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‘I Can’t Stay Out of This’ — Two Statements on the Zhang Kai Case

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

 

张凯_李晓明的声明

Li Xiaoming’s statement

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.

张凯_renzuiFrom 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.
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王怡

Pastor Wang Yi

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.

张凯_2

Zhang Kai

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.

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Related:

 

 

Second Interview With the Wenzhou Pastor: After the Demolition Comes the “Transformations”

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.

Believers and SWAT clashed when the cross of this church in Wenzhou was removed on July 21, 2014. Time magazine has a video report. http://time.com/3382827/china-christians-christianity-salvation-church-wenzhou-zhejiang/

Believers and SWAT clashed when the cross of this church in Wenzhou was removed on July 21, 2014. Time magazine has a video report. http://time.com/3382827/china-christians-christianity-salvation-church-wenzhou-zhejiang/

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’?”

A country church in Wenzhou.

A country church in Wenzhou.

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.

Church members making crosses earlier this year for protest.

Church members making crosses earlier this year for protest.

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?

"Five-Virtue Christians" links Party propaganda with Christian teachings.

“Five-Virtue Christians” links Party propaganda with Christian teachings.

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”).

A propaganda noticeboard on a church's premise. Note the black handwriting "oppose demolition of crosses," and at the bottom right  are names of the government's contact persons.

A propaganda noticeboard on a church’s premise. Note the black handwriting “oppose demolition of crosses.” At the bottom right are names of the government’s contact persons.

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.

Xialing Church, Christmas Eve, 2014.

Xialing Church, Christmas Eve, 2014.

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.

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Related articles

Interview with a Wenzhou Pastor: The Chinese Government’s Large-Scale Destruction of Crosses in Zhejiang Province

The Work of Lawyer Zhang Kai: ‘I Have God as My Backer’

Christian Sentiment in Zhejiang Against Cross Removal: Three Statements

The Ongoing War Against Religion in China

 

中文原文 访谈温州牧师:对基督教的打压与改造

 

Christian Sentiment in Zhejiang Against Cross Removal: Three Statements

By China Change, published: August 7, 2015

 

Believers and SWAT clashed when the cross of this church in Wenzhou was removed on July 21, 2014. Time magazine has a video report. http://time.com/3382827/china-christians-christianity-salvation-church-wenzhou-zhejiang/

Believers and SWAT clashed when the cross of this church in Wenzhou was removed on July 21, 2014. Time magazine has a video report. http://time.com/3382827/china-christians-christianity-salvation-church-wenzhou-zhejiang/

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 – To All Priests and Catholics,” and the Catholic clergy (司铎团) also spoke against the actions of the government. Since the cross removal campaign escalated recently, there have been a flood of statements in protest, and warning. Here we sample three such statements to convey to our readers the feelings of Zhejiang Christians: they come from the government-sanctioned the Christian Council of Zhejiang Province (浙江省基督教协会), ordinary believers in Rui’an city (基督教瑞安市众教会), and the Catholic clergy of Wenzhou (天主教温州教区全体神职人员), respectively.

 

Open Letter to the Zhejiang Committee of Ethnic and Religious Affairs[1]

Zhe Ji Zi (2015) No. 44

To: Zhejiang Committee on Ethnic and Religious Affairs

Open letter from the Christian Council of Zhejiang. Click to enlarge.

Open letter from the Christian Council of Zhejiang. Click to enlarge.

In the nearly 18 months since the removal of the cross from the Huanghu Christian Church in Yuhang District, Hangzhou, more than 1,200 crosses have been torn down from places of religious activity in our province under the “Three Rectifications, One Demolition” campaign. (These include crosses belonging to fully permitted churches totally compliant with the regulations, such as the Dayuan Christian Church in Fuyang, the Xin’en Church in Yiwu, and the Panshi Church in Hangzhou.)

Such a large-scale, targeted campaign of administrative law enforcement (without consideration of its violations of both substantive and procedural law), with its incidents of bloodshed, has seriously hurt the feelings of Zhejiang’s more than 2 million Christians. At the same time, it has also had an extremely serious negative impact on the masses in the areas surrounding the churches whose crosses have been torn down, leading relations between the Party and the masses to become negative and even confrontational. This goes completely against the ideology and spirit of Party and state policy regarding “governing the country in accordance with law” and “governing the country in accordance with the constitution,” causing an unprecedented degree of damage to the image of the Party and government at home and abroad. These actions are a flagrant violation of the policy of religious freedom that the Party and government have been implementing and continuously perfecting for more than 60 years and a serious violation of the constitution.

