Zhongguo Hearts Jesus

Quick, check out the link to a new Frontline video about how Christianity is spreading through China and being practiced by record numbers, from underground churches hiding in remote rural caves to Beijing, where Hu Jintao has been working hard to improve ties with the Vatican.  The special just aired a couple of hours ago, and I won’t be surprised if the link is soon blocked here, as was Frontline’s superb special two years ago on the Tiananmen Tank Man.

Religious freedom is another area in China that seems to be “getting better,” but some of the stories about the harassment and arrest of Christians, even in these open-minded and reformist times, are pretty wrenching.  I haven’t seen the video yet (my broadband is hopelessly slow) but a friend of mine who saw it in the US just a few hours ago writes:

The one thing that struck me was how many poor people from the cities, but mostly from more rural areas, are joining these “home churches.” The ministers see their mission as reaching out to the people that the economic surge has left behind. That’s where the growth is. According to the Frontline report, there are now as many Christians in China as there are Party members. Meanwhile the CCCP response is to beef up the “official” Christian church which most people see for what it is: a means to maintain control.

At one point they showed this huge non-descript modern building which is the home of one of the largest official Christian congregations (I think they said 4000 members.) It wasn’t named for a saint or any usual Protestant name. In huge letters in Latin and Chinese it said “Christian Church.” The pastors for these official churches are actually trained in theology in government schools so that they know how to integrate the Communist message with the gospel. How convenient.

Lots of material and interviews at the Frontline site, for anyone interested in this subject.  It’s a good sign that Chinese Christians from underground churches are willing to appear on the record and speak out, but it may be a bit premature to hail the arrival of full religious freedom here.  A final clip from the synopsis:

At the most recent Communist Party congress, President Hu Jintao made an historic move, adding the word “religion” to the party constitution for the first time. He urged party leaders to strike what he called a harmonious balance between church and state.

But not everyone trusts the party’s new friendly face toward religion. Fan Yafeng, a lawyer specializing in religious freedom, tells Osnos that the government’s acceptance of Christianity is strategic.

“To control the Chinese society, the government sometimes chooses to be lenient and sometimes tough,” he says.

As Osnos goes back one more time to see house church leader Zhang Mingzuan, he learns about how Zhang was arrested just a few months ago.

“I was preaching, about 12 o’clock, and people from the Bureau of Religious Affairs came in with the police.  I was in the middle of my preaching,” he explained.

“All we’re doing is believing in Jesus, nothing else. If there is no religious freedom, how can the country be in a harmonious state?”

I think the Party leaders see it from the exact opposite perspective: If there IS religious freedom how can the country be in a harmonious state? Harmonious is code for conformist, uniformity, unquestioning. Once you start giving people choice, especially in who they answer to, that harmony is threatened.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 70 Comments

Talking about opinionated readers/bloggers, I totally agree with small fry. There’s no sitting on the fence. Either you believe in certain values like fundamental human rights or you don’t. As a human being you have opinions and you should stand by them.

June 28, 2008 @ 8:09 pm | Comment

Bold talk from above, “(a)s a human being you have opinions and you should stand by them”, and to what degree of pain are you prepared to maintain so? Pain not only to yourself but to family, friends and fellow travelers, and despite the fact that others (actually most of the mainland Chinese who have overwhelmingly granted the Party tacit consent to govern) share your stubborness to stand by contrary opinion antagonistic to your own. You also complain that “it does make me angry that people like (the propagandists euphemistically awarded as’friends of China’) get the Chinese green card, while others who have been living and working in the PRC for years and contributed a lot to the development of China, are not eligible.” You insist on a principle at odds with the practices of the governing authority of the country you’ve chosen to live in, vent your frustrations right and left in an internet forum by exchanging inanities with government shills, yet insinuate you’re among those who have “contributed a lot to the development of China” and should be awarded permanent residency. That’s some nerve ya’ got there.

