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My Declaration: The Faith of Disobedience

Pastor Wang Yi, December 24, 2018

 

Chengdu, WY, 64, SCMP

Pastor Wang Yi. “June 4th, pray for our country.” Photo: SCMP.

 

In line with the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the leaders that God placed in power over China, because the coming and going of kings and leaders is all His hands. In this vein, I shall obey the arrangements God has made for Chinese history and its government.

As a pastor of the Christian church, my starting point is the Bible, and I have my own understanding and views on society, politics, and law, as well as on the proper definitions of justice and benevolent governance. I abhor the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of the church, how it deprives people of their right to free faith. However, it is not my calling to bring about changes in politics or society, and neither is this the meaning of the Good News that God brings to his people.

All the ugliness of reality, with its political injustices and arbitrary application of the law, show that the cross of Jesus Christ is the Chinese people’s sole hope for salvation. It also shows that true hope and perfect human society cannot come about through any change in secular politics or culture—only through the forgiveness of human sin by Jesus Christ can man gain eternal life in Heaven.

As a pastor, my faith in the gospel and my teachings for the masses, as well as my condemnation of all sins, come from Christ’s command in the gospel, out of His unmeasurable love. Human life is so short. God is eager to command the church to lead and allows anyone to repent so long as they are willing. Christ is willing, and so urgently waiting, to forgive all those who turn from sin. This is the mission of all the work that the church is doing in China. It is to, before this world, bear witness to Christ, to bear witness to the kingdom of heaven before the Chinese, and to bear witness to the eternal life of heaven before the short life of the earth. This is my calling as a pastor.

For this reason, I accept and respect the CCP’s political power as a temporary state allowed by God. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, a tyrant comes as God’s punishment for the wicked, with the purpose being to urge the people of God to repent. For this, I am willing to physically obey the rules of their law enforcement as a form of discipline and ordeal from the Lord.

At the same time, I must make it clear that the Communist regime’s persecution of the church is a heinous crime. As a pastor of the Christian church, I must resolutely and publicly condemn these sins. My calling also requires me to transgress all human laws, albeit nonviolently, that violate the Bible and God’s commandments. Christ, my Savior, also asks me to joyfully bear all the consequences that come with the transgression of these evil laws.

This, however, does not mean that my personal and clerical disobedience is a political act in the sense of rights defense or civil disobedience, for I have no intention to change any of China’s institutions or its laws. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is disobedience commanded by faith, a resistance that can bring a jolt to mortal sinners and serve as a testimony of the Christian cross.

As a pastor, my resistance is part of the Gospel mission. The great mission of Christ requires our great resistance in the face of worldly adversity. The purpose of resistance is not to change this world, but to bear witness to another world.

The mission of the church is simply to function as a church; it is not to be part of any secular institution. Speaking in a passive sense, the church must separate itself from the world and avoid letting itself be institutionalized by worldly influence. At the same time, all actions of the church are but efforts to prove to this world the reality of another world. The Bible teaches us that we can only obey God, not people, in matters concerning the gospel and human conscience. Therefore, disobedience out of faith and the resulting physical endurance are the ways we witness another, eternal world and the glory of its sovereign.

This is why I have no interest in changing any political and legal institutions in China. When or whether the CCP’s policies of persecution against the church will change is of no concern to me. No matter the regime, whether today or tomorrow, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church and violate the human conscience, which belongs to God alone, I will continue my resistance as one of the faithful. Because all the missions that God has given me are manifested through the sum of my actions: I act so that more Chinese may understand that the hope of mankind and society lies only in Christian redemption of Christ, in the supernatural grace of God.

If God decides, by way of the CCP regime’s persecution of the church, to lead more Chinese people to a state of despair, make them experience the disillusionment of faith, so that they will come to know Jesus, overcome hardships, and build their own church, then I am very happy to obey God’s arrangements, because His are always loving and perfect.

It is precisely because in all my words and deeds I neither seek nor expect any changes in society or politics, I am no longer afraid of the powers that govern them. For the Bible teaches that God’s authority, by which governments are established, is something to be feared by those do evil, not good. Those who believe in Jesus do not do evil, and they should not fear the power of darkness. Although I am often weak, I believe that this is the promise of the gospel. It is the good news for which I have expended my every effort to spread throughout Chinese society.

I also understand that precisely for this reason, the Chinese Communist regime is full of fear for a church that no longer fears it.