As the organization representing our province’s Christian community, our council feels deeply saddened by these actions. Members of our council’s enlarged council-affairs conference (including chairmen, vice-chairmen, directors, and deputy directors) have unanimously decided via telephone conference to strongly urge the Zhejiang Committee on Ethnic and Religious Affairs to transmit this letter to the provincial Party committee and government and immediately order that the relevant authorities cease tearing down crosses.

Party and state guiding policy regarding religious work is: “Protect, Serve, Manage, Lead.” Only the “management” function has recently been on display within our province, however, and this “management” has been so unreasonable and violent that it makes it impossible for our council to fulfil its role as a “bridge.”

In view of this and considering that previous attempts by our officials to demand in person or by telephone that your committee cease all demolition, we now make this solemn appeal in writing: We hereby request that you observe the constitution and the law, consider the special and complex nature of religion, and immediately cease this mistaken policy of removing crosses that is tearing the Party and the masses apart.

Yours faithfully,

The Christian Council of Zhejiang Province

July 10, 2015

Also submitted to: National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, China Christian Council, United Front Work Department, State Administration of Religious Affairs, Zhejiang Province United Front Work Department

cc: Regional Three-Self Patriotic Movement committees and Christian Councils

[1]  After publishing the open letter, the government confiscated the Council’s official seal. – The Editors

 

Joint Statement from the Rui’an Christian Community

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Since February 2014, local enforcement agents have been illegally tearing down crosses from Christian churches in the name of “Three Rectifications, One Demolition.” In doing so, they have flagrantly violated the constitution, trampled on the dignity of the law, undermined social harmony, and infringed on citizens’ right to religious freedom. The situation is getting worse, repeatedly bullying good Christians and threatening to tear down the crosses from all churches in Rui’an. In order to defend the lawful rights and interests of all of our city’s believers and safeguard the dignity of national law, the entire Rui’an Christian community hereby issues the following solemn statement:

  1. The 203 Rui’an churches that have previously registered with the government are lawful places of religious activity, and these church buildings and the crosses on top of them are protected by law. We resolutely oppose any encroachment, damage, or destruction by any individual or work unit.
  1. If individuals or local authorities dare to risk universal condemnation and use force to tear down church crosses, we the churches of Rui’an will have to arm ourselves with the law and hire lawyers to defend our rights by filing suit against leading individuals and the work units who ordered the demolition, in order to safeguard the legitimate and lawful rights and interests of the religious people of our city.
  1. If local authorities ignore the lawful demands of our city’s religious people and oppose us with evil intentions, wasting money and manpower, and even illegally employing armed force to tear down the crosses from our churches, our churches will respond in a non-violent, non-cooperative manner. We shall absolutely refuse to accept this evil and shall never give in or cooperate. We shall never tear down our own crosses and shall refuse to undergo rectification.
  1. If local authorities do not obey the law and act in violation of the law, illegally tearing down church crosses through stealth attacks, or damaging church property, we shall re-erect the crosses.
  1. We shall remain in contact with churches in other counties and cities and communicate and look after each other.
  1. Churches that have had their crosses torn down will resolutely join together to petition the higher authorities.

Christian Churches of Rui’an

July 25, 2015

 

 

Cry Out! Be Silent No More! –  An open letter by Catholic clergy from the Wenzhou Diocese to all Chinese Christians and citizens

温州 天主教神父 呐喊吧

Click to enlarge.

Last year the Zhejiang provincial government began a “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign; over time, it got worse and worse, and now, its nature has changed entirely. At present, the campaign is a naked attempt to rip down the crosses atop every single church. Across our parish, we have been neither servile nor cowed—we have forborne, we have ardently prayed, we have communicated rationally, and we have calmly observed, all the while waiting for the dark clouds to pass.

But certain people have not only not slowed down, but have become more aggressive, as though they were facing a mortal enemy in their targeting of a symbol of universal love—the Cross. They have defied the wishes of the masses and come up with the “Zhejiang 温州 天主教神父 呐喊吧p2Provincial Regulations on Religious Buildings” (《浙江省宗教建筑规范》), which fails even basic jurisprudence, cheating the people and recklessly attempting to carry out their campaign of tearing down every single cross.

