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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 […]


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 […]


By China Change, published: August 7, 2015   The ongoing forced demolition of crosses, and in some cases entire churches, taking place in Zhejiang is an extraordinary occurrence: the Chinese government appears determined to remove all traces of the symbol of Christianity in the public realm, with no regard to the antagonism it is provoking among at least two millions of Christians in one of China’s most prosperous provinces. All signs indicate that the attack on the cross is just the beginning of a plan to rein in the rapid-growing number of Christians across the country. In response to the church demolition and cross removal, Bishop Zhu Weifang (朱维方) of the Wenzhou parish published a letter a year ago titled “Believe, and Fear Not – […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: July 29, 2015 Yaxue spoke with Pastor L in Wenzhou on July 26.   YC: I began paying attention to the demolition of churches and tearing-down of crosses in Zhejiang last year after reading many international media reports on the demolition of the Sanjiang Church (三江教堂) in Wenzhou. Recently there’s been a resurgence of cross-removals, and the daily news items and images of this are quite shocking. It seems the Chinese government is determined to tear down every cross in Zhejiang! I’ve also read the statements issued both this year and last year by clergy and believers in Zhejiang, including from churches that are acknowledged and even, to a certain degree, led by the Chinese government, such as the statement from […]


Yesterday we looked at three soft suppression tactics commonly used in China to end confrontations before they come to a head. These concepts from recent papers by  Kevin O’Brien and Rachel Stern were: using family members to negotiate with protesters, often with threats that these family members would lose their jobs or pensions (relational repression); vague boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable speech; and the traditional harsh punishments without clear explanations that push observers to see warnings for their own work (morality parables). Today I want to use these ideas to explore how these gov’t tactics can work to the protesters’ advantage, and how these soft suppression failures factored into the recent violence in Shifang. Relational Repression (link) As Kevin O’Brien saw in the protests in Zhejiang, while many people […]


While instances of violence and coercion in China are well-known overseas, they actually make up a small percentage of the total cases that are silenced in less visible ways. For every Chen Guangcheng, there are likely hundreds (thousands?) of others who never dared to speak, or shut up shortly after first opening their mouths. In a great series of papers from Kevin O’Brien and Rachel Stern, they show that China has developed a wide variety of tools for maintaining stability (the following sections are a combination of information from the papers and my own observations). Relational Repression (link) As O’Brien shows with a case study of an environmental protest in Zhejiang, people’s family members and friends are often mobilized to apply pressure to activists. In many cases […]


By Yaxue Cao A few days ago, I watched a video clip of the 6th plenary session of the Chinese communist party’s 17th Central Committee. I didn’t pay attention to what they were talking about. Instead I was interested by the stony faces of China’s highest-ranking officials when the camera rolled over them one after another: except for Hu Jintao who was giving a speech, each had the same frozen, expressionless face with no discernible muscle movement whatsoever, while it is hard to catch the focus of their eyes. A Weibo commentator said all of them suffered from “facial paralysis.” I probably shouldn’t be promoting physiognomy here, but in China, officials do tend to have highly uniformed facial display. In front of superiors, they pile […]


People’s daily and other state news sources have been pointing to the influence of Weibo as a sign of China’s shift toward democracy (here and here), but is social media really creating a more just China? Note: Weibo is a Chinese networking site, something like a combination of Twitter, Facebook and a blog. It is also carefully monitored by gov’t censors (a.k.a. internet police) for stories on sensitive topics, and imposes keyword bans. One way that Weibo is contributing to the development of democracy in China, is that it has helped introduce the idea that the gov’t should actually listen to its people. Weibo has accomplished this largely because it has given common people a way of airing grievances in a public forum. In the past […]


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