June 28, 2008 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

@Scott Loar

First of all, you probably missed this part of my above comment: “Talking about opinionated readers/bloggers,…” We were talking about exchanging opinions on this blogsite, not demonstrating on TAM square. If you want to join an already ongoing conversation, you should first ask people what they are talking about (or maybe just read the whole comment before you reply to it).

Secondly, when I talked about “others who have been living and working in the PRC for years and contributed a lot to the development of China” I wasn’t referring to myself. Whenever I talk about myself, I do that in no uncertain terms. I don’t insinuate things and I really hate it when others try to be smart by deliberately misinterpreting what I said. I never said (or insinuated) that I should be awarded permanent residency in any country. I don’t need that, because I live in the country I was born in. I was just saying that there are people who deserve the Chinese green card at least as much or even more than Lisa Carducci, but they didn’t get it so far, because they didn’t write crap books about how great China and how bad America is.

Third, if you don’t like our “exchanging inanities”, just don’t read the comments section of this blog-site. You know, there are a zillion other websites you can go to. Or maybe you could shut down your computer, go out, get some fresh air and enjoy the summer. You’ve got some nerve, entering an ongoing discussion, not saying anything on the topic, but attacking me instead, without even knowing what I am talking about.

June 28, 2008 @ 9:17 pm | Comment

@Scott Loar

One more thing, since you were referring to my comments as “bold talk”. You said:

“(actually most of the mainland Chinese who have overwhelmingly granted the Party tacit consent to govern)”

Now that’s a bold statement, and I would really like to know if you have anything to back it up with. How do you know that the majority of mainland Chinese people give the CCP tacit consent? How can you be so sure, especially when we are talking about TACIT consent? That’s some nerve ya’got there, I gotta give ya’ that.

June 28, 2008 @ 9:23 pm | Comment

Point by weary point:

You are an opinionated reader/blogger who gets contradictory and antagonistic remarks from equally opinionated readers/bloggers so stop bitching.

Surely it’s up to the governing authorities to determine who gets permanent residency for whatever reason even if that doesn’t meet the expectations of one blogger “Mor”.

My remarks to you do criticize the devolution of a thread into an exchange of inanities by disaffected foreigners with angry youth and government shills. The last comment of worth here was posted by Paul Denlinger. Yes, it does seem a waste of time answering you but I’ll give you the courtesy of a reply; also, it’s been raining here for a long while so I’m deprived of your suggested relief of a sunny day.

How do I know the CCP rules by the tacit consent of the governed? Surely you can’t be so dumb to that fact, so self-absorbed by your own opinions that you haven’t read or listened to the overwhelming majority of mainland Chinese. Individuals may complain about aspects of rule but they do not advocate radical social change (local disturbances remain local and unaligned, and note that in almost all instances those aggrieved seek redress from the Party) and Heaven forbid any change affects the economy! They don’t want deliverance, they want advancement by the very Party that has kicked foreigners out of China and restored sovereignty of its borders, united the mainland by suppressing division, restored China’s self-esteem by gaining respect in the international community, and can meet or exceed the achievements of the most advanced countries, even as simple as 富國強兵(wealthy nation, strong military). Co-operation with the Party is financially rewarded and dissent from orthodoxy such as you dumbly advocate is well-nigh universally scorned but… say, why don’t you just ask mainland Chinese themselves your foolish question?

June 29, 2008 @ 5:53 am | Comment

Mor, my impression from talking to countless mainlanders is that the fair majority support the present one-party system. Sure, they complain a lot about particular government policies, but I have met only a few who have said that they would like to see the demise of the CCP. Such anecdotal evidence is supported by the research findings of the Taiwanese scholar, Tianjian Shi, whose research was discussed a few years ago at the 32nd Sino-American Conference on Contemporary China in Taiwan. Shi’s survey found that, after decades of market-oriented reform and rapid growth in China, the interest of ordinary citizens in democratic reform and democratic institutions “remains shallow” and that “a large minority believe that democracy will not solve China’s problems, and only a very small fraction favor multi-party elections to choose national leaders.”