Not only this, but our peaceful petitions, as well as rallying the support of parishioners, have been treated as illegal conduct. It’s truly like the ancient Chinese saying: “The official is allowed to set fires, but the ordinary folk can’t light their lamps.” But “trap water in a stream and there will be a disastrous flood; shut up the voices of the public, and a worse disaster awaits.” Is it really the case that a government which says it serves the people is going to take the country back to what Liang Qichao (梁启超) decried as “a government that excels in nothing but repressing its own citizens?”

The more they try to suppress the call for justice, they more they demonstrate the severity of the social crisis, the fragile confidence in their rule, and their inability to get to grips with the matter. If they want to strike out at the cross as a means of treating such an urgent disease, it will only plunge China—which, after making it through the Great Leap Forward and the disastrous Cultural Revolution, is only now finding peaceful development—into yet another calamity.

As individuals with human rights granted by God, every single person has freedom of belief. In order to safeguard the cross, and to preserve our most basic right to believe, we will keep watch and defend one another, and we will mount a rational and reasonable resistance.

As citizens of China, we yearn for comprehensive and deeper democracy and rule of law. As for those senior officials who force their subordinates to participate, issuing commands to make them carry out demolition work; and those who trample upon the constitution, who willfully defile the dignity of the law, who violate administrative procedure, who use their power to confuse the law, and who lead the way in undermining the rule of law, they must be resolutely exposed and resisted, and they must be brought to justice.

As the sons and daughters of China, we all yearn for an environment of long-term peace and stability. We absolutely can’t go back to where “the ordinary people suffer whether in a period of prosperity or decline;” we must absolutely not allow anything to go against the tide of harmonious development.

All Christians in China have all along carried a sense of mission with them, honoring the Lord and benefiting their fellow man. At the same time, we have longed for a fair and tolerant cultural, religious and social environment in which to adapt the Christian religion to Chinese culture. Zhejiang provincial authorities have been demolishing crosses with a vengeance. Is that your understanding of the sinification of religion recently called for by Chairman Xi Jinping?

At a juncture where “the wind is sweeping through the tower heralding a rising storm in the mountains,” we will even more so take as our great responsibility the rejuvenation of the Chinese people, and we will more firmly believe that we too are the backbone and the blessing of the Chinese nation. Watching one cross after another being torn down, we have cried out in anger and shed tears in sorrow. But we will wisely and carefully use every method available to re-erect the crosses. When one cross is removed, one million crosses will be erected: in every person’s heart, along the avenues and in the alleyways, and in the home of every family.

The Church has throughout its history grown and thrived under either persecution or the favor of the ruler. We earnestly beseech the Lord’s mercy, to grant us the courage to die for what is right, for the peace of the nation, for the true rise of the Chinese nation, to make whatever sacrifice is required.

As it is written in The Bible (Amos 5:24): “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” For the freedom to believe, for the dignity of the law, for the continuous development of China, for the long term welfare of the Chinese people, all believers across the whole of China, those tens of millions filled with a sense of justice—be silent no more! Let us all cry out!

The whole body of Christian clergy from the Wenzhou Diocese

July 28, 2015

 

—————

Related:

Severe crackdown in China on church crosses draws backlash, AP, August 5, 2015.

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

Church-State Clash in China Coalesces Around a Toppled Spire, Ian Johnson, the New York Times, May 30, 2014.

 

Interview with a Wenzhou Pastor: The Chinese Government’s Large-Scale Destruction of Crosses in Zhejiang Province

By Yaxue Cao, published: July 29, 2015

Yaxue spoke with Pastor L in Wenzhou on July 26.

 

Photo credit: online.

Photo credit: online.

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 the Christian Council of Zhejiang. It seems as if Christians in Zhejiang are at the point where they can no longer tolerate it any further.

Although there have been some foreign media coverage of these events, I feel that the outside world—including myself—doesn’t really understand very well how things got to this point. I hope that you can provide me and our readers with an “introductory 101 class” to help us gain a basic understanding of what’s going on.

Let’s start by talking about the demolition of the Sanjiang Church in April 2014. That was an extremely impressive church, and the images of its destruction are extremely shocking. Why did they want to tear down the Sanjiang Church?

L: The Sanjiang Church was an architectural landmark in Wenzhou. Situated in a good location opposite Wangjiang Road, it had just been built and was in the process of being fitted out but it was already being used for services. It was not the original plan to build such a large church, but the government gave encouragement for a larger building because Wenzhou has a lot of people living overseas and foreign tourists, and the authorities wanted it to become a tourist attraction.

