Extracts from four letters
V.J.M.J.Ch. Peking June the 1st, 1962
My dear Brothers,
Perhaps you will be very surprised to receive a letter from me. Well for a long time I have been thinking of writing to you, but I had to be patient, for I was prevented from doing so. Today, having come to an agreement with the police, I may write you without any fear of being persecuted; yet, I have to be cautious.
I can write neither to Brother Provincial [Bro. André Gabriel], no to my nephew Brother Bosco, for the simple reason that the first is considered to be an enemy of China, and the other is held as a “Reactionary Religious”. Writing to either of them would not be advantageous to me, and sooner or later I would find myself again behind bars.
In reference to this I should tell you that I was nearly caught on account of letters addressed to Brother Ange in 1962. These letters had been forwarded to him by Brother Adon who must have sold me out when he had to make his public confession at one or other of his public trials.
This was the chief cause of my condemnation to three full years of (KOAN TCHE), i.e., for three years I lost my civil rights and I was under strict surveillance from the police. I was known as the “Reactionary Marist Religious”. If I had been younger, I should have been behind bars. I recovered my liberty only this year, on the 17March.
The purpose of this letter is to ask you for your help… in order to survive. I suppose that you know that here everything is rationed, chiefly the food. Briefly told, the ration amounts to 8 oz. a day. (Among the Brothers I am the most severely rationed because I have no work at all, and this, on account of my old age: 75 years.)
I cannot satisfy the pangs of hunger, and one cannot buy more than what is marked on the ration card. Willy-nilly, I bear the hunger and try to be patient. There are sufficient vegetables only in summertime. There is very little to eat in winter; for the remaining part of the year the maximum is 7 oz. a day. No meat at all, except 4 or 5 times a year, and then, only 2 to 3 ounces per head; very little oil: 4 oz. a month up to now. But as from June, those who work will be getting only 2,5 oz; while those of us who cannot work will get only 1,5 oz. a month.
The only chance to get something between the teeth would be from outside the country. The police are not opposed to this. All those who have friends and relatives in Hong Kong, take advantage of this to get more food. That’s why I come today to express my sorrow and my needs. Herewith a paper on which you will read my wishes. I ask only for things of first necessity, not for luxuries.
This year I shall be 75 years old, and in another two years (August 1964) I shall be able to celebrate my Diamond Jubilee: 60 years of religious life in the Institute. I think that Reverend Brother Provincial, whoever he is, will not tarry to come to my help so that I may remain alive and Brother Provincial’s help is quite possible. Evidently, there shall be expenses for the Province, but they will be used reasonably used in buying only indispensable things. If I could come over to you, the Province would surely see to my survival. But Providence has disposed otherwise. If our Blessed Founder were alive, he would surely come to my help, he who loved the Brothers so much.
Brother Damian is no longer the master of our goods; he cannot help efficaciously. Since last year he has been able to provide only $5 a month: the price of three ounces of tea, and that of the poorest quality for which people pay $1.60 an ounce. Right now the dollar is worth only twenty cents relative to the former dollar. I am not sure if he can continue to give even that little in the future.
I am still at home, with my family. My brothers are not very pleased with the situation, yet they support me since I have nothing and earn nothing. There is no community life any longer; otherwise, I would return to the Brothers. At present, each one shifts for himself. They try to get through life as well as they can. Among the Brothers in Peking, I am the only one who is jobless on account of my old age. All the others have some form of work.
The socialist principle here is that you retire at 60; the more so when you are 75 years old! Please, pray that God may give me patience to manage the circumstances in which I am living, for I am somewhat like a fish out of water, until it pleases God to call me to Himself. I prepare everyday for this meeting with God.
By the way, here is a list of our dead Brothers who departed four, three or two years ago for a better homeland, in this order: Brother Louis Ouang, Paul-Felicite, Leon, Marcellin, Michael, Joachim, Chrysologue. The last-named died in Chung King.
Another important thing: you know quite well that in 1952, U.S.$1500 were remitted by the Reverend Lazarist Fathers (Irish) to Brother Ange Marie as a refund of a debt to our family. At the end of 1953 you sent me H.K $1000. Afterwards, I begged you to buy me two or three medicines and a book on medicine for a friend of the Institute, Dr. Kin. Subtracting these H.K. $1000 and the expenses incurred, more than U.S. $1350 remained.
I suppose you have these accounts. Well, I do not now ask you to send me back this money because in June 1959, Brother Damian, in order to dispose of this money that was then in his hands, gave me back the equivalent in Ch. $3074, according to the then current rate of exchange. Hence this money was paid back. The Institute has discharged its debts.
But from 1952 to 1959, i.e., 7 years, the Institute was able to use this money freely. Although leaving the money in the hands of Brother Ange, I claimed no interest from him; yet, according to custom, we should take this into account. Please ask Brother Provincial if he could not pay back some of the seven years interest on the sum of U.S. $1300. Let him give what he likes. This would be a precious contribution to my brothers and myself who have no source of income whatever. The interest would help us to bridge over these difficult times. All our private goods have now become State goods. Nothing remains for us. Moreover, my bloodbrothers also are very old. None of us has any income, except the younger one, Dr. Wei, who is in Kung-ming.
If it pleases Reverend Brother Provincial to hand us back some of the interest, let me know the amount and in how many installments he can send them over. I will let you know later on how to proceed.
Three or four years ago, one of my brothers wrote to Bro. Bosco asking him to buy a stethoscope for Dr. Kin. Please do not put this on my account, for it is not my business. The doctor has refunded the amount to Brother Damian. The same has been done for the subscription to a medical magazine ordered six or seven years ago. This magazine was also for the same doctor. The cost was paid to Brother Damian.
Before finishing this letter, please allow me to make a request. Second hand articles: two towels; two long-legged underwear, as a half season garment, two T-shirts; and other things you could dispense with, provided all these are second hand articles; otherwise you would have to pay import tax if they were new. If you cannot find them now, send them later on. My anticipated thanks. It is impossible for me to buy these things, being jobless. The price are exorbitant: a shirt is about Ch. $31. Only workmen have tickets to buy what they like. Those who do not work do not receive such tickets. They have to carry on without many things. No question of a thermos-bottle, a mat for a bed… Please have pity on me.
Please let me know if this letter is delivered. A simple post card as an answer will suffice. Do not wait until you send over the things.
To write the address is a less conspicuous way, do it in Chinese characters.
My best regards to Reverend Brother Provincial, to Brother Director, as well as to my nephew, Bro. Bosco and the rest of the Brothers. Far from you bodily, but near to you in mind. My daily prayers for the Institute and for all the Superiors.
Union of prayers in J.M.J.Ch.
Your sincere and old friend,
P.S. By the way, is Brother André-Gabriel still Provincial? Who is the Superior General? As I expect this letter to reach you on or about 6 June, the great feast-day of our Blessed Founder Marcellin Champagnat, I wish you all a happy feast day.
Best regards to Brother Ange Marie. (in Trait d’Union, August… 1962)