Home » Posts tagged 'Zhang Kai'
Tag Archives: Zhang Kai
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice
China Change, May 14, 2018
Following the ‘709 crackdown’ — a large-scale attack against human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015 — China has continued to target this small group (about 0.1% of China’s 300,000 lawyers) who have taken on cases to defend basic human rights and other forms of social injustice. While torture and imprisonment have failed to cowe them, the government is now resorting to simple disbarment, or more subtle techniques, like preventing them from getting work so as to force their licenses to lapse, in order to take human rights lawyers off the field. The government regards this group of lawyers and those they defend a threat to communist rule; their determination to eliminate them is meeting with success, and the onslaught appears likely to continue and deepen.
China Change has reported several recent cases of disbarment, such as that of Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Yu Wensheng (余文生) and Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武). The following is an overview of 16 more cases of lawyers who are facing imminent disbarment or forms of harassment that prevent them from practicing law.
This campaign to remove lawyers who defend human rights, or any lawyer who is outspoken or rejects governmental control through the Lawyers’ Associations, appears to be deliberate, coordinated and sweeping. As we prepare the following list, more cases of threatened disbarment have continued to emerge; we will keep our readers updated.
Meanwhile, we are reminded by lawyers we correspond with that many human rights lawyers who face neither disbarment nor inability to practice also face increasing obstacles to doing their jobs: the justice bureaus have demanded that lawyers must report to the bureaus the cases they take on; recent news says that judicial bureaus want to implement a ‘grid-style’ control system over lawyers; Party cells are being set up in law firms; and lawyers are required to disclose to the judicial bureaus their religious beliefs, social media accounts, and other personal information.
As the authorities set about their rectification campaign against rights lawyers and strip them of their right to practice law, plaintiffs in human rights-related cases are having a difficult time finding defense attorneys, a circumstance that is likely to get worse as time goes on.
Lawyers Who Have Been Arrested During the 709 Crackdown
Xie Yanyi (谢燕益)
In April 2018, lawyer Xie Yanyi found that his license to practice law had been marked ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice — though he had personally received no such notice. On May 4, the Beijing Lawyers’ Association informed him that a hearing would be held on May 16 regarding his alleged violation of regulations. The notice said that Xie was being investigated for suspicion of violating regulations during his representation of a client in Yinchuan, Ningxia, who was being charged with ‘using an evil religious organization to undermine the rule of law’ (the legal terminology used by the courts in Falun Gong cases).
The authorities have been using the excuse of ‘conducting an investigation into violating regulations’ on a past case simply to provide some pretext for cancelling a lawyer’s license to practice. Xie is the latest victim of this method.
In January 2017, not long after Xie was released on bail, he continued taking on cases at his original law firm, including the well-known case of the Canadian citizen of Chinese heritage and Falun Gong practitioner Sun Qian (孙茜).
On Sunday, Xie Yanyi requested postponement of the hearing, stating that his oral and written requests for copying materials that support the so-called ‘violations’ have gone unanswered, and that he is thus unable to defend himself during the hearing.
After being released from prison, Xie penned a “Record of 709” in which he described being tortured while in custody, as well as the authorities’ threats against his wife as a form of psychological torture.
Li Heping (李和平)
During a detention of nearly two years, Li Heping was subjected to an inconceivable degree of torture, including hands and ankles being chained together for over a month. He got through by silently reciting passages from the Bible and thinking how much his six-year-old daughter needed a father. On April 25, 2017, the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court held a secret trial on Li Heping’s alleged subversion of state power. Three days later he received the sentence to three years imprisonment, suspended for four years, as well as the deprivation of political rights for four years. Li declined to appeal. On May 9 the same year, after the appeal period had expired, Li was released and allowed to return to his family.
Li Heping is one of China’s earliest human rights lawyers, having been harassed and beaten by police for his work since 2007. Before the 709 crackdown he worked with a foreign NGO documenting cases of torture in custody and conducting anti-torture training classes.
On April 25, 2018, Li received notice from the Beijing Bureau of Justice that his law license was to be revoked — they said that according to Chinese law and regulations, lawyers who have deliberately committed crimes and been sentenced must have their professional licenses cancelled. Li rejected this explanation and demanded that a hearing be held about his case. On May 7, a man came to Li’s house to sever the notice, and Li scrawled the following on the receipt: “This is a great injustice. This is a false case, a case of political persecution. The truth will ultimately see its day!”
The hearing about Li’s law license will be held at 3:00 p.m. on May 17 at the Sunshine Halfway House (阳光中途之家), a community corrections center in Chaoyang District, Beijing.
Claiming that the case of Li Heping involves state secrets, the authorities announced that the hearing will be held behind closed doors. Nevertheless, we encourage the public, including foreign journalists and diplomats, to attend and observe in solidarity.
Li Chunfu (李春富)
In April 2018, Li Chunfu’s law license, like Xie Yanyi’s, was marked as ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice. However, Li has revealed that his law firm is currently handling his social security and medical insurance paperwork. This means he remains an employee of the firm, and the government has no reason to annul his law license.
On August 1, 2015, Li Chunfu was arrested after speaking out on behalf of his brother, Li Heping, who had also been detained during the 709 crackdown. In January 2017 after Li Chunfu was released on bail, it quickly became clear that he had been terribly abused in custody and was suffering a mental breakdown.
Wang Yu (王宇)
In April 2018, Wang Yu found in a search of the records held by the Beijing Bureau of Justice that her professional status was marked as ‘unregistered.’ Her previous employer, the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所), had been disbanded as a result of the 709 crackdown, and Wang Yu had been unable to find a subsequent law office with which to associate herself.
Wang Yu has had difficulties finding a firm to accept her — some law firms have received warnings not to employ her, while others tactfully decline to employ her. In China, a lawyer without a firm is unable to practice; and if they have not found a firm within six months, their license is automatically annulled.
In Wang Yu’s case, as in that of several others, this is a method to disbar a human rights lawyer.
Zhang Kai (张凯)
On March 27, 2018, Zhang Kai of the Beijing Xinqiao Law Firm published the news that his firm had been forced by the authorities to fire him. “If nothing unexpected happens, once I’m laid off there will be no other law firm who accepts me, and in a matter of a few months my law license will be annulled.”
He added: “I will continue to proactively communicate with my peers and the judicial bureaus and do my best not to make trouble for anyone, but if communication truly breaks down, I will be left with no choice but defend my own rights.”
Zhang Kai represented a number of churches in the Wenzhou area during the campaign to tear down crosses from 2014 to 2015. On August 25, 2015, Zhang and two assistants were taken away by police while at the Xialing Church (下岭教堂) in Wenzhou, and two days later placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ (指定居所监视居住) on suspicion of ‘organizing a crowd to disturb public order,’ and ‘stealing, spying, buying, and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to foreigners.’ Zhang was released on probationary bail in March 2016, upon which he was forcibly taken back to his hometown in Inner Mongolia. In March 2017 his probationary bail was extended another year.
Huang Liqun (黄力群)
Huang Liqun, a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, was arrested during the 709 crackdown and released in early 2016. In May 2018 on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice, his professional status was shown as ‘practicing,’ while his employer remained the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm which had already been shut down by the authorities.
In March 2017, the lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said that after Huang Liqun’s probation was finished, he requested a transfer of employer but was rejected. The authorities said that he was a party to an ongoing case, and that only after the entire case was finished would his status be modified.