At that point, Zhejiang Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xia Baolong (夏宝龙) came to Wenzhou. He’s the one who ordered that the church be torn down. The local government in Wenzhou has always been rather tolerant regarding religious buildings. Occasionally, there would be forced demolitions for redevelopment, but local officials would have never torn down such a large structure. So, we knew from the beginning that this was not the work of the local government in Wenzhou and had to have come from higher up.

Some online have said that Xia Baolong gave the order because he felt uncomfortable when he saw the size of the Sanjiang Church. But I think the more reliable explanation is that Xia had in fact already planned to tear down crosses all over Zhejiang. Even before the Sanjiang Church was demolished, there had already been cross removals elsewhere in Zhejiang since perhaps February. There was a great deal of discussion about this among Christians, a lot of it expressing surprise: “Why tear down crosses?” So the destruction of the Sanjiang Church was actually only the climax of this campaign.

Opposition to the demolition of the Sanjiang Church lasted about a week as groups of Christians began spontaneously arriving to defend the church. Several thousands camped out there inside the church to try to defend it, day and night. But we voluntarily withdrew late at night on April 26. There were several reasons for this. First, armed police had arrived and there would definitely be bloodshed if we continued to resist. Normally, they would send SWAT police, and they came so regularly we didn’t fear them. That day, the entire hillside was surrounded by SWAT vehicles and armed-police vehicles, and armed police were hiding out in the surrounding greenbelt areas. They’d already shut down all roads and entrances within a radius of miles. The government was very nervous, as they’d never encountered this kind of resistance and solidarity before. The church itself came under too much pressure from the government, who said that there were Xinjiang terrorists mixed among us. We could have actually continued to hold out, but it definitely would have resulted in big trouble.

On April 28, Sanjiang Church came tumbling down. From that point on, the dam burst. Wenzhou began to tear down crosses on a grand scale. All along the way, there has been resistance. The most serious was on July 21, 2014, in Pingyang County (平阳水头救恩堂), when SWAT police rushed protesters and started beating them. Fourteen people were injured, two or three of them quite seriously. The foreign media reported on this, using hidden-camera footage of the violence. But the churches have always exercised restraint. They could have mobilized a great number of people to oppose the demolitions, but that would lead to casualties on both sides.

After the incident on July 21, Christians went to the government seeking accountability for the police action and emotions were running high. Pastor Huang Yizi (黄益梓) held prayers at the scene of the protest and was subsequently sentenced to a year in prison.

YC: Was the July 21 incident about demolishing a church or tearing down a cross?

L: It was about tearing down a cross. The authorities claimed to be tearing down an illegal structure, but they only tore down the cross, not the part of the construction that was actually in violation.

After the July 21 incident, there was a great decrease in incidents of cross-removal and things quieted down for several months. But at the end of June and beginning of July 2015, we began receiving a large number of verbal notices that crosses needed to be torn down. And unlike the previous times, this time they wanted to tear them all down.

For example, all 135 crosses in Pingyang County must be torn down. There were more than 50 crosses in Lucheng District (鹿城区) – all must be taken down. East of here, in Yuhuan County (玉环县), they also wanted to tear down more than 50 crosses. In the area around Wenling City (温岭), they’re planning to remove all 168 crosses. [NOTE: Yuhuan and Wenling are both part of Taizhou (台州), northeast of Wenzhou.] To this point they’ve already torn down around 1,500 crosses. This is obviously a campaign specifically targeted at taking down crosses.

Actually, around the time that the Sanjiang Church was demolished we saw a leaked internal document that talked about things like the “political meaning behind the crosses” and “infiltration by foreign forces.” Since this document was leaked, they no longer circulate these sorts of written documents.

Open letter from the Christian Council of Zhejiang. Click to enlarge.

Open letter from the Christian Council of Zhejiang. Click to enlarge.

YC: What’s the current situation like?

L: Things are very different now from before. Resistance is much more widespread and difficult to suppress. Resistance used to be isolated and focused on a particular church. Now, with this campaign of total demolition, everyone feels like this is no longer simply about tearing down crosses. It’s not merely about symbols—they want to attack your beliefs. Everyone feels like this is the beginning of a deeper repression, where they first do away with your symbols and then attack at a deeper level, destroying your internal organization, your doctrine, your church finances, even your pulpits.

