Reflections on Chongqing, China

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By Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.

Many of you know that on August 23, 2007, I will be going to Chongqing, China to teach from September 2007-July 2008. I have been thinking of doing this for many years. The Passionist leadership of St. Paul of the Cross Province and the Passionist community in Baltimore, Maryland and, most important, my family and friends agree that the time is right to fulfill this longtime dream.

After describing my first impression of Chongqing, China in 1993, the second part of this essay explains where and what I will teach in China. The third part tells of two Passionists who lived in Chongqing during the 1940s. The fourth part summarizes basic information on the Catholic Church in Chongqing. The last section explains the ongoing operations of the Passionist Historical Archives while I am away and how you can support me while I am in China. —the editor

From the Yangzi River into the past

I felt I was in a Chinese movie. In October 1993 I disembarked from my Yangzi River cruise ship to walk up the serpentine steps of the Chongqing, Sichuan city docks. Some wanted my small entourage and me to buy food, others wanted to carry our luggage. Still others just wanted us to alleviate their poverty and give them money. Speaking back to them in basic Chinese, I respectfully but forcefully declined all the offers.

The Yangzi River cruise had taken three days from Wuhan, Hubei province to Chongqing. By the time it ended I felt Chinese history had come alive. The boat ride showed me terrain as majestic as a Chinese painting where it always seems that mountains are closer to the heavens than the people who farmed the steep river mountains or continued to fish in the wake of the large cruise ship. Also, the opportunity to see the Three Gorges Dam of the Yangzi River, which was under construction, made me conscious that I was also a witness to China of the future.

At the top of the many steps, my group of fellow United States archivists was met by officials from the local Chinese government archives. Both delegations were part of the People to People Program for cross-cultural exchange and understanding. Within an hour all of us were sitting over a cauldron of bubbling hot oil in which simmered fish, hot peppers, meats and vegetables complete with noodles or rice. Tea, beer or soda quenched our thirst and cooled our mouths as we ate the spicy Sichuanese cuisine. As I sat there sweating, I felt that the moment was similar to a scene from the movie The Sand Pebbles or a Pearl Buck novel. Chongqing was polluted and crowded, but it had a lot of character and energy. Though I only spent two days there, I got a glimpse into its history by way of a meeting with the local Chinese archivists. It did not take much for me to imagine the area as home to the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, when it was known as Chungking.

Chongqing classroom

I will teach at Sichuan International Studies University (SISU) in Chongqing. I got the position by sending my resume to the AITECE Teachers Program. AITECE (Association for International Teaching Educational and Curriculum Exchange) is an association for placing Catholic teachers in Chinese universities. AITECE made contact with SISU. (The SISU English language website is

SISU has asked me to teach 14 hours of classes. I will teach in English. The courses will be about American history, language, culture or literature. This might mean teaching topics such as multi-culture communication, international relationships or American culture and literature, which are connected with history. While the Chinese students will know English, it is my job to improve their language skills. I expect the teaching to be demanding. I know I must be flexible as the exact details of what I will teach won’t be finalized until I arrive in Chongqing in early September. SISU will pay me a basic salary and provide me with an apartment. There will be an option if all goes well to teach a second year.

As many of you know, increased luggage restrictions prevent me from bringing books on American history and culture. While I might have some of these materials sent later, I am hoping to make use of a collection of some 1,000 historical pamphlets that I have collected from famous American historic sites such as national parks, museums, or historic homes. Several years ago I started collecting these brochures as I thought they might be perfect for classroom use if I was presented with the opportunity to teach. Specifically, I hope that the students assigned to my class will have fun thinking of themselves as tour guides through the United States. I hope they will be able to read and actually use their English skills to explain the important points from any historic brochure. From there, my hope is that, in time, they will have developed suitable language skills in English to provide a summary sweep of how that particular brochure might be situated in the timeline of United States history. With some adaptation, I hope the same approach will succeed in my teaching of American literature. Again, time and patience will tell.

Passionists and Chongqing



Fr. Cormac Shanahan, C.P. 


Fr. Cormac Shanahan, C.P.