Be the sentence long or short, if I am to be detained so that those in power may relax their fear of my faith and my Savior, I am happy to help them in this way. But I know that I can truly help the souls of those in power and law enforcement only when I say no to all the sinful persecution of the church, and take up peaceful means of resistance. I long for God to use me to tell those who rob me of my personal freedom that there exists an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot detain. That is the teaching of Jesus Christ, who died and was resurrected.

No matter what kind of crime this regime charges me with, no matter what kind of filth is thrown on me, as long as this crime is made to assault my beliefs, writing, speech, and missionary behavior, it is nothing but the devil’s lies and temptations. I will deny it all: I shall serve the sentence without serving the law, and refuse to admit guilt even if I accept the ruling of the law.

And I must point out that the most evil and terrible sin of Chinese society is the persecution of the Lord’s Church and of all Chinese who believe in Jesus Christ. This is not only a crime against Christians, but also a crime against all non-Christians. For through the government’s violence and cruelty, they have been prevented from coming to Jesus, and there is no greater sin than this.

If one day this regime is overthrown by God Himself, it will be for no other reason than His punishment and vengeance for the commission of this sin. On earth, there is a thousand-year-old church, but no regime can last a thousand years. There is only eternal faith, but no eternal power.

Those who hold me will be detained by angels. He who interrogates me will eventually be interrogated by Christ. With this in mind, the Lord has filled me with sympathy and sadness for those who detain and try me. I beg the Lord to use me, to give me the strength and wisdom to bring the gospel to them.

Tear me from my family, my reputation, and my well-being, there is nothing that those in power cannot do. However, no earthly force can compel me to give up my faith, to change my life, or raise me from the dead.

Thus, distinguished officials, I beseech you to stop doing evil, not for my sake, but for the sake of you and your children. I beg you to stop: there is no reason for you to pay the price of eternal damnation in hell for so humble a sinner as myself.

Jesus is Christ, the Son of the Living God. He died for sinners and was resurrected for us. Yesterday, today, and for all time, he is my sovereign and Lord of all the world. I am His servant and for this I am detained. With gentleness I resist all those who resist God, and I will gladly disobey any law that does not obey God.

 

September 21, 2018 (first draft)
Revised on October 4, released by the church 48 hours after Wang Yi’s detention.

 

 

Appendix: What Is the Faith of Disobedience?

It is my firm belief that the Bible does not give any government or branch the authority to manage the church or Christianity. Thusly, the Bible requires me to peacefully resist all administrative and judicial forces that persecute the church and interfere with the Christian faith. It is a nonviolent resistance that I embrace with optimism and joy.

I firmly believe that this is an action rooted in faith. In the contemporary totalitarian state that persecutes the church and rejects the gospel, the faith of disobedience is an inevitable component in spreading the Good News.

I firmly believe the faith of disobedience is an act that signifies the end time. It is a testimony to the eternal city of God in the transient city of sin. The disobedient Christian, following the path and manner of the cross, follows the path of Christ, who was nailed to the crucifix. Peaceful resistance is the way we show our love for this world, but also the way in which we avoid being mixed up in it.

I believe that the Bible requires me to rely on the grace of Christ and the power of His resurrection to follow the two non-negotiable bottom lines in practicing this faith of disobedience.

First is the bottom line of the heart. The goal of the faith of disobedience is love for the soul, not hatred of the flesh. This resistance aims to change the soul, not the environment. Should, at any time, my peace and patience be overtaken by persecution from without, and in my heart arise resentment and bitterness towards those who persecute the church and slander Christians, then the goal of the faith of disobedience cannot be reached,

Second is the bottom line of behavior. The gospel requires that the resistance of faithful must be non-violent. The secret of the gospel lies in the enthusiastic endurance of hardship, a willingness to bear unrighteous punishment rather than resort to physical resistance.

Peaceful resistance is born of love and forgiveness. The cross means being willing to suffer when you don’t have to suffer. Because Christ’s ability to resist is unlimited, he was able to endure any humiliation and pain. Christ’s way of resistance, as he hung nailed to the cross, was to extend a olive branch of peace to the world that crucified him.

I believe that Christ calls upon me to use my whole life to practice the faith of disobedience in the face of this regime that rejects the gospel and persecutes the church. This is the way I preach the gospel, and it is the secret of my evangelism.

 

Wang Yi, the Lord’s Servant
September 21, 2018 (first draft)
Revised on October 4, released by the church 48 hours after Wang Yi’s detention.

 


Related:

The Crackdown on Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church: A Backgrounder, China Change, December 21, 2018.

 

 

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At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

 

The Crackdown on Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church: A Backgrounder

China Change, December 21, 2018

 

Chengdu early rain, 封面

Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church. Photo: online.