For example, no matter whether you’re a “Three-Self Patriotic Church” (church sanctioned by the government) or a “house church,” no one discusses government policies or regulations on Sundays. Now, they want us to take time during our Sunday worship to let religious-affairs officials talk about religious policies and regulations from the pulpit. This has led to extremely fierce opposition—no one’s willing to allow this.

It wasn’t like this before. At worst, you’d see the Chinese government cultivate a group of people within the church to act as its proxies, and the things they wanted publicized tended to be some government policies, like aligning moral education with official ideology. But you cannot tamper with doctrine or turn pulpits over to religious-affairs cadres. There’s even resistance to this from inside the “Three-Self churches.”

YC: Over the last few days I’ve seen an open letter from the Christian Council of Zhejiang (浙江省基督教协会). They seem extremely upset. What do you think of their announcement?

L: There are a few different reasons behind this. The vast majority of crosses torn down are from “Three-Self” churches. The government set up these “Three-Self” churches to bring churchgoers into their “United Front.” But the authorities have stopped using the relatively flexible methods they’d always used in the past, so the official churches feel they’ve gone too far. For one thing, the authorities’ actions aren’t in line with the Communist Party’s own religious policies. For another, many Christians complain about the official churches, which makes the official churches feel that they’ve lost their ability to function as a “bridge” between the faithful and the government. It’s become impossible for them to convince church members. They feel that if they don’t speak out, they’ll lose all credibility.

YC: I saw one report that after the Zhejiang Christian Council published its open letter, the government confiscated its official seal. I find the government’s arrogant and insulting behavior simply hard to believe. They treat churches with absolutely no respect, like a violent master towards a lowly slave. So it’s little surprise that they act in this barbaric manner, tearing down crosses and violating the religious rights of Christians.

You said a moment ago that the resistance of Christians is now more difficult to suppress. What form is their opposition taking and how is it being expressed?

L: It takes many forms. Many churches have people join hands to form a “human wall.” We also call this the “snail strategy,” where we stick to a place just like a snail. There’s also the “honeybee strategy,” where a bunch of people gather together and pester them. They typically come at night to carry out the demolition, so if you pester them for several hours they get tired and leave. Those churches that have been able to protect their crosses have done so through these methods.

YC: Oh, some have succeeded in defending their crosses?

L: Yes, quite a few have been protected.

There’s also the strategy of piling up stones to block the road leading to the church. This is used quite often in rural areas. The more rural a place, the stronger the resistance. I saw a photo of one 温州十字架_石头location where they even demolished a bridge to block the demolition. There’s also a lot of banners and loudspeakers. Many places in the Cangnan plains (苍南平原) have been broadcasting legal-education recordings from loudspeakers toward the people who come to tear down the crosses—things like: “Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees its citizens freedom of religious belief. There is no legal basis for what you police are doing.”

YC: Are you seeing armed police or SWAT teams these days?

L: Yes, especially SWAT police. Armed police were deployed at Sanjiang, but now you don’t see them much. When the resistance is not so fierce, they use private security guards.

Churches don’t have protest experience, so their organizational capacity is rather weak. This is because for several decades, churches have responded to various threats through avoidance, non-resistance, and passive retreat. Now, they’re defending their crosses and there’s no way to escape. Several hundred churches have hired lawyers to sue local officials. Some are calling for the removal of Xia Baolong. Someone proposed that an image of Xia Baolong be made with a cross drawn over his face. Pastors and believers also use social media to broadcast latest development and photos of the scenes. A single post can get reposted tens of thousands of times in a single day if it doesn’t get censored immediately. As soon as it gets censored, another gets put up again and reposted tens of thousands more times. There are many ways of protesting. We’re mobilizing the imaginations of our fellow believers.

YC: Are any churches that had their crosses torn down putting up new ones in their place?

L: Lots of them. They put up new crosses right after they’re torn down.

YC: What do you anticipate will happen next?

温州十字架_举着小十字架的阿公阿婆

Photo from Weibo.

L: Believers are manufacturing a large number of crosses out of both wood and acrylic glass. They say, “Go ahead and tear down the crosses. We can’t fight you, so we’ll put crosses on our cars and hang them from our homes. We’ll put them up on the side of the road or on a mountaintop. We’ll put up crosses all over.” It’s not easy to put a large cross back up on the roof of a church. You need to hire many experts and spend tens of thousands.

YC: In its open letter, the Zhejiang Christian Council says that there are more than 2 million Christians in Zhejiang.

