we met Christians, coming from the neighboring diocese, who brought alarming news of priests arrested and Christians molested or killed. By means of their fifth column operatives the Communists also sapped the morale of the population and circulated unfounded rumors.
Discussing the situation with Monsignor Han, we concluded that we had to do all we could to escape the stagnation in which our mission vegetated for lack of money, so much the more since we did have access to funds, but they were on deposit in Shanghai in the Franciscan Fathers’ account. The subsidy we received from Rome had been blocked for two years because Shanghai money was different from ours. I suggested to the bishop that I go to Tientsin, a major port of north China, where a Franciscan Father was charged with looking after the interests of our mission as well as his own. Monsignor Han also wanted me to visit Peking to persuade the Samiste Fathers Keymolen and Wenders, both of whom were full-fledged professors of the Grand Seminary, to come and teach at Hungtung. I also wanted to seize the opportunity to spend some time in Shanghai to make contact with international aid agencies. I had heard that they had some important projects, and Monsignor gave me a mandate to meet with them. So, on January 5, 1946, I was once again on the train heading north with an overnight stop at Kie Hsio, where I was among 36 travelers to invade a small Chinese inn. The next day I arrived at Taiyuan at 14:30 hours to visit the bishop, Monsignor Capozzi, as well as half a dozen priest friends.
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