 

On Sunday evening, December 9, while worshiping with members, Wang Yi (王怡), the lead pastor of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church was seized and taken away by police. The church was raided; books and other items were confiscated. In the same evening, police descended on homes of many members, demanding that they sign a pledge not to participate in “illegal gatherings of the Early Rain church” anymore. Over one hundred were taken away for refusing to sign. The church’s WeChat group was shut down, so were the personal accounts of many churchgoers.

The authorities outlawed the church, the church’s elementary school and its divinity school.

According to the latest report, 25 church members have been detained so far. Of the 15 who have been criminally detained, Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong (蒋蓉) were arrested for allegedly “inciting subversion of state power;” the other 13 (elders, deacons, or members) were detained for “illegal business operation” or “provoking disturbances.” Seven have been disappeared and 3 given administrative detention.

The Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu is one of the best known house churches in China. Unlike any other Chinese house churches, Pastor Wang Yi and some of the church’s key members have been part of China’s emerging civil society since the early 2000s. Over the past few years, the church has attracted many human rights defenders and dissident intellectuals. In 2011, the church established a fund for families of political prisoners in Sichuan. Each year on June 4th, the church holds a prayer for the country to commemorate the Tiananmen democracy movement.

The church operates schools. “Each family, each church must defend the God-given sovereignty over the education of its children,” said Pastor Wang Yi, “even if we have to go to jail for it.” The church has a divinity school, an elementary school for 1st to 6th graders, a school of humanities, as well as a Sunday school.

The church has a Facebook page,  and their YouTube channel has 130 videos.

 

(Members preaching on the streets of Chengdu.)

 

Pastor Wang Yi, who is 45 years old this year, is a Sichuan native who was born and raised in Santai county, Mianyang city. He graduated from Sichuan University law school in 1996, and taught at the business school of Chengdu University for a number of years. When Internet forums sprang up in China at the turn of the century, Wang Yi distinguished himself in a vibrant forum known as “Guantian Tea House” (关天茶社) where a new generation of intellectuals met, debated and made names for themselves. Wang Yi hosted a constitutional democracy forum that discussed China’s political transition.

In 2004, Wang Yi was selected by Nanfang People Weekly (南方人物周刊) as one of the “Most Influential Public Intellectuals.” Reporter He Sanwei (何三畏) described Wang Yi this way: “This young man is a bright sight to behold. His thoughts are sharp and deliberate, and his expressions well-formed and witty.”

The list included economist Mao Yuxi (茅于轼), lawyer Zhang Sizhi (张思之), political scholars Liu Junning (刘军宁), Zhu Xueqin (朱学勤), Xu Youyu (徐友渔), poet Bei Dao (北岛), rock singer Cui Jian (崔健), founder of Caijing magazine Hu Shuli (胡舒立), legal scholar He Weifang (贺卫方), and so on.

In April 2005, Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong started the Early Rain Blessings Fellowship in their home in Chengdu. Three years later in May 2008, the Early Rain Blessings Church was established. The Early Rain Covenant Church Currently has more than 500 members, and it is said that, on some weekends, there could be as many as 2,000 flocking to the church on the 23rd floor of the Jiangxin Building, in downtown Chengdu by the Jinjiang River.

Church elder Li Yingqiang (李英强), also a Sichuan native, is only 39 years old, but he was a prominent figure in China’s now-shattered scene of independent NGOs. He and a few friends founded the Liren Library (立人图书馆) in 2007 that brought books to the countryside. The idea was to “help rural youth grow to be healthy and normal citizens.” Liren Library had attracted many volunteers and donors. Over the seven years of its existence, they established 22 libraries in 12 provinces. But in 2014 at the onset of a sweeping crackdown on independent NGOs in China, Liren Libraries were forced to close down.

 

_孩子们

A Liren library (unclear where). Photo: online.

 

Another illustrious member of the church is Ran Yunfei (冉云飞), a prolific writer and an independent intellectual whose political and historical writings have influenced many readers of the internet age. He was baptized in 2016. He has been a key player in the church’s educational programs, and he is seen to give lectures on Chinese culture and Christianity during regular church gatherings.

Church activities have been for years surveilled and harassed. On May 11 this year, Chengdu authorities deployed over 300 people to prevent the church from holding a prayer for the 10th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquakes.

The attack on Early Rain Covenant Church is part of the Chinese government’s broad and determined crackdown on house churches, and even some state-sanctioned churches, across the country since 2012. But it’s much more. On September 9, the government outlawed Zion Church, one of the largest house churches in Beijing. While church leaders have been under heavy surveillance, no arrests have been made.