Bao Longjun (包龙军)
Bao Longjun is the husband of Wang Yu and only passed the bar exam and received his law license a few months prior to July 9, 2015, when he too was taken into custody on the same day as his wife. In August 2016, he and Wang Yu were released on probationary bail. He was still technically a legal intern at the time, and is currently unable to find a new law firm to employ him so that he can finish his internship and become a formally credentialled lawyer.
The Defense Lawyers of the 709 Detainees
Wen Donghai (文东海)
Wen Donghai, a lawyer from Changsha, Hunan, was the first lawyer to brave the atmosphere of terror after the 709 crackdown began and act as defense counsel for Wang Yu. He then began taking one sensitive case after another. On October 30, 2017, the Changsha Judicial Bureau dispatched a ‘Notification’ (《告知书》) to Wen, informing him that he had been investigated for “suspicion of disrupting court order and disrupting the normal operations of lawsuit activities,” found guilty, and would be subjected to administrative punishment.
On April 29, Wen made a freedom of information request to the Hunan Department of Justice, demanding that they disclose the work instructions received from Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua related to the 709 crackdown, as well as information about the meetings held by Hunan judicial authorities about disciplining lawyers. The freedom of information request that Wen crafted included “the specific circumstances of meetings held by your department prior to the Chinese New Year that invited the participation and coordination of individuals in the Public Security Bureau, the Procuratorate, the courts, and the politico-legal commission, regarding the suppression of human rights lawyers.”
On May 10, Wen received notice that the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice was planning to annul his law license, and informing him that he had a right to request a hearing. However, hearings of this nature are merely a formality, have no substantive content, and are designed primarily to provide cover for what is in essence a political punishment.
Li Yuhan (李昱函)
Li Yuhan was arrested in October 2017 in Shenyang, Liaoning province. She was charged with provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble, and fraud. This April Li Yuhan was brought before the court and faces the prospect of a prison sentence and the loss of law license. Li Yuhan has represented Wang Yu during the 709 crackdown and secretly traveled to Inner Mongolia to visit the family with another of Wang Yu’s defense lawyers, Wen Donghai.
Liu Shuqing (刘书庆)
On January 4, 2016, Liu Shuqing, simultaneously a lawyer and a professor of chemistry at Qilu University of Technology (齐鲁工业大学) in Shandong, had his law license cancelled in the aftermath of the 709 arrests. Liu had been a lawyer for seven years, and had taken on cases the authorities consider sensitive, like that of Henan petitioner Gong Jianjun (巩建军) accused of killing a private security contractor; the case of Zhejiang dissident Chen Shuqing (陈树庆) accused of ‘subverting state power’; as well as Wang Yu and others. Liu believes that it’s his involvement in these cases that led to the annulment of his law license. In April 2018 the Qilu University of Technology announced that Liu had “repeatedly made inappropriate expressions,” and his teaching career of 16 years was put to an end.
Cheng Hai (程海)
Beijing-based Cheng Hai is the defense attorney for Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), another 709 lawyer who is still in detention. Cheng also took part, unsuccessfully, in the people’s deputy elections in Beijing in 2016 as an independent candidate. On February 5, 2018, the Beijing Bureau of Justice cancelled the license of Cheng Hai’s law firm, the Beijing Wutian Law Firm (北京悟天律师事务所), on the grounds that it had “refused to participate in the 2017 annual assessment.” Thus, if Cheng Hai does not find another law firm to employ him by August 5, his law license will be automatically annulled.
Huang Simin (黄思敏)
Huang Simin, a lawyer from Wuhan, Hubei, took on the case of Li Tingyu (李婷玉) among others; most recently the authorities have cancelled her license on the basis that she had failed to complete her transfer from one law firm to another. The truth is, Huang had been forced to leave her firm in Wuhan. Her plans to enter a firm in Guangdong didn’t materialize because orders were sent to firms not to accept her. She was then accepted by a firm in Changsha, Hunan. The local authorities there forced that firm to fire her. Currently Huang is currently seeking a solution to keep her license.
Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原)
Liu Xiaoyuan is a partner at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown in 2015, though the Beijing Bureau of Justice stated on its website that Liu was ‘practicing’ law, in fact he had been unable to do so for the last three years, and nor was he able to transfer his employment from Fengrui, because, as the authorities say, they’re still investigating Fengrui, and until their investigation is over, no one will be allowed to move onto another employer. This means that Fengrui’s lawyers who have not been otherwise detained during the 709 crackdown will need to wait at least until the case against Wang Quanzhang is finalized.
Wang Quanzhang has been in detention for over 1,000 days now. His wife in February 2017 was informed that he had been formally charged by the Tianjin Municipal Procuratorate with incitement to subvert state power, but his lawyers have not been allowed to see him, and no trial has been conducted. Sources say that Wang has been tortured so badly that he can’t be “shown,” and that this is the real reason the case has yet to be tried, judged, and that Wang is denied access to his lawyers.
Zhou Lixin (周立新)
Zhou Lixin is another partner with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown, he’s been listed by the Beijing Bureau of Justice as ‘practicing,’ but is in the same situation as Liu Xiaoyuan: unable to work for the last three years, and no indication of when this situation may change.
Peng Yonghe (彭永和)
Peng Yonghe is a Shanghai-based lawyer. On May 2, 2017, he publicly announced that he was quitting the officially-run Shanghai Lawyer’s Association. After that, he was forced to change law firms, but was prevented from getting new employment, and thus unable to work. The authorities told him on several occasions that as long as he took back his resignation from the Shanghai Lawyer’s Association, he’d be able to go back to practicing law.
In early May 2018, Peng announced that his wife applied for three jobs within the space of around a month, but that ‘relevant departments’ interfered and no one would hire her. Most recently, they’ve been unable to rent in Shanghai, also due to political interference.
Yu Pinjian (玉品健)
Yu Pinjian, based in Guangzhou, has a PhD in law. In September 2017 the authorities demanded that his law firm force him to find another employer. But, in a similar pattern to the other cases, once he left his first employer to transfer to another, the process was interfered with and he was unable to complete the procedures, and it now appears that his law license could be revoked as a result.
“I didn’t do anything,” Yu Pinjian has said on the record, “except for posting a few articles. I didn’t delete them as was told to, and the authorities then wanted to teach me a lesson.” (Yu Pinjian’s article on his public WeChat account, ‘Righteous Person of the Law’ [正义法律人] has already been deleted by censors anyway.)
Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱)
On May 14, the Changsha-based lawyer Yang Jinzhu received a four page Notification from the Hunan Provincial Justice Department of his planned disbarment for “alleged expressions that threaten the national security, using inappropriate methods to influence the handling of cases, disrupting court order, and using malicious language to defame others.”
The first accusation refers to Yang’s article posted in a WeChat group, titled “Lawyer Yang Jinzhu Angrily Fucks the 18 Generations of Ancestors of the Chinese Judicial System,” in which he vented his frustration. “This government ignores the law. The judiciary ignores the law. And when they see lawyers who defend personal rights, they put you in stocks, tie you up, fetter your hands and feet — this, right now, is China’s judicial system!”
A Record of 709， Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017
‘My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer’, Li Heping, Ai Weiwei, August 21, 2016.
Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
Liang Xiaojun, July 25, 2016
Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is a human rights lawyer, and one of the 709 detainees. – The Editors
It was probably somewhere around the end of 2008 that I started receiving occasional group emails from someone writing under the name Liang Buzheng (梁不正)—“Crooked Beam.” Sometimes the emails would contain this person’s views on politics, while other times they would describe the actions he was taking in the legal sphere. In those days much of my time was spent handling commercial cases in order to make a living, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to public interest law or human rights issues. As a result, I would often simply skip over those emails from “Crooked Beam” without really reading them. But I did take note of the author’s rather unusual name.