Shi, commentator Minxin Pei and other participants in the conference, offered explanations for the current lack of popular pressure or apparent preference for democratic change, the most important of which they identified as being “the populace’s emphasis on economic development over democracy (with nearly half declaring development more important and only one-fifth saying democracy was more important).” The second most significant factor they identified was “popular satisfaction with the substantial increases, compared to pre-reform era baselines, in civil liberties other than democratic participation,” followed by “the Party’s continuing dominance of organized politics and capacity for manipulating public opinion.”

The argument then, that the majority of Chinese mainlanders are ready for democracy, simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and the claim that the majority currently want multi-party elections is simply not supported by the existing evidence either. It is a reasonable assertion to make then – to say that the fair majority of mainlanders give tacit support to one-party rule.

I think we both agree that Cunningham is more of an intellect than Carducci. Have you read my review of her book? I agree, she writes, as you say, “crap”.

When it comes to fence-sitting on the issue of human rights – I think, judging from that comments here, that you and small fry take a line very similar to that espoused by China watchers such as Will Hutton, Minxin Pei and John Lee (whose book, Will China Fall? I have just reviewed on my site). All of these writers are pressimists of Enlightenment. I say this because they judge other countries, including developing countries, by the standards created by their own institutions – parliamentary democracy, a “free” press, the rule of law, universal human rights, etc. They fail to recognize that (a) these institutions are in fact evolving on the mainland of China at quite an impressive rate, and (b) that there are other legitimate forms of governance apart from democracy – a view that over recent years has been gaining in currency among academia. Consider Jack Gray’s “Enlightenment’s Wake” or Daniel Bell’s “Beyond Liberal Democracy” for example. “The liberal project of stating, and enforcing, universal limits on governmental power, especially when it is coercive,” writes Gray, “amounts to the prescription that a single form of political order be everywhere installed regardless of the cultural traditions and ways of life of its subjects.” (pp.210-211) That political orders should be vessels for the transmission of ways of life across the generations, and that the forms of government may legitimately vary according to the cultures of the peoples they serve, are propositions rejected by the pessimists of Enlightenment.

Surely the assessment of any regime should be based on whether or not it enables its subjects to coexist in a Hobbesian peace while renewing their distinctive forms of common life? By this standard, China’s one-party system is serving a reasonable majority of its people quite well, although, as John Lee and Minxin Pei and others have very rightly pointed out, many are nevertheless suffering, and it’s important, I agree, not to lose sight of such disturbing facts.

To recognize that Enlightenment values are not universal, including notions of human rights, is not to position oneself on the fence. It simply means assessing the overall results of whatever system is in place, and on the basis that legitimate alternatives to Western notions of democracy, human rights etc., can and do exist. When you look at the Chinese system, as it presently is, one sees both positive and negative outcomes. How the overall balance sheet looks like depends on how selective one is with the available evidence – this I have discovered after reading more than one hundred books on today’s China. The question isn’t whether the glass is half empty or half full, but whether is is in the process of being filled or emptied. Even on this question, the pessimists of Enlightenment claim the glass is being emptied (John Lee in particular argues this). Others, like Guthrie, in his book “China and Globalization”, argues the opposite, as does Randall Peerenboom in his book “China Modernizes” and Hugo de Burgh in his book, “China – friend or foe?” The United Nations Human Development reports, as well as the United Nations human rights reports on China, also indicate that the glass is in the process of being filled, rather than emptied.

Being fair and balanced in one’s assessments, shouldn’t be equated with moral relativism.

June 29, 2008 @ 7:29 am | Comment

For a practicable alternative to the Western-style government and values (most especially the notion of human rights) now so soundly reviled by China look to where parliamentary democracy has been trumped by that model of Chinese administration called Singapore, and where rule by law has successfully replaced rule of law. It is to Singapore that the CCP sends its cadres for courses in state management.

June 29, 2008 @ 7:48 am | Comment

@Scott Loar

“Point by weary point:

You are an opinionated reader/blogger who gets contradictory and antagonistic remarks from equally opinionated readers/bloggers so stop bitching.”

Aren’t you the cutest? First, you attack me without even knowing what I’m talking about and when I give you a reply you accuse me of “bitching”.