In September 2017, the State Council issued revised Regulations on Religious Affairs (《宗教事务条例》), furthering tightening control of religious activities. The government has stepped up administrative measures to “sinocize” Christianity, and demolition of crosses and church buildings themselves. Churches are forced to display the national flag and sing praise of the Communist Party. China Change collected videos posted by churchgoers around the country and put them into one video to give our readers some visceral sense of the crackdown.

On September 1, 2018, under mounting pressure, 29 pastors in mainland China, led by Pastor Wang Yi, issued “A Statement for the Christian Faith.” As of now, more than 400 church leaders have signed it. The statement makes clear that the churches led by the signatories will only acknowledge, and submit to, the highest authority that is God, and that they will thus teach their members. The church leaders said that they would accept the government’s lawful regulation on civil organizations, but their churches would refuse to be co-opted by state-controlled religious organizations, nor would they register with religious management offices. Outlaw orders and fines levied on the churches, they said, would not be recognized or accepted. “For the sake of the gospel, we are ready to shoulder losses, and if we have to, pay the price of losing freedom and even life.”

On the day when Zion Church was shut down, Pastor Wang Yi delivered a forceful sermon:  “We believe we have the responsibility to tell Xi Jinping that he is a sinner, and that the government he leads has greatly offended God, because he has used force against the church of Lord Jesus Christ. If he does not repent, he must perish. We have to tell evil men like him that they still have a way out, that there is only one way out, that way is the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.” (Watch the full sermon here.)

 

 

Pastor Wang Yi was prepared for his arrest. Forty-eight hours after he was detained, his statement titled “My Declaration of Faith-based Disobedience” was posted online (a China Change translation is forthcoming).

He wrote: “The persecution of the church by the CCP regime is an extremely wicked criminal conduct. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must issue a severe and public condemnation of such sins.”

He said that his and the church’s actions of nonviolent disobedience are not in any sense rights defense actions or political acts of civil disobedience.

“As a pastor, the only thing I care about is faithful disobedience, a resistance that can bring a jolt to mortal sinners and serve as a testimony of the Christian cross.”

Just how the Chinese government is treating the case of the Early Rain Covenant Church is laid bare in the subversion charge.

Church elder Li Yingqiang issued a video for church members on December 10 while “on the run.”

Chengdu early rain, LYQ, Amnesty International

Li Yingqiang. Photo: Amnesty International

“What do we do next?” According to their plans, the church will not compromise on its principles and determined path: While Pastor Wang Yi is away, the elders will take up the responsibility to shepherd the church. The church will not subject itself to government or Party control. The church members will stay together and worship together – if they can’t do so in their own church, they will rent a new venue; if they can’t rent a venue, they will worship outdoors. The church members will do everything they can to resist being forced to break up into small groups and to meet in homes of church members. If, in the end, they can’t even worship peacefully at

home, they are “ready to pay high prices.”

“We are not afraid of having two hundred, three hundred, or five hundred of us being arrested,” said Li Yingqiang. “We will let the world know that we are willing to go through such hardship for our faith. Dear brothers and sisters, I’m speaking to you while on the run. I hope you will be joyful because of the Gospel of Christ, that you will look forward to embracing a heavier cross and a more difficult career ahead.”

 

Follow us on Twitter @ChinaChange.org

 


Related:

The Burning Cross, a video compilation of church persecution in China, Sept. 24, 2018.

The Shepherds of Living Stone Church, Yaxue Cao, Dec. 25, 2016.

Interview with a Wenzhou Pastor: The Chinese Government’s Large-Scale Destruction of Crosses in Zhejiang Province, China Change, July 29, 2015.

Second Interview With the Wenzhou Pastor: After the Demolition Comes the ‘Transformations’, China Change, Dec. 15, 2015.

The Ongoing War Against Religion in China, by Zhao Chu, China Change, August 4, 2015.

 

 

Support Our Work

cropped-China-Change-Logo.jpg

At China Change, a few dedicated staff bring you information about human rights, rule of law, and civil society in China. We want to help you understand aspects of China’s political landscape that are the most censored and least understood. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax-deductible. For offline donation, or donor receipt policy, check our “Become a Benefactor” page. Thank you.

 

Choking on Smog, China’s Urban Dwellers Emerge in Protest

Wu Qiang, December 14, 2016

“They had merely to sit on the edges of Tianfu Square wearing smog masks for police bring them in for interrogation until the early hours of the morning — this is a clear show of how deeply anxious Chengdu authorities are about protests against smog.”