It was probably around that same time that I began to hear the name “Xie Yanyi” mentioned by different people in different circumstances. It was only then that I drew the link between that name and the “Crooked Beam” of the emails I had been getting. I’d heard that this Xie Yanyi had filed suit against former leader Jiang Zemin for violating the constitution by refusing to resign as chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2003, and I became interested to find out what sort of a person this “Crooked Beam” was.
I asked the head of Xie’s law firm at the time about him. He was in a terrible fix in those days, since Xie’s employment there was preventing his firm from passing its annual review. He told me that Xie was “just like Li Kui” (李逵), the tough and temperamental character from the classic novel, Outlaws of the Marsh. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, but I took the image I had of Li Kui from the novel and its television adaptions and pictured Xie Yanyi as a big, strong fellow with a full beard.
Then, in May 2009, I attended a meeting of lawyers gathered to condemn police in Chongqing for beating lawyers Li Chunfu (李春富) and Zhang Kai (张凯)* over their investigation into the death of a Falun Gong practitioner in a labor camp. At the meeting, I was approached by a fellow with deep-seated eyes, delicate features, and a well-proportioned physique who asked me if I was a reporter. When I told him I wasn’t, he turned and walked away. I asked the person next to me who he was, and he told me: “That’s Xie Yanyi.” That was the first time I’d ever set eyes on Xie Yanyi.
From the end of that year, I gradually started getting involved in more public interest and human rights cases. Those of us working on these cases would often meet up for dinner, but since Xie Yanyi lived way out in Miyun County he was often unable to join us or else would only have a few bites and say a few words before rushing off. Our paths didn’t cross much back then, and we never had a chance to talk in any depth.
Later on, though, we would come to work together on a few cases. I would listen in great admiration to his flowing defense arguments, which were always strong, reasoned, and well documented, knowing that my own arguments were never as theoretically strong. These days, whenever my colleague Dong Qianyong (董前勇) takes on a case involving religious belief, I will give him a photocopy of one of Xie’s defense arguments for his reference. But in my own mind, I can’t shake the image of Xie Yanyi as a “barefoot lawyer,” wearing sandals, dressed in everyday attire, and toting a huge backpack.
It was probably around 2012 that he began telling me about his belief that China’s future transition to democracy could only come through the peaceful development of a democratic culture. Those days I was terribly busy with my work, running here and there to handle one case after another. I simply had neither time nor energy to think about the direction or path of China’s future development. I had no idea how to respond to his ideas, and he didn’t seem interested in trying to convince me. So we usually ended up simply laughing off those discussions.
Later, he gave me a copy of his self-published book entitled Roads of Faith, which was a collection of articles and essays he’d written over the previous few years. The epigraph read: “The power of peace and reason is unstoppable! This is the age when citizens will demonstrate their will.” I’m not much for reading books and I’d already read some of his articles before, so I merely paged through the book before placing it on my bookshelf, where it would remain untouched.
When the “709” crackdown on lawyers was launched last year, my friends and I were all living in fear, not knowing whose turn it would be to be arrested next. When I heard that Xie Yanyi had been arrested, I wasn’t at all surprised.
Through our previous work together, I’d come to know Xie’s mother, a remarkably spry old woman who was also a lawyer down in Gaobeidian (高碑店) in Hebei. I tried to contact her a number of times to find out what plans there were for Xie Yanyi’s legal defense, but no one ever answered and later her mobile just shut off, so I had to drop it. Besides Xie’s mother, I didn’t know any of his other relatives and didn’t know how else to help.
Late last year, a friend took me out to Xie Yanyi’s home in Miyun County, where I met Xie’s wife, Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊). She was six or seven months pregnant at the time, but she still took her electric bicycle out to buy groceries so she could cook for her two sons. There were two plaques hanging on the wall of their home, one reading “Peace and Democracy” and the other reading “The World Belongs to Everyone.” I knew that these were things that Xie Yanyi truly believed in.
On January 8, when Xie Yanyi was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion,” Yuan Shanshan appointed me to be his defense attorney. Given the blatant illegality of what the police have done, I don’t know how much I can really accomplish, but I’m grateful for the confidence that Yuan Shanshan and Xie’s older brother have shown in me.
It’s through our conversations that I’ve come to have a better understanding of who Xie Yanyi is. He had all sorts of advantages growing up, and could have been set for life if he’d simply relied on his parents. But he had much more respect for those who made their own way in the world. He gave up a chance to study overseas in Singapore and returned home to Gaobeidian, where he lived alone and devoted himself to studying to pass the bar exam.
After becoming a lawyer in Beijing, he encountered so many miscarriages of justice and observed so much of society’s darker side that his thinking changed and he began to think in terms of problems with the way the system was set up. After he filed his “first suit on behalf of constitutionalism” against Jiang Zemin in 2003, he became the object of heavy police surveillance but never gave up his aspiration to use his efforts to secure a peaceful, democratic future for future generations.
Xie made a point of getting to know people from all walks of life during his trips to handle cases or through his social encounters and would talk with them about his own beliefs and ways of thinking in an effort to persuade them. After the police shooting of a man in the Qing’an railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, he paid his own way to go up to Heilongjiang and provide legal assistance to the man’s family and seek the truth about the case.
After Wang Yu (王宇) and her husband and son were taken into custody on July 9 of last year, Xie Yanyi was one of the first to go online and call for assistance. Even though he was also taken in by the police for questioning in the middle of the night, he refused to compromise. Instead, he stated: Even though he was put under tremendous pressure, he insisted on speaking up for Wang Yu and the Fengrui Law Firm. Soon his house was raided and he himself was “disappeared.” In August 2015, Xie’s mother passed away; in March 2016, his daughter was born . . .
Because I’m handling Xie Yanyi’s case and have come to have a much deeper understanding of his past, I’ve thought a lot and had countless discussions with friends about the choices we make in life as well as life’s meaning and value. I was paging through the copy of Roads of Faith that Xie gave me in an attempt to understand the trajectory of his thinking when I happened to notice the date of his inscription to me—July 11, 2012. Three years and one day later, he would be taken away from his home by police in the early morning hours and “disappeared” until this very day. Several hundred copies of Roads of Faith were confiscated from his home, perhaps becoming evidence for the authorities’ charge that he had engaged in “inciting subversion.”
While most of us might anticipate that China’s transition to democracy will come about as a result of elite power struggles, economic recession, or popular protest, people like Xie Yanyi long ago started to think and put into practice ways to make this transition possible. In this day and age, when there is so much cynicism and resignation in the face of tyranny, people like Xie Yanyi are really valuable. He represents the conscience, the courage, and the future of our nation’s people. Though we may have all faced the same kinds of difficulties as Xie Yanyi in the past, we have shrunk back from them whereas he stood firm. This willingness to stand firm makes his yearlong enforced disappearance a distillation of all the joys and sorrows others have experienced for over a decade. Through his loss of freedom, Xie Yanyi bears witness to the absurdity of claims to “govern the state in accordance with the law.”
It’s his family and children who have paid the most for these ideals, but the realization of those ideals will be a precious gift that he will bestow upon them.
Of all my interactions with Xie Yanyi, one scene is as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday: One summer day, we are standing on the sandy banks of the Tuo River in Luzhou, Sichuan, watching the sun set to west as the river flowed eastward toward the Yangtze. I sigh to think of the passage of time, the vastness of the universe, and how insignificant we humans ultimately are . . .