“Surely it’s up to the governing authorities to determine who gets permanent residency for whatever reason even if that doesn’t meet the expectations of one blogger “Mor”.”

Surely it’s up to me to agree or disagree with a government policy and write comments about it or not. What’s your point?

“My remarks to you do criticize the devolution of a thread into an exchange of inanities by disaffected foreigners with My remarks to you do criticize the devolution of a thread into an exchange of inanities by disaffected foreigners with angry youth and government shills. The last comment of worth here was posted by Paul Denlinger. Yes, it does seem a waste of time answering you but I’ll give you the courtesy of a reply; also, it’s been raining here for a long while so I’m deprived of your suggested relief of a sunny day.. The last comment of worth here was posted by Paul Denlinger. Yes, it does seem a waste of time answering you but I’ll give you the courtesy of a reply; also, it’s been raining here for a long while so I’m deprived of your suggested relief of a sunny day.”

Who’s bitching now? I apologize for not being up to the high standards established by you and Mr. Denlinger. You know I’m just an ignorant European troll with too much time on my hands. And I’m really sorry that I (and the bad weather) forced you to spend (waste) your Saturday reading inane comments. Let me guess, you are stuck in some middle school in the Chinese countryside, your umbrella is broken (Chinese fabricate), the box of books your family was supposed to send hasn’t arrived yet, you don’t understand Chinese TV and so the only option on a rainy weekend is getting online. And since the Great Fire Wall has blocked all the interesting stuff, you have no choice but to read stupid exchanges of arguments between European trolls like me and angry youth/government shills (I can only guess whom you were talking about here. You sure do sound angry to me and the way you criticize me for speaking my mind about certain policies of the Chinese government is not that far from being a CCP shill.)

“How do I know the CCP rules by the tacit consent of the governed? Surely you can’t be so dumb to that fact, so self-absorbed by your own opinions that you haven’t read or listened to the overwhelming majority of mainland Chinese.”

Now we are back to calling each other “dumb” and “self-absorbed”

June 29, 2008 @ 4:01 pm | Comment

@Scott Loar

“Point by weary point:

You are an opinionated reader/blogger who gets contradictory and antagonistic remarks from equally opinionated readers/bloggers so stop bitching.”

Aren’t you the cutest? First, you attack me without even knowing what I’m talking about and when I give you a reply you accuse me of “bitching”.

“Surely it’s up to the governing authorities to determine who gets permanent residency for whatever reason even if that doesn’t meet the expectations of one blogger “Mor”.”

Surely it’s up to me to agree or disagree with a government policy and write comments about it or not. What’s your point?

“My remarks to you do criticize the devolution of a thread into an exchange of inanities by disaffected foreigners with angry youth and government shills. The last comment of worth here was posted by Paul Denlinger. Yes, it does seem a waste of time answering you but I’ll give you the courtesy of a reply; also, it’s been raining here for a long while so I’m deprived of your suggested relief of a sunny day.”

Who’s bitching now? I apologize for not being up to the high standards established by you and Mr. Denlinger. You know I’m just an ignorant European troll with too much time on my hands. And I’m really sorry that I (and the bad weather) forced you to spend (waste) your Saturday reading inane comments. Let me guess, you are stuck in some middle school in the Chinese countryside, your umbrella is broken (Chinese fabricate), the box of books your family was supposed to send hasn’t arrived yet, you don’t understand Chinese TV and so the only option on a rainy weekend is getting online. And since the Great Fire Wall has blocked all the interesting stuff, you have no choice but to read stupid exchanges of arguments between European trolls like me and angry youth/government shills (I can only guess whom you were talking about here. You sure do sound angry to me and the way you criticize me for speaking my mind about certain policies of the Chinese government is not that far from being a CCP shill.)

“How do I know the CCP rules by the tacit consent of the governed? Surely you can’t be so dumb to that fact, so self-absorbed by your own opinions that you haven’t read or listened to the overwhelming majority of mainland Chinese.”