 

wu-qiang_masks_chunxi-rd

Wearing masks, a group of artists and writers sat at Chunxi Road, Chengdu, on December 11.

 

For the last week, inland China has been enveloped in smog. Some cities issued emergency smog warnings; others cancelled outdoor activities at schools. In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, the government banned gatherings in Tianfu Square (天府广场)— as though they were afraid of something. And just as expected, on the weekend, Chengdu residents came out in numbers on Chunxi road in the central business district and on Tianfu Square. Some sat down quietly wearing pollution masks, others held up banners of protest.

In the frigid winter night of a smog-enclosed 2016, the protest of Chengdu residents was like the flash of a shooting star.

These are the “smog politics” of contemporary China. The smog question has almost transformed the landscape of Chinese politics since February 2015, with the broadcast of the documentary “Under the Dome” (穹顶之下) by former CCTV journalist Chai Jing (柴静). The government has been busy: Under the aegis of unifying the Jing-Jin-Ji (Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei) conurbation, Beijing has embarked on a project of social engineering aimed at resolving the smog problem: heavily polluting industries in Hebei have been forced to lower output, stop production, or shutter; Beijing has embarked on a program of “low-end population congestion relief;” and villages on the outskirts of Beijing are in the midst of converting from coal-based to to natural gas energy for heating. Meanwhile, smog continues to enshroud China now and then, and saturating social media is the discontent of the Chinese middle-class, only interrupted from time to time by a variety of other politically-tinged incidents — the “poisoned running tracks,” “the Lei Yang incident,” the “Luo Er fundraising scandal,” and bullying at the Zhongguancun No. 2 Elementary School.

It is as though a new middle class, as full of uncertainty as it is of energy, is rapidly forming its own class politics in the shroud of China’s smog. There is, for instance, the movement to “make a fortune and get out as soon as possible,” referring to emigration. There are also large collectives of underground discontent who express themselves on social media. And then there are always the unexpected small-scale protest actions in the streets.

雾霾_口罩

A man in Hangzhou wearing a mask with the Chinese character 忍 (to put up with). Online photo.

Even as the authorities move to suppress human rights lawyers and emphasize once again political thought work in schools, a politically-awakened middle-class, oriented around the politics of pollution, is forming in a rapidly urbanizing China. With their own series of often indecisive demands and modes of expression, they’ve begun to displace the rights defense movement that came before, and their numbers are quietly growing.

For instance, on the evening of December 11 in Tianfu Square, the majority of those in the sit-in were local artists and culture workers — they’d either come of their own initiative, or were mobilized by emphatic protest slogans shared on social media in the last few days. The online posts advertising the protest seemed to be inspired by the confluence of art and politics over the last few years: the various artistic creations of Ai Weiwei (艾未未), for instance, or the protest performances of the Song Zhuang art circle (北京宋庄艺术圈子), or the anti-smog demonstrations during the Beijing Marathon. They had merely to sit on the edges of Tianfu Square wearing smog masks for police to bring them in for interrogation until the early hours of the morning — this is a clear show of how deeply anxious Chengdu authorities are about protests against smog. Local social media users on Monday even circulated an official notice that the wearing of masks is prohibited during school assembly, and that air purifiers were not going to be installed. It’s as though wearing a face mask is mobilizing for a color revolution.

The deep fearfulness of the regime makes clear the power of middle-class politics “under the dome”: they need barely to raise a crowd — simply holding a small-scale protest action, even when unlikely to have any real effect, makes the authorities extremely nervous, and they rally the troops like it was the eve of battle. The Pengzhou petrochemical project (彭州石化项目), close to Chengdu and most likely to have a deleterious impact on the environment, probably won’t be scrapped because of this. But leading officials in Sichuan and Chengdu know they don’t have the option of putting their feet up and blaming everything on the policies of those who came before. Quite the opposite: it’s likely that in the weeks and months ahead, they’ll be stewing over the protests, like they’re sitting on the mouth of a volcano. Perhaps this is precisely the homogenizing character of smog: concentrated in major cities, yet inescapable to all.

 

wu-qiang_masks_stone-lions

Students at Sichuan Fine Arts Academy put masks on stone lions on campus.

 

This is where smog politics differs from the NIMBY movement of the past few years. When the Pengzhou petrochemical plant got going, Chengdu didn’t erupt in mass protests like those against the paraxylene plant in Xiamen in 2013. That requires a small number of committed environmental activists coupled with widespread public engagement — but now the prophylactic and suppressive power of the security forces has grown so quickly, they’re able to shut such protests down.

