“Bishop Walsh: Held As ‘Political Hostage’ – American Charge” ran a South China Morning Post headline on December 18, 1958.
“The [United States] State Department accused the Chinese Communists to-day of making a ‘political hostage’ of Bishop James Walsh, a Roman Catholic missionary,” the story continued. “The Bishop, a native of Cumberland, Maryland, disappeared in Shanghai about October 18. The Communists admitted on Friday that the Bishop had been arrested.”
Walsh, who had spent 30 years in China, had refused repatriation in 1955, saying he wished to continue his work with the Chinese and would have to be “dragged out of China”.
On March 19, 1960, the Post reported that “A Shanghai People’s Court [yesterday] sentenced […] Walsh to 20 years’ imprisonment, [according to] Peking Radio. The broadcast said Bishop Walsh was arrested in October, 1958, on charges of ‘plotting to overthrow the new China’.”
Reporting reaction on March 28, the Post said US vice-president Richard Nixon had described the accusations as “trumped up charges”.
On July 29, 1960, Judge William Walsh passed through Hong Kong after the Chinese Red Cross arranged for him to visit his brother in prison in Shanghai.
“I have no requests |to make of the authorities,” he told the Post, adding that he doubted Bishop Walsh “would come out alive”.
On August 9, the Post reported the pair had met, Judge Walsh saying his brother “said he felt well and seemed quite cheerful”.
After 12 years of incarceration, on July 11, 1970, the Post reported that Bishop Walsh had been unexpectedly released, “walking unaided to freedom across the Lowu bridge yesterday” and into Hong Kong.
In a press conference on July 16, which was reported in the following day’s Post, Walsh described confessing under duress that he “‘might be a spy in the legal sense’ but [denying] categorically that he was ever a spy in the proper sense”. The story continued, “Bishop Walsh said ‘I have no bitterness toward those who tried and condemned me. I could never feel angry with the Chinese’.”
On his death, in July 1981, the Post characterised Walsh’s sudden release as “a significant step in the thawing of Sino-US relations.”