STAMFORD, Conn. — For three decades, Ignatius Kung had no name.
To the outside world, he was a famous prisoner of conscience. But inside his Shanghai isolation cell, the guards and interrogators addressed him only by his prison number--at first 1423, and later, in another jail, 28234. Kung now recites those digits as if they were etched on his brain.
In 1955, when Kung was the Roman Catholic bishop of Shanghai, authorities imprisoned him on grounds that he was part of a "counterrevolutionary clique" conspiring against China by continuing to maintain allegiance to the Vatican. China was setting up its own government-sponsored "patriotic church" separate from Rome.
In jail, Kung slept and ate on a stone floor. He wore unwashed clothes that once belonged to other prisoners. Throughout it all, virtually every day, he was urged to give up, to confess, to yield. "The prosecutor said if I renounced my religion, I could get out of jail right away," he recalled.
Kung refused. He was kept in prison until 1985, when he was finally released. Last year, he was permitted to leave China for treatment in the United States for heart problems, and he now lives in the rehabilitation wing of a hospital in this suburban community.
A 30-Year 'Journey'
In the first extensive interview he has granted since his arrival in this country, Kung recently told the story of what he calls his 30-year "journey" in a Chinese jail.
It is a story that illustrates the extent of human rights abuses in China, which began well before the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and continued well after Deng Xiaoping, China's current leader, came to power.
And yet Kung's story also shows that a stubborn, devout man can survive, alone, against a regime determined to break him--and emerge from it with cheerful tranquillity.
"Other people study theology courses in the seminary," Kung said in the interview. "I got a different kind of education from God."
Kung is 89 years old now, a sturdy, thick-necked man with balding white hair. Even on a warm Connecticut spring day, he still wears the three layers of padded clothing customary in the Shanghai winter.
He spends his days reading and going to Mass. He watches films such as "The Ten Commandments" on a new videocassette recorder. Relatives who live nearby, such as his nephew, Joseph Kung, stop by to visit. To visiting priests, he seems a Roman Catholic version of Rip Van Winkle, and they must explain developments such as Vatican II and changes such as Mass said in the vernacular.
Now that his health is better, Kung is even preparing to see some of the United States. Within the next few weeks, he will visit San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Educated by the Jesuits in Shanghai, Kung became a priest at age 30. On Oct. 7, 1949, only six days after Mao Tse-tung declared the founding of the People's Republic of China, Kung was ordained the bishop of Suzhou, and those two events set the stage for his eventual confrontation with the government.
The following year Kung became bishop of Shanghai, the top Roman Catholic clergyman in China's largest city. Meanwhile, Mao and the Chinese Communist Party began moving to sever the ties between Chinese Catholics and the Vatican.
The effort was gradual at first. In fact, Kung said in the interview, in those first years after the revolution of 1949, the Roman Catholic Church had much greater freedom in China than it has today. As bishop, Kung was allowed to carry out his work in Shanghai; the only restriction was that he was not allowed to transfer priests from one diocese to another.
But in 1953, the regime ousted the Vatican's nuncio and all foreign missionaries from China. "They kicked them out under the slogan that they were imperialistic," Kung said through a translator. "They isolated us."
The regime insisted that Kung instruct some members of his church to register and to acknowledge that they were members of reactionary groups. Kung said no. On Sept. 8, 1955, he was arrested and thrown into Shanghai No. 1 Prison.
"After the first five minutes, they called me '1423,' " Kung said.
It was nearly five years before Bishop Kung was brought to trial. He was interrogated again and again.
"Every day, during those first five years, the Chinese government tried to have me confess," he said. "They tried to make me very tired. They asked questions day and night. Sometimes they would start at midnight and go on until 6 a.m."
He was fed two meals a day. One of them was a porridge so weak, Kung said, that "you could only see water in it." The other meal was a bowl of rice.
His isolation cell had no bed, chair or any other furniture. Kung ate and sat on the floor. Once, authorities brought him a slab of plywood to lie on, but after a day, he discovered it was full of insects.
"They gave me leftover clothes from other prisoners," Kung remembered. "They smelled. I didn't know who had worn them before."