Smog is different. Within just a few years, it’s turned all city dwellers into collective victims — and amplified the sense of frustration and grievance of those who are trying, and every day failing, to enter the middle class. The most aggrieved among them aren’t rights defenders that the authorities have already identified, ready to apprehend at a moment’s notice. Now, no matter how small the protest is — even if it’s just a selfie with a slogan written on paper — as soon as it happens, the homogenizing character of China’s pollution politics means that everyone soon hears about it, and it becomes a general protest.

All this means that everyone — not just those in North China, or denizens along the Yangtze river or coast, but the central and local governments too, and the state-backed “environmental experts” who were brought out to defend the Pengzhou petrochemical plant, as well as the nationalists like Zhou Xiaoping (周小平) — now finds themselves in an uncertain and unprecedented gambit. There’s no solution: only the arrival of a crisp northern gale, or a summer typhoon, is able to temporarily lift the stifling smog.

But these two natural forces are no help to those in the Chengdu basin. As long as the smog doesn’t clear, protests in Chengdu will continue to serve as a model specimen of China’s pollution politics, keeping the discussion alive among the urbanized middle class, fanning debate, and inviting citizens elsewhere to emulate. This will be a test of whether or not China has something like a “civil society,” and whether its middle class has political significance. Like France on the eve of 1789, any spontaneous protests by Chengdu citizens could turn into a movement demanding clean air. When that happens, the final stage of pollution politics will have arrived.

 

Dr. Wu Qiang (吴强) holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. He is a researcher of social movements and a freelance writer.

 

 

Also by Wu Qiang:

The Death and Life of Middle Class Politics in China

The Four Forces of China’s Politics of Smog

What Do Lu Yuyu’s Statistics of Protest Tell Us About the Chinese Society Today?

 

 

The one thing you can be angry about

On Saturday Yaxue shared the story of “Subverter” Chen Pingfu. Essentially, he was deeply in debt after paying for a surgery, and turned to performing in public to try and pay off the money he owed his family members. For this he was threatened and eventually beaten by “public servants,” but he continued on. When he complained about this treatment online, he was further harassed by police, and was forced out of the only job he’d been able to find in years. Chen was a man desperately clinging to the last shred of dignity he had and local officials were determined to take that away from him.

Apparently in China, when the gov’t takes away your job and threaten you by saying, “I’ll send you to your death if you dare be a nuisance! Who do you think you are? Making you die is nothing for us! Go with us if you dare, and see how we will tidy you up!” you are supposed to swallow the bitter pill in absolute silence. For if you are angry, and express that in any public forum, you can be sentenced for “subverting state power.”

But we saw this weekend, that there is still one thing you can be angry about – Japan.

There were massive protests against Japan’s gov’t buying islands (from a Japanese family) which China claims (for excellent coverage see Eric’s coverage at Sinostand). Friends in Nanjing reported seeing smaller crowds gathered and one emailed me to comment on what happened during the Rape of Nanjing, “I still believe only a twisted and distorted nation could have done such horrific things and have enjoyed. It runs in the blood.”

From what Eric at Sinostand saw first hand, he had little doubt that these were gov’t sanctioned, if not gov’t supported protests, as the crowd hoisted Mao posters, and chanted for the long life of the Communist Party (in Xiamen they clearly were). People’s Daily has also hosted a series of other inflammatory news about Japan, which makes it seem as though the gov’t is not done stoking the fire. Global Times condemned the violent protests, but supported the protests over all (this is perhaps the most explicit piece from GT that shows their allegiance to the Party). This fits neatly with the Party’s beloved narrative that they are the only force that can protect China from being carved up by foreign imperialists (of which Japan is the worst).

Perhaps Chinese people really are this upset with Japan (over a move that has changed nothing as far as the issue of the Diaoyu islands is concerned). China does not accept Japanese control of the islands and so Japan’s recent actions should be as upsetting to Chinese students as China buying Hawaii from some guy in Gansu would be to an American. Furthermore, supporters of the Party like to remind us that the Chinese people are of low character, and would be very warlike without the firm control of the gov’t. Or perhaps it’s just that this is the only issue that one can actually take to the streets over without fear of being beaten by police, forced out of your job, or disappearing into the back of a Public Security Bureau van.

A friend in Chengdu told me that one of his greatest regrets in college was participating in the anti-American protests sparked by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (these were also massive). He told me more than once, that after the U.S. apologized, the protests were halted, and the students were sent back to their universities lest they begin to protest anything else. He feels now as though he was nothing more than a pawn in the gov’t’s game, but at the time it had been a liberating feeling to go and scream and wave banners.

For now the students seem content with venting their frustration with the Japanese gov’t, but as China’s economy slows down and graduates can’t find jobs, it’s only a matter of time before they realize who they are really angry with.

Out of control gov’t official abuses power – a very generic post

On return from more than a week on the road, I caught up with my China news and found it all to be a bit…predictable. In response I’ve created the following template that seems to exist somewhere to save all of you time.

A gov’t official (or family member of an official) was caught abusing their power by murdering/embezzling/forcing farmers off their land/covering up a scandal for a company in X province. The story first appeared on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, late last week and built to a crescendo over the weekend.

SomeGuyWithACamera posted pictures of an angry crowd ranging between dozens and thousands, which were deleted within 24 hours by censors. Calls to the local gov’t went unanswered. A man from the gov’t in the neighboring district said that, “The foreign forces conspiring to bring down China,” had organized this protest in co-operation with the Dalai Lama, he only gave his surname – Wang.

On Weibo there was a wide variety of reactions. ImAngry tweeted, “Gov’t officials are always abusing their power while they claim to be serving the people.” A very different response came later from PossiblyWuMao saying, “Gov’t officials only have our best interests at heart and we shouldn’t expect them to stop at red lights/refuse invitations to expensive dinners/not flee overseas with embezzled money.”

I could go on, but I think you get my point. After several years of consuming almost every scrap of Chinese news, the narrative has gotten stale. The idea that seems to be behind these cases is that Weibo is a tool for ensuring justice in an unjust country, and that the Chinese gov’t is slowly reforming.

As an American, I am lured to this reading, as it reflects my own desire to see the Chinese people taking control over their country. However, we have yet to see a meaningful clean up in gov’t as a result of the widespread abuses we learn of on a daily basis. As much as I hate to say it, Weibo is at best a band-aid or a safety valve – not a source of meaningful reform. If it were, we would be seeing aggressive legislation and an easing of the limits placed on Chinese journalists instead of GT fluff pieces about acceptable levels of graft.

I don’t mean to say that Weibo is fruitless, it has enabled us to get a much bigger picture of what is happening in China, but it is still a carefully managed virtual world with very real boundaries. As a friend in Chengdu told me, he had seen reports of a self-immolation near his home (unrelated to Tibet) and within fifteen minutes of stumbling across the story it had completely disappeared, far too quickly to be picked up by foreign media or anyone else.

Weibo gives a voice to individual Chinese people, but does not allow for a collective voice to call for change. As was noted in a recent study, most criticisms of the gov’t survive censorship while posts relating to organizing much of anything are quickly deleted.

My fear is that in an effort to show the growth of people power in China, we’ve created an image of a  country that is reforming while officials are allowed to bend laws for their own needs and the gov’t shies away from anything that might someday curb their power. Instead of portraying Weibo as the hero of the tales we tell, it would be a better use of ink (and bandwidth) to focus more closely on the groups and individuals pushing for change.

The crackdown and foreign garbage – a few ideas that still need to be addressed

For the last few weeks, the expat community in China has been abuzz with talk about Beijing’s crackdown on foreigners who are here illegally, and the growing anti-foreign sentiment that seems to be stoked by state media (Beijing Cream’s summary of what sparked it all and the fiery post that almost got China Geeks sued). So far the crackdown has already spread to Yanbian and Chengdu is preparing to announce similar measures, a nationwide campaign in the next few months would not be surprising. If we’re completely honest though, I think most of us would agree with the importance of enforcing visa policies, but dislike the tone of the rhetoric and the nationalism it encourages. I think we should also admit that most of us know people who are currently violating the terms of their visa, and that this pushes us to view the directives in a different light. Today I want to bring up a few ideas that I think are worthy of further discussion, without rehashing too much of what has already been said.

Note: China “cracks down” on lots of things, and my Chinese friends found nothing surprising about the language used. It’s highly likely that local authorities did not consider how the campaign would sound to foreigners. Hopefully, someone will learn a lesson from the backlash, the poor “journalists” at People’s Daily have been trying to put a positive spin on it for days now.