July 14, 2016
*Li Chunfu is also among the 709 detained lawyers. Zhang Kai was detained last August for representing churches in Wenzhou. He was released in March, 2016, following persistent international pressure.
Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) is a human rights lawyer in China.
America and Europe’s Failure in Securing the Release of Lawyers and Activists in Connection With the ‘709 Incident’, Jiang Tianyong, July 17, 2016.
After Four Detainees of the ‘709 Incident’ Are Indicted, Chinese State Media Name Foreign News Organizations, a US Congressman, & Three Embassies in Beijing as ‘Foreign Anti-China Forces’, China Change, July 15, 2016.
The ‘709 Incident:’ some testimony from the human rights lawyer community, Eva Pils, July 8, 2016.
By Li Xiaoming and Wang Yi, translation by China Change, published: March 3, 2016
“As I watched Zhang Kai’s so-called TV confession, my heart ached to no end,” a Chinese Twitter user wrote. He speaks for many of us. Zhang appeared thin and haggard, his dishevelled hair and lusterless eyes all the image of a concentration camp prisoner. He sounded as though he’d been forced to read a script prepared for him by his tormentors. Watching him is like watching our brother being cornered and strong-armed, or our sister raped, as we stand by, helpless. We are pained, but fall silent. What’s more, we begin to think it’s alright to say and do nothing. Then there are those who can no longer “stay out of it.” We are deeply grateful to these voices, few they may be. — The Editors
A Statement by an Ordinary Christian
I, Li Xiaoming, of Mongolian ethnicity, am an intern lawyer in Beijing. I was born in 1989. My identification number is 15042319890806051X. In around 2008 I became attracted to Christianity, but only in early 2015 did I form a conviction to believe in the Lord. On May 10, 2015, I was baptized.
For the last two years the government has been tearing down crosses from churches in Zhejiang and arresting pastors, Christian lawyers, and believers who put up resistance. Recently, they have also hauled Christian lawyer Zhang Kai onto television for a forced confession, blatantly shaming the church of God. As an ordinary citizen, and as an ordinary Christian, I want to express my severe opposition to this behavior, and to demand that the government acts according to the law, honors citizens’ rights to religious freedom granted in the constitution, and immediately ceases its persecution.
From the perspective of my faith, I see the enormous peril that Chinese churches are in: that they have fallen far short of the glory that God has bestowed upon them is an established fact. Does God allow the removal of crosses to take place in so widespread a manner because the Christian church in China is not worthy of the honor of the cross?
In light of this, I put forward three questions for my brothers and sisters in the church to consider:
1) Has China got any Christian churches that truly practice righteousness, exercise mercy, and follow the example of Jesus? Why have I not yet seen any church, in its own name, make a solemn statement expressing its position against the severe persecution we saw recently?
2) Apart from Wang Yi (王怡), the lead pastor of the Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu (成都秋雨之福教会), I’ve seen no public stance taken by any other church. I’d like to know why, when pastors see one of their limbs tortured, they are content to sit in silence? If they are to face Jesus one day, will they be content in their hearts with what they’ve done?
3) Every Chinese Christian should kneel down and turn toward God, search inside their own hearts, and ask whether they have failed to live up to the glory of Jesus, whether they have been cruel and unscrupulous, whether they have forgotten the favor bestowed upon them, and whether they have treated reading the gospel as no more than having fun. If we’re reproached by the Holy Spirit, then what should we do under the current circumstances? Continue along calmly, or burn brightly for the Lord? All, please read Revelations 3—this is a question that no Christian can avoid.
I’m a weak, unworthy, useless criminal; before Jesus I’m a lamb. But I know that there is no way I can stay out of this—my conscience doesn’t allow me stay silent any longer. My statement is my own, and does not represent any organization, or my church. It represents myself alone.
Lord, if my statement does not conform to your will, please reproach me: I am willing to repent. Lord, with your spirit of holy benevolence, please lead us to the Way of the Cross.
Lord, I know that once this statement is published I will face danger, but no matter what, nothing can separate me from your love, and I know you love me.
“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” (Psalm 39:9) I believe that you’re in charge of everything—I just pray that you’ll be with me.
Li Xiaoming (李晓明)
February 28, 2016 (the Sabbath), at 4 a.m., at West Zone 3, Tian Tong Yuan, Changping district, Beijing.
Wang Yi: A Personal Statement on the Zhang Kai Case
Lawyer Zhang Kai is, with me, a brother of the church—and he’s also my most respected friend.
For years, a lot of people have been sincerely asking a false question: will the Cultural Revolution return? Many seriously ponder what is an absurd proposition—how can we prevent the tragedy from repeating itself? But the truth is that a new round of cultural revolution has already been underway for years. Or perhaps even decades? In reality, is there a day when we have really stepped outside of the Cultural Revolution’s framework? The real question is how we can break free from this warped and irrational age. Tonight, my Lord, allow me to howl the pain felt by Zhang Kai as he is whipped, and to be healed by the scourging you have suffered.
What physical and spiritual torment can annihilate the will of a man who believes in God? What Brother Zhang Kai was eventually unable to bear, I don’t imagine I’d be able to bear half of. Aside from faith in Grace, what else can I believe in? Christianity came to China over 1,000 years ago, and the gospel has been taught for over 200 years. But the cultural revolution targeting the beliefs of Christians in China have never ceased, and the Boxers have never been disbanded. Lord, your servant has been crushed so—help me to rise!
Among the believers I know, Zhang Kai is a man of steel. And in recent years, of those who have been forced onto television to confess crimes they did not commit, who were made to affix their signature to a letter of repentance, who of them were also not firm and unyielding? Isn’t it precisely the horror of the sinful world that drives us to seek shelter in the grace of the Lord? No matter who is saved for their resilience, I praise God for also saving those of us who are weak.
As a pastor, there is something else that hurts me: it’s that in facing down the pressure of crosses being demolished, Zhang Kai did many things that should have been done directly by church leaders. It would have been perfectly sufficient if he had simply done the technical, legal work. The absence of the church leadership led a believer who ought to have been nourished and cared for to stand on the frontlines of the church’s spiritual battle. It was almost like the Muslim siege of Constantinople, when the invaders charged upon horses into the church throwing pikes, a bishop dodged to the side, and a spear killed a believer at the Communion.
Lord: I ask that you reproach the church, reproach your servants, and I ask that you watch closely over Brother Zhang Kai, safeguard his conscience, immerse him in your precious blood. Just as you asked Peter three times: Do you love me? My Lord: I wish that you ask Zhang Kai the same, loudly in his heart, 30 times, so he may be built anew by you, and so that us lowly servants will be ashamed.
Of the many “crimes” mentioned in the “big character poster”* condemning Zhang Kai, one is that he had planned to meet a foreign official and expose the destruction of crosses in Wenzhou. This official was the ambassador of U.S. religious freedom who came to visit China in August of last year. I myself also met this American ambassador of religious freedom, and have also discussed with “foreign figures” the matter of religious freedom in China. According to this logic, I share the same crime as Zhang Kai.
Another “crime” of Zhang Kai is that he often attended conferences held abroad, discussing strategies for Christian house churches to defend their rights. I attended these conferences with him on multiple occasions, and participated in the same discussions.
Also on the official “big character poster” was the chief crime levelled against Zhang Kai: that he called the government campaign to tear down crosses as “illegal constructions” persecution of the church.
This compels me to make this solemn statement: my view on the matter is entirely identical to that of Zhang Kai. All along, whether in public or in private, I have called the forced removal of crosses by the government (under the guise of removing “illegal constructions”) as a clear case of persecution of the church, and a shameful trampling of freedom of belief.