L: That’s a very conservative estimate. There are over a million in Wenzhou alone. Wenzhou is unlike large cities like Beijing or Shanghai. It’s mostly made up of small towns, and there are churches everywhere. Each of these places of worship has hundreds of people. Even churches in remote areas have over a hundred people. It’s rare to see churches with fewer than a hundred people.

YC: Can you tell me about the social background of Christians in Wenzhou? For example, what sort of people join your own church? What’s their level of education, occupational background, and so on?

L: There are all sorts of people and people of all ages. There are many who are in business and many are intellectuals. We also have a lot of elderly people. There are also many Christians among the ranks of civil servants.

YC: Do they come to church openly?

L: Of course they do! But now they’re encountering great difficulties. I have a friend—a university professor—who resigned because of unbearable pressure. They used all sorts of different means to threaten him. Many of the doctors and nurses at the Wenzhou Medical College and its affiliated hospitals are Christians, and they too have come under pressure. There are also many Christians among middle-school- and primary-school teachers. They’re also well represented in early-childhood education, where Christians have an advantage because they learn to dance and play the piano in their churches from an early age. Now, however, kindergartens are refusing to hire Christians. It wasn’t like this before.

温州十字架_young woman

Photo from Weibo.

There are also a lot of young people who are Christians, and each church will have a youth fellowship organization. There are also summer fellowship camps for students, attended by dozens from a single church and several hundreds from a parish—all young people.

YC: I have another question. Given that this campaign to tear down crosses has become a focus of international attention, do you think the campaign is the work of the provincial government? I don’t see how it can be.

L: We’ve been having quite a heated debate on this point recently. There are two opinions. The first—mainly made up of people from the south—believes that this is the work of the central government, something either being led or condoned by Xi Jinping. The second view is held primarily by northerners, who believe this is a local action. This includes people overseas in Hong Kong and North America—those who study religion and research government-church relations mainly think this is a local action. But here in the south, people inside the church have a hunch that this is the work of the central government.

YC: This north-south division you describe is within the clergy, right?

L: It also includes people within institutions, university researchers, and public intellectuals.

YC: When it comes to tearing down crosses, is any distinction being made between Catholic churches and Protestant churches?

L: No. All are seeing their crosses torn down.

YC: Which is more predominant in Wenzhou, Catholicism or Protestantism?

L: There are more Protestants, but Catholicism is quite strong, too. There are two main streams of Protestant Christians in Wenzhou. The two earliest originated with the United Methodist Free Church and the China Inland Mission, now known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). Both came originally from Britain. These account for the two main denominations of Protestant Christianity in Wenzhou. There is also the Church of Seventh-Day Adventists, as well as the Christian assembly churches, similar to the Church of the Brethren. All four of these denominations are seeing their crosses torn down, without any distinction.

Catholic clergy protesting in front of the government. Photo from Weibo.

Catholic clergy, led by Bishop Zhu Weifang (朱维方), protesting in front of the government. Photo from Weibo.

YC: Can you say a few words to explain a bit about the differences between “Three-Self” churches and “house churches”?

L: There isn’t too much difference in terms of doctrine. The government once wanted to change a core doctrine of the “Three-Self” church, namely the “doctrine of sola fide” (or “justification based solely on faith”). House churches and “Three-Self” churches all insist on this doctrine.

K.H. Ting (丁光训), a bishop recognized by the government, once proposed a doctrine of justification based on love. They wanted to change the doctrine in this way but were unsuccessful. Also, house churches don’t tailor their ethical guidance to official ideology. The second difference is that clergy in the “Three-Self” church are appointed and approved through official channels, while those in the house churches are not.

YC: Aren’t all of the churches that had their crosses torn down “Three-Self” churches? Can “house churches” be so large?

L: In Zhejiang, many house churches employ roundabout ways to build similarly large church buildings.

YC: I’ve heard people call Wenzhou “China’s Jerusalem.” I’ve seen so many extravagant church buildings in photos. Can you explain briefly why Christianity is so flourishing in Wenzhou and in Zhejiang? First, am I correct in this judgment? Is Christianity particularly flourishing in Zhejiang?

L: It’s true. Missionaries from countries like Great Britain, the United States, and other countries began proselytizing in Ningbo (宁波), Hangzhou (杭州), Wenzhou, Taizhou (台州) back in the 1880s and became long-term settlers here. So, there’s a historical source for Christianity in Wenzhou. From early on, Wenzhou’s trade with the outside world was very developed, and this is another important reason.

