A young Catholic with a sense of humor proposed to establish a traditional Catholic monarchy in a part of China. The CCP was not amused. He was arrested in January 2021 and is still in prison.
by Lai Mingxia*
*Massimo Introvigne contributed details on the non-Chinese movements mentioned by “Jacob Pius”
“Viva Cristo Rey.” The slogan was the symbol of the Cristero insurrection of 1926 against the anti-clerical Mexican Republic, and resonates with conservative Catholics throughout the world to this very day. To hear it repeated in China in the 21st century is another matter entirely.
In 2014, a young man signing “Jacob Pius” surfaced in Chinese social media advocating for the independence of a “country” he called Yuyencia (幽燕西亚), which would include part of present-day Hebei, Beijing, and Tianjin. He supported the creation of Yuyencia with theories about the mythical Chinese first dynasty Xia.
His arguments appeared so far-fetched that many suspected they were proposed tongue-in-cheek, although the young man should have been aware that advocating separatism in China is not a matter for jokes but a crime punished with heavy jail penalties.
In subsequent years, “Jacob Pius” explained that, although other religions will be tolerated, Yuyencia will have Roman Catholicism as the state religion and will be ruled according to the model of traditional Catholic monarchies. “Jacob” mentioned the 19th and early 20th century French monarchist theorists and the traditionalist Carlist branch of the monarchist movement in Spain as his sources of inspiration. He also stated that present-day Catholicism is largely contaminated by the “modernist heresy” and will not be able to supply the official state doctrine of Yuyencia. This will rather be “traditionalist” Catholicism. Again, this was totally unusual in China—and dangerous, since advocating “counter-revolutionary” ideologies is also a crime.
Some netizens doubted that “Jacob Pius” was serious. Others believed it had derived his ideas from Liu Zhongjing, who emerged on the web in the early 2000 and was known by the nickname “Auntie” (阿姨). His ideology was called “Auntology” and was inspired by German nationalist philosopher Oswald Spengler, who died in 1936. Liu theorized that China, since the Qing, had become a fallen project, and it would be preferable that it disintegrates into autonomous independent states, whose borders can be reconstructed based on ancient Chinese history. Some of his remarks were racist and anti-Islamic, and Liu expressed his admiration for European right-wing and anti-immigration parties.
The fact that he was not put in jail and, while criticized, even invited to debate CCP scholars, is evidence of the limited tolerance that existed before Xi Jinping—and at the same time of the fact that Liu’s brand of right-wing extremism was not regarded as really dangerous. When Xi Jinping came to power, Liu was smart enough to see the writing on the wall on time and escape to the United States.
“Jacob Pius,” however, remained in China. “Gao Yang” is a Catholic human rights activist who was interviewed by Hong Kong and Western media in 2019 and 2020 under this assumed name, and supplied information about the persecution in Hebei of Catholic “conscientious objectors” who rejected the Vatican-China deal of 2018. Bitter Winter has learned that “Jacob Pius” and “Gao Yang” are one and the same person. His real name is Pang Jian, and he was born in Baoding city, Hebei province, in 1991. He is a resident of Gaobeidian, a county-level city under the jurisdiction of Baoding city, and has published as “Gao Yang” on Hebei history and folklore.
That Pang Jian alias Gao Yang alias Jacob Pius is a conservative Catholic is true, although where he derived his passion for European Catholic monarchist and counter-revolutionary Catholicism from remains unclear. It is also difficult to distinguish what theories he advocates seriously, and what he just proposes as paradoxes and social experiments of sort.
On these matters, however, the CCP always prefers to be on the safer side. On January 15, 2021, Pang was detained by the Gaobeidian police, and taken to the Gaobeidian Detention Center. On January 28, 2021, he was formally arrested and charged with “separatism,” a very serious offense. His friends have no information about his trial, if any, although it is believed it is still in the Gaobeidian prison.
The independence of Yuyencia may have been a joke. But the CCP reaction is deadly serious.