As such, I should obviously be prosecuted for having committed the same crimes as Zhang Kai did. I am thus reporting myself to the authorities; I promise to testify, and to respond to all questions by the Wenzhou Public Security Bureau.
My official identification number is 510722197306018819.
The year of our Lord 2016, February 26
*Translator’s note: Big character posters (大字報) are a form of propaganda from the Cultural Revolution, in which the supposed crimes (usually of a political character) of class enemies are written in large font and posted in a public place. The reference here is meant metaphorically.
Wang Yi (王怡) is the lead pastor of the Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu (成都秋雨之福教会).
Update on March 3, 2016: Thirty-six clergies and Christians across China issued a statement condemning the forced televised “confession” of lawyer Zhang Kai and declaring that he is a devoted Christian and has for years helped churches to defend their rights.
Lawyer Zhang Kai’s Work From 2003 – Present, by Qin Chenshou, March 1, 2016.
The Work of Lawyer Zhang Kai: ‘I Have God as My Backer’, August 31, 2015
The Ongoing War Against Religion in China, by Zhao Chu, China Change, August 4, 2015.
By Qin Chenshou, published: March 1, 2016
On social media, lawyer Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿), who now represents Zhang Kai, has provided us with an introduction to Zhang Kai’s biography and work. China Change is pleased to provide a translation. — The Editors
Zhang Kai is a practicing lawyer in Beijing and a Christian member of a house church in Beijing. His main areas of practice are criminal defense and administrative litigation.
Zhang Kai is a practicing lawyer and Christian who was baptized in 2003
In 2003, Zhang successfully passed the examination to obtain his legal credentials and began work as an assistant lawyer.
In 2004, he began to practice as an attorney.
From 2004 to 2006, he dealt with corporate and commercial issues and served as company legal counsel.
In 2006, he resigned all of his company legal counsel work and began working in the area of public interest and rights defense. His primary fields of practice were criminal defense and administrative litigation. The most influential cases he handled as legal counsel or defense attorney were:
Cases involving religious freedom:
(1) The Xiaoshan (萧山) religious case (one of the top three Chinese church cases of the past decade), which gained worldwide attention and coverage in the mainstream international media;
(2) The Linfen (临汾) church case (another of the top three Chinese church cases of the past decade), which also gained worldwide attention and coverage in the mainstream international media; and
(3) Zhang Kai participated in many house church rights defense cases, trying to rectify unlawful government action and mediate and promote positive church-government relations;
Defense of dissidents
(1) Zhang Kai successfully defended rental-rights activist Lin Dagang (林大刚) in his criminal appeal, resulting in a decrease from first instance sentence of two years in prison to exemption from criminal penalty;
(2) In the criminal case against Sichuan rural activist Liu Zhengyou (刘正友), Zhang Kai handled the defense in the first-instance trial of Liu’s wife, Hu Yulan (胡玉兰), resulting in a suspended sentence against her; and
(3) Zhang Kai handled the defense in the appeals case of Shandong rural rights activist Zhao Yuxin (赵玉新), who had his sentence cut by 10 months on appeal.
Public Interest Cases
(1) Zhang Kai was a member of the legal team in the melamine milk powder cases, in which he represented victims suing the Nanshan Milk Powder Factory;
(2) Zhang Kai hosted a legal seminar on the Shanxi harmful vaccinations case and gave legal support to victims; and
(3) Zhang Kai provided anti-discrimination legal support for carriers of HIV and hepatitis B;
Participation in high profile cases
(1) Zhang Kai represented the family of migrant laborer Cao Dahe (曹大和), who died in 2008 after being tied up by railway officials for unruly behavior as he was traveling on a train between Guangzhou and Zunyi. This case was covered extensively in the mainstream domestic Chinese media, with Southern Weekly reporting on it several times. Besides seeking state compensation and prosecution for the perpetrators, Zhang petitioned the National People’s Congress to abolish the railway system’s special legal and judicial institutions. Beginning in that year, China began to reform the railway police system.
(2) In the criminal case against lawyer Wang Yu (王宇), Zhang’s appeal defense led the court to change the verdict from three years in prison for intentional injury to 2-1/2 years in prison for unintentional injury. This case earned the attention of many fellow lawyers, and Zhang took part in petitioning the National People’s Congress to reform the railway judicial system.
(3) Zhang Kai represented the family of Wan Jianguo (万建国), a Nanchang man who was tortured to death in police custody. Besides seeking state compensation and prosecution of the perpetrators, Zhang Kai petitioned the Supreme People’s Court to issue a detailed judicial interpretation regarding the crime of “coercing confessions through torture,” the first petition of its kind.
(4) Zhang Kai represented the victim’s family in the “My Dad is Li Gang” hit-and-run case, one of the top ten cases of 2010.
(5) Zhang Kai defended Qian Chengyu (钱成宇), the first eyewitness in the Qian Yunhui case (钱云会案), another top ten case of 2010.
(6) Zhang Kai represented lawyer Yang Zaixin (杨在新) in the Beihai case in Guangxi.
The Work of Lawyer Zhang Kai: ‘I Have God as My Backer’, August 31, 2015
By China Change, published: February 29, 2016
Lawyer Zhang Kai was taken into police custody in Wenzhou on August 25, 2015. He was placed in residential surveillance in a designated location for six months, after which he appeared on Chinese television to make a “confession” on February 25.
Zhang, 37, appeared thin and haggard, and his hair made him look like a concentration camp prisoner. We still don’t know what kind of ordeal he suffered during those six months. Looking at the language used in his “confession,” which was delivered in the tone and style of the official media, viewers were left feeling that he had been forced to read from a script prepared for him by the authorities.
On February 28, Zhang Kai’s parents announced that Zhang had been transferred to criminal detention at 9 p.m. on February 26. According to Pastor Bob Fu’s Twitter feed: “[Zhang Kai’s] father was taken to Wenzhou by that city’s public security and domestic security police on February 27. By the morning of the 28th he was at the Wenzhou Public Security Bureau where he will likely be held temporarily and deprived of his freedom.”
I. Chinese media reports on Zhang Kai’s case mention “Fu XX and Yang XX of an overseas organization” and also charge that “each year this overseas organization used documents he provided to concoct lists of so-called ‘Top Ten Cases of Religious Persecution,’ which were included in ‘China Human Rights Report’ and contained unbridled vilifications of China’s image.” Pastor Bob Fu (傅希秋), of the Texas-based China Aid Association, Purdue University Professor Yang Fenggang (杨凤岗) who directs Purdue’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society, and Guo Baosheng (郭宝胜), author of the annual “Top Ten Persecution Cases,” have all issued separate statements:
Professor Yang Fenggang’s statement (translation by China Aid):
Zhang Kai is a friend of mine. He spent a year with me as a visiting scholar of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in 2013-2014. He was one of the most courageous lawyers in defending Christian churches in Wenzhou whose rooftop crosses were facing forceful removal by the authorities. It is apparent that all Zhang Kai did was providing legal counsel to the willing churches, encouraging their leaders to use the existing law and regulations to defend their own rights. He urged both Christians and government officials to abide by the law and do not do anything beyond legal boundaries. His purported confession on Wenzhou Television on February 25, 2016 appears to me to be scripted and he appears to be physically exhausted. The few “evidences” shown in the television program all appear to be dated before 2013, so that even if they were true documents they have nothing to do with Zhang Kai’s activities in Wenzhou between August 2014 and August 2015. I urge Wenzhou authorities abide by the existing Chinese law and release Zhang Kai immediately.