Are we back to calling each other “dumb” and “self-absorbed” now? That certainly will help stopping “the devolution of a thread into an exchange of inanities” you were bitching about. You know, I’m just a mortal human being so I won’t have enough time to listen to “the overwhelming majority of mainland Chinese”, in other words, over 50% of 1.3 billion people.

“Individuals may complain about aspects of rule but they do not advocate radical social change (local disturbances remain local and unaligned, and note that in almost all instances those aggrieved seek redress from the Party) and Heaven forbid any change affects the economy! They don’t want deliverance, they want advancement by the very Party that has kicked foreigners out of China and restored sovereignty of its borders, united the mainland by suppressing division, restored China’s self-esteem by gaining respect in the international community, and can meet or exceed the achievements of the most advanced countries, even as simple as 富國強兵(wealthy nation, strong military).”

You’ll have to try a little harder if you want to write for China Daily, but I think you are on the right way. Now, I really would like to know, where and in what respect China exceeds (or even comes close to) the most advanced countries? Rule of law? Social security? Protection of the environment? Standard of living?

“Co-operation with the Party is financially rewarded and dissent from orthodoxy such as you dumbly advocate is well-nigh universally scorned but… say, why don’t you just ask mainland Chinese themselves your foolish question?”

Which question are you talking about now?

June 29, 2008 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

Sorry for the double post. Must have touched the wrong key while I wasn’t finished yet. Maybe I’m really “dumb” when it comes to using a computer?

June 29, 2008 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

A little Mor goes a long way.

Thanks for repeating my post even if separating the paragraphs with your ejaculations but I think most readers here get my points rather easily. Your imaginings about my situation are way off, I am gainfully employed thank you and not by the will or leave of anyone but myself, and your failure to understand the most basic fact of CCP rule – that it does so by the tacit consent of the governed – becomes for you a question that myself and the careful, detailed explanations of another poster just can’t get through your befuddled head. Lacking common sense and being insensitive or dead to feelings and perception is fair comment on you and that, Mor, is the state of “stupidity”.

June 29, 2008 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

@Jason Lee

“Mor, my impression from talking to countless mainlanders is …”

See, choice of words can make a big difference. You didn’t state it as a matter of fact which only dumb and self-absorbed people can’t see, you said it was your impression and I’d say a lot of people share that impression. There is no doubt that many, actually very many mainland Chinese people grant the party tacit consent, but I would always be careful with the word “most” as in “over 50%”. It might really be the majority, but how can we be so sure? There is one thing I’m certain of. The people in the CCP are not so sure if they have the consent of the overwhelming majority. That’s why they are so nervous and insecure, that’s why harmless people are thrown into prison for speaking their minds.

“I have met only a few who have said that they would like to see the demise of the CCP.”

Tell me, if you lived under an authoritarian system and you wished the demise of the government, would you go around and tell others?

“The argument then, that the majority of Chinese mainlanders are ready for democracy,”

I won’t make such a statement – see above!

Talking about imposing our standards on other countries, I’ve said it before and I say it once more: I do not judge the Chinese government by “Western” or European standards, but only by their own standards and they still suck.

“Surely the assessment of any regime should be based on whether or not it enables its subjects to coexist in a Hobbesian peace while renewing their distinctive forms of common life? By this standard, China’s one-party system is serving a reasonable majority of its people quite well, although, as John Lee and Minxin Pei and others have very rightly pointed out, many are nevertheless suffering, and it’s important, I agree, not to lose sight of such disturbing facts.”

In all due respect, go and see the parents of the school children who were buried under tofu buildings, the people who have to die of cancer because the environment they live in is polluted, the people who work seven days a week and if they lose a hand or an arm in a machine they can look forward to a life of begging on the street, the people who sit in prison for doing what we are doing right know, go and tell them about Hobbesian peace!

Having said that, I agree with you that the glass is being filled. It takes a long time, because it’s being filled by a very shaky hand, so a lot of water gets spilled, but they keep filling it.

“Being fair and balanced in one’s assessments, shouldn’t be equated with moral relativism.”

