A very popular bishop of the underground Catholic Church died in 2016. Doubts now arise on the real causes of his death.
Bishop (Thomas) Zeng Jingmu was part of the underground Catholic Church, which is loyal to the Vatican and, unlike the so-called Patriotic Catholic Church, refused to be controlled by the regime. He died on April 2, 2016, and was honored throughout the Catholic world as a saintly and exemplary bishop. Now, however, doubts have arisen on whether his death was natural.
Zeng Jingmu was born in 1920 and was consecrated as a priest in Vatican City in 1949, ordained to the episcopacy in 1990, and retired in 2012, becoming priest emeritus. In the 1950s, because Zeng Jingmu refused to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association controlled by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front Work Department, he was imprisoned on multiple occasions, spending about thirty years in custody. During the Cultural Revolution, Zeng Jingmu’s food was poisoned three times, and he was eventually forced to go to a re-education labor camp. When Zeng Jingmu was released from his latest imprisonment, he went back to live in his hometown where he was constantly kept under strict surveillance by the CCP government. On April 4, 2016, the media reported that Zeng Jingmu died on April 2, stating that he had passed away after falling down and hitting the back of his head. Recently, however, Bitter Winter was informed that the circumstances surrounding Zeng Jingmu’s death were extremely suspicious, and it was presumed that foul play was involved.
At about 3 a.m. on March 26, 2016, as Bishop Zeng was returning to his bedroom after having just gone to the bathroom, he accidentally tripped over the door threshold and lightly hit the back of his head. At approximately 8 a.m., Bishop Zeng was taken to the First People’s Hospital of Fuzhou in Jiangxi Province by the government employees who were closely monitoring him and his nephew.
Witnesses of the events that followed identify three circumstances that raise suspicion.
Suspicious circumstance number one: Although Bishop Zeng had fully recovered after just one week in the hospital, on April 1, he was suddenly transferred to the intensive care unit.
A source stated that on March 31, after Bishop Zeng had been in the hospital for about a week, a medical examination revealed that he had completely recovered, and on that same day he even sang songs of worship in front of his relatives and the members of his parish who were looking after him. On April 1, unbeknownst to his family, Bishop Zeng was forced to transfer to the intensive care unit, where the door to his room was guarded by individuals from the local Public Security Bureau, National Security Brigade, and the Bureau of Religious Affairs, who wouldn’t let anyone enter or exit, including visitors.
After discovering Bishop Zeng wasn’t in his regular ward, a relative who was tending to the bishop asked to see him. The relative was turned away at first; however, after persistent protests, the CCP government employees had no choice but to let the relative enter the intensive care unit. It’s learned that there were 5 or 6 tubes in Bishop Zeng’s mouth at the time, and he was already incapable of speaking. Upon seeing this, the relative put his mouth up to Bishop Zeng’s ear, and asked him, “Do you want to go home, or stay here? If you want to go home, move your hand; if not, don’t move.” Bishop Zeng moved his hand several times to signal that he wanted to be taken home. After seeing that Bishop Zeng was conscious and clear-headed and that he had clearly communicated that he wanted to go home, the relative immediately told the government employees that he wanted to take Bishop Zeng home. The employees refused, stating that Bishop Zeng’s body would have to be cremated after he died, and threatening to throw the relative who had been tending to Bishop Zeng in jail; however, even still, the relative refused to compromise and insisted on taking Bishop Zeng home.
Suspicious circumstance number two: After Bishop Zeng was taken home, he bled from his nose and mouth for a day and a night.
After Bishop Zeng returned home from the hospital, his mouth and nose bled continually, the fact that many members of his parish knew about at the time. On April 2 at approximately 10:30 p.m., Bishop Zeng passed away.
According to an inside source, on the afternoon of April 1, a doctor from the hospital where Bishop Zeng was staying at, brought a so-called expert physician to the intensive care unit. The expert administered a shot to Bishop Zeng, after which Bishop Zeng’s health condition underwent an abrupt change, and he seemed to become a completely different person. A young friar who witnessed the change was shocked, “He was doing just fine until you gave him that shot, and now he looks like he’s done for.” He was threatened in response, “Watch what you say; don’t go around saying that nonsense!” According to another inside source, the drug in the shot was mixed by experts from Shanghai and Beijing. “The doctor was acting on orders from a superior,” the source said, adding that the reason Bishop Zeng’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse was most likely due to the administered drug.
Suspicious circumstance number three: The CCP prevented clergy and members of Bishop Zeng’s parish from attending his funeral, blocking them in various ways, even employing threats.
After Bishop Zeng passed away, the members of his parish were preparing to attend his funeral. However, some were intercepted by government employees on the way to the funeral; in other cases, whole villages of Christians were threatened not to attend by the village secretary via phone. During the few days before and after Bishop Zeng’s burial, the public security bureau and local police station had large forces of riot police block all of the intersections leading into Hangbu Town, allowing cars from Hangbu Town to come and go, but prohibiting all other vehicles from entering the village. Some clergy members from other parishes were warned by authorities as well that they would not be allowed to go to Jiangxi to attend Bishop Zeng’s funeral.
As the local roads were sealed off, many people were taking pictures with their cell phones. Upon discovering this, the CCP police forcibly took the cell phones from the individuals, smashing them until they broke. They also forcibly seized the cell phones of some of the people who entered the village. Bishop Zeng’s burial site was surrounded by government officials, who used a vehicle to tow away all of the cement, ceramic tiles, and other materials for Bishop Zeng’s tomb, and later installed a surveillance camera next to Bishop Zeng’s grave.
For years, the CCP government has been suppressing and persecuting underground Catholic churches and their clergy. Bishop Zeng once said that “there is no hope for a relationship between the Party and the Vatican,” and that “there is no room for compromise.” He used to quote a pamphlet published by the CCP in 1958: “The Vatican is a mortal enemy of the Chinese people.”
Bitter Winter reports on how religions are allowed, or not allowed, to operate in China and how some are severely persecuted after they are labeled as “xie jiao,” or heterodox teachings. We publish news difficult to find elsewhere, analyses, and debates.
Placed under the editorship of Massimo Introvigne, one of the most well-known scholars of religion internationally, “Bitter Winter” is a cooperative enterprise by scholars, human rights activists, and members of religious organizations persecuted in China (some of them have elected, for obvious reasons, to remain anonymous).