February 25, 2016
Bob Fu’s Statement regarding forced Confession on TV by jailed Human Rights Lawyer Zhang Kai (translation by China Aid)
Zhang Kai was seen on official TV in Wenzhou on Thursday for the first time since he was detained and put into a “black jail” six months ago. He looked like he was under duress while making those ISIS/North Korea-style, scripted remarks about his confessed crimes of “endangering national security” and “gathering a mob to disturb social order,” of which he has been accused simply for his organized, legal defense work against the forced cross demolition campaign, which still continues.
I am proud of being Zhang Kai’s close friend and fellow Christian brother. I do believe he is innocent. Although I was sad as I painfully watched him condemn me and China Aid on the CPC’s official TV broadcast, I know he must have been going through enormous suffering and torture in the past six months (little did the evil authorities know that he and I actually made a pre-arranged agreement before his imprisonment that he would never compromise nor betray us in any way, unless he faces insurmountable hardship). We are always proud of you, and we love you, dear brother Zhang Kai. Keep up a good spirit, and may the comfort of the Holy Spirit be with you and heal you after you are free from physical bondage.
Although my name and China Aid are mentioned as an “overseas force supporting Zhang Kai’s legal defense work,” which is the shameful propaganda of CCP, we will never be intimidated, nor will we cease to continue to promote religious freedom for all in China.
February 26, 2016
Statement of Pastor Guo Baosheng on the Zhang Kai Case
At midnight on August 27, 2015, the Chinese authorities forcibly put lawyer Zhang Kai under residential surveillance in a designated location on charges of “suspected gathering a crowd to disrupt social order and stealing, procuring, or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to overseas entities.” Zhang had been representing the lawful rights and interests of those trying to prevent the demolition of church crosses in Wenzhou.
On February 25, 2016, Zhejiang Television broadcast a program featuring Zhang Kai’s so-called confession. In that program, the authorities said that one of the charges against Zhang Kai was that he had provided materials to overseas entities and concocted the so-called “Top Ten Cases of Religious Persecution.” This charge is clearly related to the lists of the top ten persecution cases involving Chinese Christians that I have posted on the China Aid website in recent years (see attached). But I state here that these documents were not provided by Zhang Kai and have no connection to him whatsoever. These posts were based on materials I was able to find on public websites both in China and overseas. This is an example of the authorities’ attempt to frame Zhang Kai without the slightest bit of evidence. On this basis, I state for the record that the charge of “stealing, procuring, or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to overseas entities” against Zhang Kai is totally baseless.
Pastor Guo Baosheng
February 26, 2016
II. A lesser-known lawyer from Jiangsu named Wang Xiuping (汪秀平) also took part in the Wenzhou church cases. He related Zhang Kai’s work in Wenzhou and the real picture of Wenzhou Christians’ rights defense efforts:
Respected Brother Zhang Kai has confessed. The only thing I find odd about this is the fact that some people find it odd that he has confessed. I’ve taken part in the Wenzhou church cases. We lawyers have exhausted all conventional means, but the courts either refuse to accept our lawsuits or else rule against us in first- and second instance. When we’ve followed ordinary procedure and applied to hold demonstration marches, the authorities refuse to give approval. When Christians raise crosses to express their ordinary demands, they’re treated as criminals. Below are some of the ways I’m aware of in which the public has been misled with deliberate falsehoods:
- In many of the original Zhejiang church cases Zhang Kai already exhausted all legal means without any result. There was no other choice but to let Christians gather to express their demands. This is contrary to reports that say that Lawyer Zhang didn’t use legal methods.
- There’s nothing at all shameful about receiving funds from abroad to engage in rights defense. Lawyer Zhang dispensed these funds to the lawyers who have been working on these cases. Moreover, the people in charge of these so-called overseas organizations are all good friends of Zhang Kai, like Professor Yang Fenggang of Purdue University. I’m also in touch with Professor Yang on WeChat. If I’m working on religious cases and he wants to provide financial support, what’s the big deal?
- A few local Christians appeared on TV too denouncing that Zhang Kai had received huge consultation fees in the Wenzhou church cases. First of all, these were ordinary fees paid to a lawyer for handling a case. Zhang Kai was ready to go to jail from the beginning for getting involved in these huge rights-defense cases, so why shouldn’t he receive such fees? Second, Zhang said on many occasions that, for the later cases he handled on behalf of the Wenzhou churches whose crosses were being demolished, his decision to take part came after difficult internal struggle. He knew there was a high risk of going to jail because of the way the local officials were dealing with things, so he decided not to have other lawyers “dive into the deep end” with him on these cases. Instead, he rushed to the front lines on his own.
- The reports deliberately blur the distinction between demolition of illegally built churches and demolition of crosses. As everyone knows, for the past two years only one church has been torn down in Zhejiang for being an illegal structure. The rest of the demolitions have all been crosses. What’s more, crosses have been torn down from countless churches that are not illegal at all. Many of the pastors who have opposed the cross demolitions remain in detention.
- Judging from the video of Brother Zhang Kai’s confession, he clearly appears to have lost around a third of his weight. He was once a really heavy guy!
- The Zhejiang authorities are shrewdly trying to shift responsibility for the church-state conflicts they have created onto Zhang Kai and present ordinary rights defense work as a kind of treason. You have to marvel what they do. Lawyers and everyone else: We mustn’t fear these hooligans and their efforts to use culture to carry out their thuggery!
Lawyer Zhang Kai’s Work From 2003 – Present, by Qin Chenshou, March 1, 2016.
The Work of Lawyer Zhang Kai: ‘I Have God as My Backer’, August 31, 2015
By Yaxue Cao and Pastor L, published: December 15, 2015
This interview was conducted on November 23, 2015.
Yaxue Cao (YC): Paster L, I interviewed you in late July at the height of the Chinese government’s cross-removal campaign. The campaign of demolishing churches and removing crosses had lasted a year and half by then, and several large churches were destroyed. One estimate had it that up to 1,500 crosses were dismantled across Zhejiang Province. But since August and September, there hasn’t been much news about cross removals. Has it stopped?
Pastor L: It has for the time being, but the suppression has not, and is very much ongoing. Since August and September, the authorities have changed their strategies and methods. They are accusing journalists who simply reported facts of “divulging state secrets,” and charging pastors and evangelists with leaking intelligence. That is a first. In Wenzhou, at least twenty clergy members, church workers, and legal counsel have been placed under secret detention for over two months by now.
They are: in Wenzhou, elder Wang Yunxian (王运显), pastor Yan Xiaojie (严晓洁牧师), elder Zhou Aiping (周爱平); evangelists Zhou Jian (周剑), Wei Wenhai (魏文海)， Cheng Congping (程从平), Huang Xiaoyuan (黄晓远); brother Zhang Zhi (张制); Pastor Zhang Chongzhu (张崇助), Huang Yizi (黄益梓), Cheng Chaohua (程超华). Three lawyers and law staffers from Beijing: Zhang Kai (张凯) Liu Peng (刘鹏)，and Fang Xiangui (方县桂). In Jinhua region: Pastor Bao Guohua (包国华) and his wife Xing Wenxiang (邢文香), evangelist Bao Chenxing (包晨星), and several staffers of the Jinhua Chengguan Church. [Editor’s update: Wang Yunxian, Zhou Aiping (周爱平), Zhou Jian, Huang Xiaoyuan, Cheng Chaohua, Fang Xiangui, Liu Peng, and Kang Xiaoyou (康孝友) were released last week.]