There is a strong practical and utilitarian flavor to the religious belief of people in Wenzhou. If I’m engaged in business or any other enterprise, I want to seek the blessings of God. If someone goes into business, he seeks the prayers and blessings of people in his church. After giving birth, you seek the prayers and blessings of the church so that your child may do well in school.

So, when Wenzhou merchants go to do business in Beijing, Shanghai, or other large cities, they immediately set up their own places of worship and devote at least one night a week to worship. As long as there are people from Wenzhou, there will definitely be a church for them. There are also a large number of Wenzhou Christians living overseas in places like Paris, Rome, New York and Los Angeles.

When people from Wenzhou make money and become prosperous, they voluntarily donate fund to build big churches. Once people rode bicycles; now they all drive cars. When they come to church they need places to park, so of course churches need to expand. In the past, when it was hot people fanned themselves to keep cool or installed electric fans; now you definitely need air-conditioning. People’s standard of living has improved, and church buildings also need upgrading. Why should churches be any different from government buildings in that respect?

YC: I notice that nearly all the crosses that have been torn down from churches in Wenzhou are red. Why is that?

L: This is a meaning being expressed there. Christianity has encountered several decades of repression in China. In the 20 years from 1958 to 1978, China banned Christian worship and Christians were all forced underground. Life was extremely difficult for Christians during those years. They had to gather secretly, hiding in the mountains or in other places where nobody went. There were no place to purchase the Bible, so they hand-copied it and shared with each other. If you got caught, they would confiscate your Bible.

Everyone was very happy when Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) lifted the ban on religious belief in 1978. Older Christians shed so much blood and so many tears for their faith. They didn’t care much about or have a deep understanding of theology, but when they built churches they insisted that the churches be taller than their houses and that the crosses should stand up tall. What they were expressing is this: In the past, we weren’t free; now we want to show that our churches exist. So the crosses were built very tall and kept illuminated at night with a red light. The church is a city upon a hill. Christians are the light of the world. We want to shine in all directions.

 

Yaxue Cao (曹雅学) edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao.

———–

Related:

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

 

Source  《与一位温州牧师的访谈:中国在浙江省大规模强拆十字架》, translated by China Change.

More photo are available here.

 

How soft suppression may be benefiting activists

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 did engage in “thought work,” there was also a group that refused to participate. While protests are often viewed as one side against another, there is often a large group caught in the between the factions. In Zhejiang, village officials with little stake in the project were pressured by higher-ups to coax villagers and distant relatives to give up their protests, these officials did not want to lose their standing with their neighbors and shirked the responsibility of “thought work.”

Also, just as family members can apply pressure for family members to give up a protest, family members can pressure relatives to join the protest. The thought of losing position within a family can be more threatening than losing a job. As O’Brien observed after the protest, punishments were not carried out as extensively as has been initially claimed by the gov’t, with only those who had failed to persuade close relatives losing positions. This made gov’t officials more likely to ignore their leaders calls for “thought work.”

In Shifang students were held by the gov’t to try and force protesters to leave the streets. This was met with an overwhelming response by classmates and family members to call for their release. In this situation teachers could claim little control over their students (protecting their jobs) and tacitly allow their students to protest to keep their favor.

Armed with this knowledge, activists would be wise to reaffirm family connections prior to engaging in protests so as to minimize any potential leverage over themselves.

Mixed Signals and Control Parables (Link 1Link 2)

Mixed Signals and Control Parables work very well for limiting action from those who are risk adverse, but at the same time provides incentives for a few to explore where the boundaries are. I think in the most notable example of this Ai Weiwei, who became globally recognized through his habitual line crossing. Even while under house arrest, he has published a series of op-eds in foreign papers, raised millions of yuan, and has sustained his typical manic presence on Twitter. While he is an exceptional case, activists are drawing their own lessons from him – that breaking the rules does not always end ones career or ruin ones reputation.  Chen Guangcheng’s escape provided other lessons, that the central gov’t is emphatically not a source of justice for activists and that foreign coverage can help to ensure safety.

The murkiness in what can and can’t be discussed in the media leads to an absence of discussion about China’s activists, giving them the space they need to test the boundaries. There is almost complete silence on Ai and Chen in the Chinese press, as it is unsure of what line of attack it should take (although they do try from time to time). These attacks have also become less successful as the media struggles to regain credibility after being written off as nothing more than gov’t mouthpieces.