And having an opinion shouldn’t be equated with being stubborn and one-sided. You see, the problem is that everybody thinks of himself as fair and balanced. How many people do you know who admit that they are biased and prejudiced?

June 29, 2008 @ 5:04 pm | Comment

@Scott Loar

Thanks for that fast reply! I really wish I was as eloquent and sophisticated as you are! Maybe some day you’ll find the time to actually read my comments and try to understand them and then you can write a reply that actually addresses the points I have made.

June 29, 2008 @ 5:12 pm | Comment

I would like to direct everybody’s attention to this statement by Scott Loar:

“The last comment of worth here was posted by Paul Denlinger.”

Maybe I’m missing something here, but as far as I can see, Paul Denlinger posted only one comment and that was No. 2!!!

So, everybody else, including administrators Richard and Raj, can you please stop exchanging inanities and start posting comments of worth? I mean, worth Mr. Loar’s precious time on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Have a little mercy, here! The man is “gainfully employed”, but he can’t afford a DVD player – or books, for that matter. He’s desperately looking for some intellectually challenging entertainment on the Internet and you keep boring him with your unworthy, dumb comments. Shame on you!!!

June 29, 2008 @ 5:41 pm | Comment

@Buxi

Probably not all, but obviously we share some :). It is the anonymity of Chinese protest that annoys me, and I know the Chinese are well convinced that the “the first bird to stick its neck out is the one that is slaughtered”. I’m repeating myself here (See my response to Ming in the next post), but the anonymity (and its relegation to the Internet) of Chinese protest automatically weakens its effect. This kind of protest until now has also been easily quelled/controlled by the government when it comes to domestic issues. That being said, we have seen what these anonymous net protests can (or have been allowed to) build into when they are in the CCP’s interests such as the embassy bombing, Japanese textbooks, the Olympic torch debacle etc. Can you name a domestic issue that was allowed to build so much steam on the internet that it lead to countrywide protests of the same fervor? I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Point being whether people can criticize the government on the Internet or not, their anonymity insures that their voices will be manipulated and ultimately silenced.

June 30, 2008 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

>>All commenters: please treat ferin’s “hateful, dogmatic, and aggressive”
>>rhetoric as it needs to be treated, “like a cancer or infection,” (at least
>>according to Ferin, perhaps we’re all being a little too soft on him?)

Well said! I totally agree. Ferin is hateful. Just ignore him.

June 30, 2008 @ 11:05 pm | Comment

I am a Chinese Christian who used to worship at a church Christian before coming to America. The Frontline documentary is well done. As a reader pointed out in this blog, the house church congregations documented were mostly Pentacostal. I assure that most house church groups that I know of are normal evangelical Christians. Some members are average every people. Some groups are mainly educated college students and teachers. Persecutions against house church Christians still exist but a lot less than the 80’s and 90’s. The three-self government church doesn’t have “life.” They usually lack the essence of Christian faith – they are not allowed by CCP to preach the sin of man or the idea of hell. It’s definitely a government’s way of controlling its citizens.

June 30, 2008 @ 11:11 pm | Comment

Very interesting that Scott Liar has nothing to say to my responses to his hateful posts. Guess, he is running out of arguments. Maybe Phil Cunningham and Lisa Carducci are on holiday and can’t provide him with arguments right now.

July 4, 2008 @ 7:08 am | Comment

Mor, try to learn from example, such as below.

Marc, please go to Not Exactly Jesus in China (http://shanghaiscrap.com/?p=850) on Shanghai Scrap* by Adam Minter for a critical review of that Frontline documentary which disserves the Church in China and misserves undertanding by “tell(ing) an incomplete story that distorts a more complicated reality”.

*Apologies to the hosts if referencing another blog site is bad show.

July 4, 2008 @ 8:59 am | Comment

What does that have to do with anything I said? We weren’t even discussing Jesus or Not Exactly Jesus in China. You know what’s bad show? Not to address any of the points I have made and then change the topic, because you’re running out of arguments.

July 6, 2008 @ 3:41 pm | Comment

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