Chinese priests fight to reclaim property seized by Communists


Dozens of Chinese Roman Catholic priests and nuns who have been barricaded for a week inside a building they claim they own promised not to move yesterday despite being beaten up during a protest over the property dispute. The attack on the members of the official Chinese Catholic Church in the city of Tianjin is the second such assault reported in recent weeks. Last month five nuns were taken to hospital after being beaten while trying to reclaim Church property in the western city of Xi`an. The two incidents suggest that no part of Chinese society is immune from the violent disputes over land ownership that cause much strife throughout the country`s provinces. The group of 48 priests and two nuns arrived in Tianjin last week from Taiyuan, a neighbouring diocese to Xi`an, demanding that the government return two western-style buildings on the harbour front that were seized in the 1949 Communist revolution. Tianjin was one of several coastal cities occupied by foreign colonial powers, in this case Japanese and Italians, in the 19th century. On Friday the group came under attack from a gang wielding iron bars. A priest was knocked unconscious, four others were injured and a nun was taken to hospital suffering from head injuries. One priest, Wu Liqiang, said the group had barricaded themselves inside the building. "We have been writing to the government for years asking about our building, but there has been no result," he said. "We are prepared in our hearts to be beaten again. We have agreed that we are not leaving until we get a solution to this problem." He said the police had surrounded the building. It was not clear if the incident was linked to the dispute in Xi`an, where the local church was trying to re-occupy a diocesan school also confiscated after the Communist Party came to power. Its ownership should have been returned to the church in 1979 at the start of the reform era, but the local government held on to it. When the school closed, the government sold the land, which is next to the city`s Catholic cathedral, to a developer. The group of around 40 nuns moved in to try to stop the demolition men. But last month a group of men dressed in black found them and beat them with clubs. The official Catholic Church in China is not allowed to recognise the authority of the Vatican. However, links are maintained and the Vatican has issued a protest about the incident in Xi`an. Its news agency has also complained about Chinese Roman Catholic websites that reported the incident being blocked by state censors.

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