It’s been confirmed that some of them have been placed under secret and solitary detention where detainees face high risk of torture and maltreatment. All of them could face severe jail terms.
In early November, several of them in secret detention sent letters to their relatives almost simultaneously to dismiss their lawyers, including lawyer Zhang Kai who had been the counsel for several churches. This is rather strange: a lawyer who has been known for using legal tools to help church communities in Wenzhou would reject help from lawyers after being secretly detained. In his letter, Zhang Kai said nothing at all about his circumstances, inviting speculation that the letter was produced under duress. Such things are common in China.
On November 11, Lucheng District (鹿城区) authorities in Wenzhou posted three documents in Xialing Church (下岭教会), announcing the pending demolition of two church buildings, each four stories with a total area of 2,907 square meters (about 31,290 square feet), on November 16. This is the very church where lawyer Zhang Kai and his assistants had been stationed and were arrested. But as of today, the demolition team hasn’t shown up.
Right now, church communities in Zhejiang Province are experiencing a sense of defeat not seen over the last 30 years or so. The churches have underestimated the cruelty of the government. They thought the crackdown would come to an end after the Sanjiang Cathedral was demolished. But that has proven to be wishful thinking.
YC: It all started as a campaign to demolish illegal buildings and clean up the city’s appearance, but what really happened looked more like a masked war against Christians. What’s the real motivation?
Pastor L: It was a carefully thought-out plan to legitimize their demolition of churches and crosses, in the name of regulating illegal buildings. The goal was to minimize negative reaction by the public. By treating religious issues with non-religious methods, the government hoped to conceal its intent to weaken Christianity.
It’s true that some churches in Wenzhou, and across the province, have built more than they were permitted to. That’s due to the flaws of religious policies and excessive administrative restrictions. Because the procedures for church construction approval are extremely cumbersome, local governments, out of tolerance for religious groups, have allowed churches to unofficially “construct more and report less,” and sometimes you can even see local officials giving speeches during a church’s inauguration ceremony. Take Sanjiang Cathedral for example. In 2013, the expansion of it was proposed, and promoted, by none other than the Wenzhou municipal government as an architectural landmark that would forge the image of a modern, pluralistic, and tolerant city.
But the cross removal campaign must be understood in the context of the Xi Jinping government’s tightening control of ideology. The authorities see Christianity as something outside their authoritarian sphere, and an imperialist legacy that identifies more with Western values. Indeed, it is one of five categories of citizens whom the government deems a threat to the security of the regime, along with rights lawyers, dissidents, Internet opinion leaders, and disadvantaged social groups.
The government sees Christianity as an independent political group. Indeed, its organization meets the definition of modern civil society, and is an autonomous society entity independent of the state. The Christian church is an intermediary for a self-governing, plural and open social space. The Holy Cross and the architecture of the church are expressions of the church’s physical presence in the public space, and symbols of social power.
Suspicious of religious organizations, the government does not tolerate the scope and influence of the church and regards it as a threat to its security. An internal meeting in Zhejiang Province in early 2014 required that “cadres in charge of ethnic and religious affairs must grasp the political matter behind the cross and resolutely resist infiltration.”
In Wenzhou one rumor is that, while visiting Wenzhou in September 2013, the provincial CCP Secretary Xia Baolong (夏宝龙) was greatly displeased by what he saw: the large, brightly-lit cross of the Sanjiang Cathedral by the Ou River. “This is brazen! Whose domain is this, the Communist Party’s or the Christians’?”
As a matter of fact, the government has become impatient with its own pretext of “demolishing illegal construction” since May 2014, openly forcing churches to demolish crosses. When church leaders reasoned with the officials, the latter simply said, “There is no why; we just don’t allow crosses anymore.” In Zhejiang, crosses were removed even from churches who have all the documentation and where construction followed the procedures. Some churches have been converted into “Seniors’ Activity Centers” or “Cultural Auditoriums.” It all goes to show the demolition campaign is naked political persecution.
YC: Again, why Wenzhou?
Pastor L: Because Christianity is thriving in the area, with 15% of the population Christian. That’s over one million people, according to official statistics. In towns and the countryside, churches are numerous and crosses conspicuous. Wenzhou has been called “China’s Jerusalem” and the authorities don’t like it. And more, Wenzhou has influenced, over the past 30 years, the expansion of churches in China.
YC: Can you elaborate on the last point?
Pastor Pastor L: Starting in the mid-1980s, troves of Wenzhouers left home to do business across the country. Christians among them would hold regular gatherings in the cities they lived. Volunteers and clergymen, mostly from house churches, began to establish, propagate, and sponsor house churches in large cities and rural areas, providing financial support, equipping their altars, and holding regular evangelical meetings. As churches in Wenzhou matured, they also organized Bible study groups to equip church leaders and staff across the country with biblical knowledge and church management skills.
Wenzhou Christians inside and outside China worked together, evangelizing in the country. There are more than 10,000 volunteer evangelists in Wenzhou; there are several hundred of them in European countries and in the U.S.; several thousand evangelists serve churches in large cities in China; and there are many evangelists from Wenzhou in both officially sanctioned churches and house churches in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and other cities. Since the 2000s, Wenzhou has gradually established two dozen or so bible and theology sessions, training hundreds of new grassroots evangelists each year.
YC: As a non-Christian who observes society and politics in China, two things struck me about the Chinese government’s behavior: one is that it challenges a very large sector of solid middle class people in the wealthiest province on the east coast; the other is that it treats the state-sanctioned churches no differently than the underground house churches. I feel that the state of Christianity in Wenzhou must have troubled the government a great deal for them to act with such reckless abandon.
Pastor L: The state-sanctioned churches are not always obedient in Wenzhou. The church’s’ belief system is rather self-contained, impervious to government control. In this, any authoritarian government would perceive potential resistance to its control. In China, the central government has been increasingly unhappy about the ambiguous interaction between local governments and churches, convinced that its authority has been weakened and the manipulation through the so-called United Front Work hasn’t worked well. Indeed the UFW’s usefulness is so limited that the government doesn’t mind the loss by destroying its connection with state-sanctioned churches.
YC: What loss? Can you elaborate on that?
Pastor L: The registered churches have always believed that their religious activities are approved by the government, and, because of it, they have done things almost free of concern. For example, they organized summer camps for college students. They held large-scale evangelist services. In townships and villages, sometimes they came out with Christmas programs on streets. The church workers didn’t limit their work to Wenzhou. In Wenzhou, many of these workers have been trained in registered churches, and they are doing excellent work.
But as this cross removal campaign unfolded, they suddenly realized that registration with the government does not guarantee that they’ll be spared, and a lot more crosses have been removed from government-sanctioned churches than from house churches. They realized that, as registered churches, they are retaliated against even worse when they refuse to adopt the government’s unreasonable policies. On the part of the government, they feel the registered churches have betrayed them and therefore should be suppressed even harder. The will of the Party must prevail. Consequently the government loses everyone. Disappointed church leaders have condemned the government. Grassroots Christians are angry but not surprised. They say, if the Communist Party showed tolerance, then it wouldn’t be the Communist Party.
YC: While the cross demolition was taking place and over the following months, I regularly saw slogans like “sinicizing Christianity” and the “five entries and five transformations.” This month a purportedly international academic symposium was held in Beijing called “The Path to Sinicizing Christianity,” attended by representatives of the Party’s United Front Work Department, the State Administration for Religious Affairs, proxies like China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and a number of universities. What is the sinicization of Christianity? Is this is a new idea?