“Strengthen the management of foreigners. Crack down on the three types of illegals.” Banner in Beijing from @niubi. The three illegals are: illegal entry, overstayed visa, and illegal employment

First, it is important to note that “foreigners” is a catch-all term for a very disparate group. South East Asians and North Koreans (a second campaign was launched in North Eastern China to combat this) fill the needs of cheap physical labor in industries that are no longer enticing to Chinese workers; African traders have found a base that offers them a reasonably comfortable life, while opening a market for cheaply made Chinese goods; and young, mostly white, English speakers only partially fill the gigantic demand for teachers. They are attracted to China for many reasons, but the fact that work is easy to find is likely the most common one (I was almost made a VP of marketing for a wine distributor while shopping at the supermarket once). Unfortunately, China seems to have been completely unprepared for this, and has what could only charitably be described as a rudimentary system for handling the influx.

This brings me to my second point: except for the occasional, vague threats, there is little reason to follow China’s visa regulations for the time being. As far as I have seen, companies hiring foreigners breaching the terms of their visas never face repercussions (same in the US), and so have no reason not to hire these people. At the same time, the chances of getting caught working illegally are probably about the same as being audited by the IRS, and the salary generally is much higher than whatever the fines would be (for English Teachers). While I am in no way encouraging this behavior, it is not hard to understand why so many otherwise law abiding individuals break the terms of their visas.

This is further exacerbated by the often mercurial visa process, and the hassle associated with it (this of course coming from expats like me, who have never had to apply for a US or EU visa). Not only is it confusing for an individual applying for a visa, but it can also be incredibly difficult and expensive for companies/schools to get permission from gov’t officials to hire foreigners. In the cases I am familiar with it has been the school or company that encouraged the expat to come on a tourist visa, insisting that it is common (it is) and legal (it isn’t).

The majority of the people I know in this category are living in China on student visas, but find themselves working on holidays and weekends for spending money. I doubt that very many of these people will be swept out in this campaign, yet this group seems to be the most vocal about the crack down. Instead I think it will focus on people from other Asian countries and Africa, these are the groups that my co-workers quite openly despise and are seen as a source of crime (I don’t know of any statistics backing this up, but neither do any of my co-workers).

In the debate, it’s also worth noting that there are a large number (but a small percentage) of foreigners in China that are truly despicable, but are here completely legally. This was the case with the Russian cellist who swore at the woman on the train, and the British tourist who attempted to rape a local woman (which in Chinese is simply two undifferentiated foreign devils). Checking visas and passports does nothing to curb the underlying problems related to Chinese law enforcement.

Twice I have been approached by completely unknown expats who were teachers that openly bragged about sleeping with their students or prostitutes. After the disturbing conversation, they gave me their business cards. Yet, when I contacted their schools and the local authorities about these individuals, I was completely brushed aside. The training school in Guangdong said the man had a heart condition and therefore could not engage in sexual activity. Shanghai Normal University, where the other man was employed, said that they were confident that such a thing had not happened and weren’t going to investigate it. The gov’t agencies in Shenzhen never replied to my emails. Sadly, I doubt that this is uncommon.

Yet, I worry that even if these schools were to fire these individuals, another institute would offer them a position. The sad reality is that many institutions are so starved for foreign talent, that they never question the character of the individuals; even when presented with damning evidence they are more concerned with saving face than protecting their students (I know of similar cases involving Chinese teachers that were also covered up).

Furthermore, legal cases involving foreigners are still unclear in the eyes of law enforcement officials which leads to “special treatment.” This of course is something that expats have little control over, and quite frankly should not demand. As mentioned in today’s People’s Daily, expats pulled over for speeding are occasionally let off without a fine due to the police officer’s inability to communicate with them. While English shouldn’t be a requirement for all officers, perhaps a translation service could be set up to help police communicate with expats to avoid such unequal application of the law.

Others are let go because the officers are concerned about how to handle the situation and are wary of the possible mountains of paper work, which has been another aspect specifically mentioned in Chinese editorials on the issue. Perhaps here foreigners are targeted because it is not possible to openly criticize the military personnel and gov’t officials who also receive these undeserved privileges.

So I would like to propose the following – that we expats living in China improve our efforts to police ourselves. When we hear our friends talking about looking for work, we push them to get the proper visas. When we see obnoxiously drunk expats staggering out of a bar, we get them into a cab and on their way home. When we hear of teachers sleeping with their own students, we take action to protect their students. You can also focus on your own behavior- like withstanding the pushing on the bus without screaming and maybe even give up your seat when no one else is willing. Reply to as many “Haalllooows” with a friendly smile and wave as long as you can stomach. As unfair as it is, remember that wherever you go, you’re not only representing yourself or even your country, but all waiguoren, all ~5.6 billion of us.