In Shifang, and countless other protests, the conflict between health concerns and business is not a clearly demarcated area. Protests over these issues do turn violent with some regularity, but these are rarely mentioned in the Chinese press, while successful movements, like the one in Tianjin are celebrated as examples of the Party listening to the concerns of the people. This lopsided reporting may give protesters a false impression of what the risk and rewards may be for taking to the streets.

Armed with this understanding, Chinese activists continue to pursue a number of new avenues for change to which there are no preset responses.  The local gov’ts are left to struggle with whether or not this will be approved of by the higher levels of authority, and what priority they should place on preventing it before they can act. These small openings give the opportunity for dissent to take root.

Silence without violence – How the Party applies pressure to activists and reformers

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 elderly pensioners are threatened with a loss of benefits and family members holding gov’t jobs are threatened with being fired if they fail to convince the activists to stop their actions. This kind of repression is especially trying because of the psychological pressure it applies to the individual, not only are they risking their own safety but their family’s as well (and we all know how important family is in China).

In virtually every case of well-known dissidents, their families have suffered. In Chen’s case his wife and daughter were imprisoned in their home with him. After his escape his extended relatives have continued to be harassed and threatened by local officials, most notably his nephew Chen Kegui. This can only be seen as an attempt to continue to apply pressure to Chen Guangcheng, even though he is now out of the country.

Mixed Signals and Control Parables (Link 1, Link 2)

Another way that activists are kept in line is by making the boundaries unclear. As Rachel Stern demonstrates in her papers, this murkiness leads to self-censorship and caution with a very minimal amount of work by central authorities. Some regions encourage reporting on environmental problems while similar stories can lead to serious punishments in other regions. This causes many lawyers and journalists to completely avoid supposedly “risky” issues. Furthermore, topics that are unsafe can cause problems retroactively, so while it may currently be safe to discuss certain issues, it may not be so in the future.

As we learned last year through Wikileaks, Twitter may have very well been blocked because of the BeijingAIR twitter feed rather than its ability to spread information, and Google may have suddenly been blocked because of one official unhappy with the results he found when searching his own name. These rare glimpses behind the scenes are a reminder that even when we think we know where the line might be, there could be something else pushing the resolve.

Additionally, because punishments are rarely explained activists draw their own conclusions from events. These conclusions may be far more restrictive than whatever the actual reason may have been. For example, Stern cites a pervasive rumor that the PSB in Beijing has a color coded list of foreign funding organization broken in to green (safe), yellow (somewhat-safe), and red (dangerous). The speculation of which organizations fall into which category has led many groups to refuse funding from sources that may very well be safe. According to figures from international rights groups, only .2% of Chinese lawyers and journalists face jail time, but the parables others draw from these punishments create much larger ripples through their professions. As one source told Stern, the arrest of the managing editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily in retribution for their coverage of SARS, led to a cooling effect on investigative journalism throughout the country.

Internalizing the unwritten rules

In my short time working with Yaxue Cao and others on sensitive issues, these methods have featured prominently in our discussions when we’ve posted such material. I asked if she had family here that could face repercussions, we’ve tried to figure out how close to get to the line (we don’t even know if we’ve crossed it, we seem to be blocked in parts of China), and we’ve drawn dark lessons for ourselves from what’s happened to the activists we consider friends. Even though these tools were never made explicit, one can’t help but internalizing them after reading through numerous cases online.

What has surprised me even more is the way in which this system is self-propagating. Friends from the U.S. tell me to be careful, co-workers remind that posts could endanger their work, others remind me that my visa could be taken away, and my parents ask what would happen to my career if I am ever blocked from returning to China (I’m sure every blogger in China has faced these questions at some point). Do I really think I’m in any real danger? No, but the thing with fear is that fear isn’t rational. Fear isn’t something that can be controlled, no matter how foolish you tell yourself it is. In the end Yaxue always reminds me that the risk others have taken are much bigger and I click “publish*” (Ge Xun calls this “shared courage”), but my irrational brain whispers in my ear, “Easy for her to say, she doesn’t live here.”

Having a deeper understanding of these tools though helps activists understand and weigh their choices when seeking change. When a name is given to a tool, like “relational repression” and “control parables,” it gives one a sense of regaining control over their emotions and the resolve to continue on.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the recent protest in Shifang, and look at how these different methods of control failed to suppress the protesters, and how they may actually be beneficial for activists.

*I’m proud to say that we have never cancelled, delayed, or altered a post out of fear.