In addition to having actually visited Chongqing in 1993, time has allowed me to learn some other links to the city. First, I knew Passionists had been there in 1927 when they evacuated Hunan province for safety. During that trip, Sister Clarissa Stattmiller, a Sister of St. Joseph of Baden, Pennsylvania, died from disease and was buried at the graveyard of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Chongqing. Perhaps I might visit her grave.

Second, after years of studying the Passionists in Hunan, the past years of historical research had led me to gain an interest in Chongqing in the 1940s. Only recently had I learned that Passionist Fathers Cormac Shanahan and Caspar Caulfield lived and worked there during the 1940s.


Fr. Caspar Caulfield
Fr. Caspar Caulfield

Fr. Caspar Caulfield, C.P.

Father Shanahan began working in Chongqing in 1941. Part of his ministry there was to write for Sign magazine. After all, the Passionists began publishing this United States Catholic monthly in 1921 in part to promote their China mission effort. Eventually, Shanahan began to write for the Chongqing-based China Correspondent. Published only from December 1943 to September 1944, the magazine came to life when the decision was made to transform the French Catholic weekly Le Correspondent Chinois into an English Catholic monthly. Its audience was United States servicemen in China, particularly lonely Catholic GIs. To “know China better” was the editorial aim of the China Correspondent. As a result of this relationship, Shanahan was a member of the Yan’an Press Party sent to visit Mao Zedong in the summer of the 1944.

Later, Father Caulfield came on the scene in Chongqing to work at the China Correspondent. Having known Caulfield during the last years of his life when he worked in the Passionist Historical Archives, I only wish now that I had taken the opportunity to learn about the Chongqing of this era. Yet, even more crucial is the reminder to me of the serious obligation of older people to teach the next generation about how they were participants in history. Caulfield was often reserved unless he was directly asked to share information on his China experience, and even then it could sometimes be a struggle. Nevertheless, I am encouraged to know I will walk the streets where both he and Father Shanahan had walked in the 1940s.

Catholics in Chongqing

In 2005 the population of the urban area of Chongqing proper was 4.1 million. According to the 2004 Guide to the Catholic Church in China, the Chongqing Municipality is home to some 39 Catholic churches, 16 priests, 7 sisters and 120,000 Catholics. As a foreign guest, if time permits, I hope to be able to visit these churches and uphold and respect the government regulations on foreign religious expression.

Since my first visit to China in 1989, it is important to say that I have had generally good experiences when I have met Catholics throughout the country. Over the years they have shared with me their strong faith. Quite frequently they would recall how priests, sisters and lay people from the United States or Europe touched their lives.

The Passionist Archives and supporting me in China

While I am away, the Passionist Historical Archives will be in the able hands of Ms. Anita Lewis and Mr. Sean Peragine. To the best of their ability they will answer any archival requests. The three of us anticipate developing an efficient way to share information.

At the same time, I hope that people will pray for my success as a teacher in China. You will always be able to contact me at [email protected]. After my arrival in China I hope to have available for you a China contact email if you wish to write to me. Be advised that there might be certain guidelines to follow since I am an invited guest in China.

You can also help me witness as a Passionist in China by making a donation. There are two options for this. You can make a check payable to Robert Carbonneau. Write “China” in the bottom notation box. Your donations will be put aside and will assist me in paying for the needed medical shots, assorted costs associated in preparing to go to China, any necessary travel in China that might arise, and, perhaps more important, pay for teaching materials to be shipped to me once I know my specific needs.

Another option is to write a check payable to the Father Marcellus White Trust. The family and relatives of Father Marcellus White began the Trust in 2003 to honor his memory. A Passionist missionary to China during the 1940s and 1950s, he loved and was loved by the Chinese people. Money from the Trust keeps this friendship with the Chinese people alive today. Know that the monies used from this fund are for important educational purposes. Specifically, when I am in Chongqing, money from the Marcellus White Trust will allow me to get a tutor so as to improve my ability to speak, read and write Chinese, and conduct historical research about the Passionists in China during the twentieth century.

As I write these thoughts, I am in the final stages of preparation. I am thankful to all those who have taught me so much about the many aspects of Passionist history, especially as it relates to China. I will travel with this wisdom and look forward to sharing what I learn with you while I am there.

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