August 12, 2022

The front of the Chinese embassy in Paris, France / Pymouss|Wikimedia|GFDL

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 5, 2022 / 12:47 pm (CNA).

On the day of a controversial visit to Taiwan by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the Chinese Embassy in France tweeted a political cartoon that is drawing criticism for its apparent anti-Catholic message. 

The image, created by a Chinese artist and propagandist named Wuheqilin, shows a gaunt, hooded and witchlike woman — crowned with a ring of stars, reminiscent of the Virgin Mary — leaping into a nursery window, attempting to snatch a baby from its crib. A muscular man holding a hammer, a clear allegory for communism, looks on. 

The woman’s face is that of Pelosi, which the image’s caption also makes clear by way of two hashtags: #Taiwan and #Pelosivisit. However, the tweet also includes the picture’s title in Chinese, which belays a second intended meaning: “Mary, the Baby Thief.” 

Pelosi is one of the highest profile Catholics in U.S. politics, second only to President Joe Biden. Her Tuesday visit to the island of Taiwan — which the U.S. does not officially recognize as independent of China — represented, as the Washington Post reported, the highest-level visit by a U.S. official to the self-governing island in decades.

A caption on top of the image written in English states: “No one likes war, but no father would ever allow someone to steal his child.” There is a map of China on the wall, as well as an image of a frog above the baby’s head. 

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In an op-ed for UCA News, theologian and cultural anthropologist Michel Chambon noted that there is precedent for the image of a frog being used in China as a slur to refer to the people of Taiwan. He also said the cartoon depicts Pelosi as “a witch who wants to steal Taiwan away from its fatherland.”

Benedict Rogers, a British human rights advocate who studies China, called the image “shockingly crude, sacrilegious and deeply offensive to Catholics and many Christians of other traditions around the world.”

“It is an example of the Chinese Communist Party regime at its most thuggish, depraved, disgusting and inhumane, and signaled a clear willingness to attack Nancy Pelosi on the grounds of her Catholic faith as well as the politics of the situation,” Rogers said in written comments to CNA. 

“This signals what those of us who follow China have known for a long time — the Chinese Communist Party regime’s absolute hostility to religion. In recent years we have seen an intensification of the persecution of Christians, including Catholics, and a severe crackdown on religious freedom as a whole.”

The UCA News author noted that the Holy See remains one of the only entities with “global significance” that maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan. China considers Taiwan part of its territory, while Taiwan claims independence.

“For Chinese propagandists with persecution syndromes, amalgamating US policy with global Catholicism is an easy step,” Chambon wrote. 

The Chinese Ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, has spoken about Pelosi’s visit as an “unnecessary provocation,” and said this week that once China achieves its professed goal of establishing control over Taiwan, a process of “re-education” of the island’s population would follow, Newsweek reported. This would seem to imply a similar process to what is taking place now in Xinjiang, whereby millions of Uyghur Muslims have been rounded up in recent years into “reeducation” camps and forcibly assimilated into Chinese culture. 

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China has been conducting major military drills this week, which have included the launching of large missiles into the sea around Taiwan amid the visit. 

Chambon, the UCA News columnist, noted that the tweeted image is “not only offensive but signals a potential return to the early communist ideology that could harm many.” He explained that another layer of meaning to the image may hearken back to a “myth” propagated by the government in the 1950s that “Catholic orphanages were factories to steal and kill Chinese babies.”

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is officially atheist, and religious believers of all stripes have faced persecution in China for years. The Catholic Church in China is split between the “underground” Catholic Church, which is persecuted and loyal to the pope, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is sanctioned by the government. 

The Vatican in 2018 reached an as-yet unpublished provisional agreement with the Chinese government meant to bring about the unification of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the underground Church in communion with Rome. Instead, persecution of the underground Church has continued and, according to some, intensified. Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, a vocal critic of the Vatican-China deal, will face trial in September along with four other prominent democracy advocates. 

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan but has what the State Department calls “a robust unofficial relationship,” which includes deep trade ties. For years the U.S. has operated under a ​​“one-China policy” to avoid angering the Chinese government. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said that the visit is not a sign that U.S. policy on Taiwan has changed.

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Rogers, who is a sharp critic of the Vatican’s 2018 deal with China on the appointment of bishops, opined that the Chinese government’s clear animosity toward Catholicism — long known but on full display in the cartoon — provides “yet another reason why the Vatican should rethink its relationship with Beijing.”

Pope Francis has said he hopes the Vatican’s deal with China on the appointment of Catholic bishops will be renewed for a second two-year period in October.

“As the deadline for renewing the agreement with Beijing approaches, the Vatican should consider suspending the agreement in light of the genocide of the Uyghurs, the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, the arrest of 90-year-old Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, the severe persecution of Christians in China and now this blatant insult to Catholics around the world,” Rogers told CNA. 

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