Pastor L: The official-led and directed campaign of “sinicizing Christianity” is in essence the politicization of Christianity—it’s forcing Christianity to “go communist,” or undergo a “socialist transformation.” The intent is to reform and remold Christianity into a Party-dominated tool that can be used in its service. A proponent of the “sinicization of Christianity” theory, official scholar Zhuo Xinping (卓新平), laid it out straight: “Christianity in China needs to emphasize sinicization politically; it must acknowledge and endorse our basic political system and its policies.”
At this conference in Beijing, “sinicizing Christianity” might mean different things for different parties, but the core, tacit presupposition of the meeting was that Christianity is a latent, potential political competitor with the Party. This already warps Christians’ own understanding of their identity as God’s people. It has absolutely nothing to do with what went on during the late Qing and Republican eras, in which grassroots Christians, as an organic part of their missionary work, experimented with and developed various forms of localizing and adapting Christian teachings to China.
When Nestorian Christianity entered China during the Tang dynasty, it integrated too much into Chinese culture, to the extent that the transmission of Christian teachings was stopped, in the end going away entirely. If Christianity neglects its ecumenical and theological tradition, all sorts of “abnormal” variations fused with Chinese folk traditions are apt to proliferate. The example of Hong Xiuquan’s “Taiping heavenly kingdom” is a familiar example. If the Church, on the other hand, overly attaches itself to state power, emphasizing nationalistic will, then secular powers are apt to sweep in and try to commandeer it. Nazi Germany’s instrumentalization of Lutheranism led to great tragedy. Many clerics in the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe were later found to have been recruited as informants for the Communist Party, and when the archives were opened they were too ashamed to show their faces in public. In China, Christianity should draw a lesson from these cases and on no account let itself become a mistress of the Communist Party.
The authorities are now engaged in a series of actions in churches. In Pingyang, Wenzhou, the local authorities are on Sundays sending administrative personnel to churches to monitor the activities, ensuring that churches don’t discuss the cross demolitions or talk negatively about government policies. Some places plan to set up offices inside churches, but they haven’t succeeded. In other places the government has set up their own propaganda noticeboards on church properties, and made a big fuss of them in state media. In 2015, Zhejiang officials started to roll out the “five entries and five transformations” (“五进五化”).
The “five entries” consists of: “government policies and statutes enter the church; health care activities enter the church; popular science and culture enter the church, assisting and helping the poor enters the church, and harmonious construction enters the church.” It’s all about controlling the church’s social activities, ensuring that they’re toeing the Party’s line. The “five transformations” refers to “localizing religion, standardizing management, indigenizing theology, making finances public, and co-opting the Christian teachings.” With these, they intend to control the church by controlling the teaching, management, and finance.
But their scheme has not worked. The “five entries and five transformations” campaign hasn’t progressed smoothly at all, and church groups have been quite critical and put up very stiff resistance.
YC: Can you elaborate on how church communities have resisted these measures?
Pastor L: The “five entries and five transformations” go against Christian belief. Parishioners have ripped down the propaganda posters the government has put up in churches, they’ve criticized the project online, and churches that have compromised have been strongly urged not to and criticized by other churches. Some churches have refused to be subject to having their finances investigated. There was a house church that decided to chant scripture together if the government sent someone to stand at the altar and spread propaganda, not let them do it. If the officials managed to gain control, they’d rather give up than cooperate with government demands. Some churches have, in response, begun quoting from Jonathan Chao, the late North American pastor who founded China Ministries International, and promoted the “Three-Fold Vision” the “Chinese Gospel,” “nationalizing the church,” and “Christianizing the culture.”
YC: What do you mean by “rather give up?”
Pastor L: Abandon the whole church and meet in small groups at their own homes.
YC: We all know that, because its power is unchallenged and unchecked, the way the Communist Party uses power is brazen and brutal. Whether Christians resist or not, I predict that the Party will carry out its will – of that I have little doubt.
Pastor L: In China, diktats are issued from the top straight down, and the apparatus moves following the will of the top leaders. Local officials, if they want to keep their job, have to join the competition to suppress Christians, and they are rewarded by the number of crosses they remove. There are local officials who say: We don’t want to be the Number One, but we don’t want to be the last one either. The Public Security Bureau chief in Wenzhou and the Party Secretary in Yongjia (永嘉) have been promoted for their hardline approaches during the cross-removal campaign.
In order to complete their objectives, secret police began threatening church leaders. They have arbitrarily detained people, showing no regard for proper legal procedures. In the Wenzhou area, hundreds have been summoned, detained, threatened, or criminally detained. In Pingyang (平阳), Wenzhou, 14 members of the Salvation Church (救恩堂) were beaten and injured. The government has also persecuted families and relatives, and targeted businesses owned by Christians. Wenzhou has become a testing ground for Party officials to fulfill their political ambitions and test their ideology and brinksmanship.
Doubtless, Wenzhou is facing the same cataclysm it did in 1958. Back then, it was declared a “religion-free area,” it became an outpost in a projected war with Taiwan, and religion was suppressed. Today the government is once again targeting Wenzhou. Information about cross removal campaign online is censored immediately. Discriminatory measures are taken against Christian civil servants. The government has also investigated grassroots Party members to find out who the Christians are, and it has organized sessions to study the Party’s Mass Line rhetoric and Marxist religious views. All signs indicate that this is a determined political campaign and another catastrophe for Christians.
YC: Wenzhou Christians’ criticism and resistance to the government will inevitably lead to a standoff, whether passively or otherwise. According to your observation and information, what are the options Christian communities in Zhejiang have to defend their rights and faith? Legal recourse, as represented by lawyer Zhang Kai, didn’t seem to help. Is it still an option? Now that so many have been placed under secret detention and perhaps torture, I feel it’s pointless to even ask this question.
Pastor L: Through the last year and half, Wenzhou Christians have come to see themselves as a targeted community. The church is seeking a new social identity, moving closer to other suppressed groups. The younger generation, having grown up in relative comfort, has until now not shown particular sympathy and concern for those suffering from injustice, but now they’re increasingly attuned to the social injustice around them and are reflecting on their social responsibility.
During this crisis, church communities first sought to defend themselves through communication with the government. When that failed, they engaged lawyers and the media. They even made “human shields” in an orderly and limited manner, among other forms of resistance. But officials, arrogant in their power, saw the peaceful self-defense of Christian communities as a kind of rebellion—they don’t understand how Christian citizens, actively defending their rights according to the rule of law, are actually constructive for the country and society.
The government believes that it must above all continue its authoritarian rule, and to them Christian beliefs appear to be at odds with the heavily nationalist China Dream narrative. So they started demolishing crosses to deter and contain the growth of churches. But obviously they are not familiar with the history of churches in Wenzhou. The 1958 campaign drove the Christian communities underground, and 30 years later in the 1980s, they emerged like a miracle and have since experienced a spectacular renaissance. One thing is certain: Suppression will not destroy Christianity.
YC: Speaking of human shields, I recall this photo of the Xialing Church. This was Christmas Eve last year. Tell us, what happened?
Pastor L: In early December 2014, the Xialing Church was slated to be demolished by the authorities. Members guarded the church and foiled the government’s plans. Frustrated, officials ordered the demolition team to wreck the front steps. This is the church choir standing on the debris and singing; singing His glory amidst the ruins—this epitomizes the spirit of Chinese Christians right now. Christmas is again approaching, and particularly befitting to churches in Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, or across China for that matter, is the ancient song in praise of God: “Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace among men with whom he is well pleased.” (Luke 2:14)
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao.