A Chinese shrine to… Jesus?

Hong Kongers erected two shrines at different locations on their barricades in their battle against police and thugs: one to Guan Gong 关公 (aka 关羽 and 关帝, a ubiquitous Chinese folk deity especially worshiped by police, triads and restaurant owners), and one to Jesus.

(None of the HK images below are mine; click each for its source.)chinesejesusshrine.png A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?Comparing these shrines provides a fantastic little opportunity to explore contextualization and syncretism — big words for talking about how ideas, practices and objects are adopted by a culture, and whether or not their core meanings survive intact. But first, the pictures.

A Tale of Two Shrines: Jesus & Guan Gong

The Guan Gong shrine has all the images, statues, fruit, booze and incense offerings you’d expect in a typical Guan Gong shrine, the setting notwithstanding:

guanggongshrine1 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?guanggongshrine1 detail A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?The signs say:
[White, far right & left] — 关帝绝不保佑助纣为虐香港警察
Absolutely no way Emperor Guan will bless and protect Hong Kong police who are accomplices of evil-doers
[Pink, right] — 忠义神武
The Mighty Divine is quick to benevolently protect those who are loyal and righteous
[White, middle] — 亵渎神灵
Those who profane the gods will surely suffer the wrath of heaven
[Pink, left] — 威显
Bravely and powerfully protect the nation and the people
guangongshrine1 detail2 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?

It’s not really all that remarkable in itself, though it is kind of funny the way it’s being used against police and organized crime thugs. Supposedly one can often find shrines to Guan Gong in Hong Kong police stations, where they worship him for protection. Destroying the shrine invites a curse on oneself and one’s family.

Tsang says demonstrators built the shrine to the general to send a message to their antagonists: Guan Gong is on our side.

“We want this god to punish whoever tries to hurt unarmed citizens,” says Tsang

A Chinese shrine to Jesus understandably raises a few eyebrows (and opens a few shutters); it’s not like you see one of these everyday:

jesusshrine1 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
The vertical writing says (right to left):
上主正义[xx] The Lord manifests justice & dim0cr@sy
基督平安自由 Christ bestows peace & freedom
jesusshrine1 detail A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?

Turns out there’re at least two Jesus shrines, though in this case it seems shrine isn’t a terribly accurate descriptor. Key details suggest that there are much bigger differences between these two shrines than merely the name and picture of the deity involved.

The Jesus shrine has swapped out the incense, food and booze for flowers, pretty candles and an open Bible. It’s seems the Christians have ditched the offerings — gifts intended to predispose Guan Gong to look favorably upon his worshipers and act for their protection and fortune more than he would otherwise (a bit like giving a doctor a hongbao?) — for decorations and worship aids (Bible, icons), meant to look nice, inspire other Christians and help them focus when worshiping, rather than somehow elicit protection and fortune.

I can’t know for sure just from these photos what exactly is going on here because I’m not there to see how each of these “shrines” actually function in practice. But just from what we can see in the pictures it looks like an interesting contextualization of Christianity rather than syncretism, where Christianity appropriates an aspect of Chinese culture (they’ve made their ‘shrine’ conform to Christianity) rather than Jesus being treated like he’s just another traditional Chinese deity.

jesusshrine2detail A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
(Personal pet peeve: images of pasty British Jesus in Asian churches.)

These two shrines physically display a core distinction between Christianity and traditional Chinese religion: the way in which one relates to God/the gods.

Christians relate to God as the children of a perfect, loving, authoritative parent, or the subjects of a just and benevolent king. It’s in God’s character to always act for the good of his people; gifts can’t make God love more. Prayer is as much to influence the Christian as it is to influence God’s behaviour, who listens like a loving parent listens to a child and may or may not act in response to the child’s request.

With Guan Gong and other traditional Chinese deities it’s more like currying favour (but not seen in a negative way); gifts that show reverence make the deity more predisposed to provide protection or fortune. It doesn’t mean that Christians can’t use incense, for example, but when they do it means something different (if they’re being faithful to a broadly defined, international Christian orthodoxy).

ThaiChristianincense A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
An interesting attempt at contextualization in Thailand, where Thai Christians have incorporated some Thai/Buddhist forms into their worship practices while trying to maintain distinctly Christian meanings.

You can’t influence (or manipulate) Jesus, according to Christianity, in all the same ways that you can traditional Chinese deities according to traditional Chinese religion.

jesusshrine2 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
Reading the Bible… in the middle of the road.

That’s not the only fundamental difference between following Jesus and appealing to Guan Gong, of course. And it’s no surprise that each shrine’s respective signage conveys mutually distinct messages.

“There is this Christian spirit,” says Cheng, who wears a yellow ribbon pinned to his shirt pocket — a symbol of the movement. “You are more willing to suffer. Social justice means more to you.”

worshipservice A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
Singing hymns… in the middle of the road.

jesusshrine3 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
Praying at an altar… outside government headquarters.

Contextualization & Syncretism

Simply put: Syncretism changes the essence of the thing; contextualization allows the essence of that thing to be accurately expressed within the cultural context. Contextualization is concerned primarily with meaning; preserving the meaning of a thing in a new cultural context often requires significant changes to form.

(In the images above some unnecessary cultural ‘forms’ that have been directly imported, like British Jesus and ancient iconography. Direct cultural importing is not contextualization; contextualization uses local, rather than foreign, physical or intellectual forms to express meaning.)

jesusguangongcomic A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
Guan Gong: “You’re here, too?”
Jesus: “Had no choice, Carrie Lam made me.”
jesusguangongthreeposters A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
The text above Jesus says:
“People who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, because they will be satisfied.”

If the essential meaning of the thing being adopted stays more or less intact, then it’s contextualized. But when the core meaning of the thing is damaged or “lost in translation” due to it’s cultural incorporation, it’s called syncretism. Even though in reality the line between the two is not always crystal clear, and it’s maybe more accurate to think about degrees of syncretism rather than purely either/or, the difference between them is huge.

mao temple A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?One curious example of syncretism is the way Chairman Mao is becoming a Chinese folk deity. When average Zhou Chinese Mainlanders take Mao Zedong — who I assume enjoyed being treated like a god but was nevertheless violently anti-religion, anti-traditional-Chinese-culture and anti-capitalism — and turn him into a Chinese folk deity, it’s syncretism because it’s not faithful or compatible with what Mao was about. Atheism was mandatory. You can’t get much more un-Maoist than selling Mao folk deity figurines on the open market.

As a god he’s not as popular as Guanyin 观音, Laughing Buddha 笑佛, Cai Shen 财神 (the money god) or Guan Gong but you can buy him in the god shops, and you occasionally find him occupying spaces usually reserved for Laughing Buddha. It’s “Maoist” in the sense that it involves a lot of Mao — his image and name and greatness — but it’s not Maoist when it comes to the actual teachings of Maoism.

gods2mao A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
Our local traditional market has more than one place selling Mao alongside Buddhist, Daoist and even Hindu gods.
maocaishenposter A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
Mao with Cai Shen, the god of wealth, on the walls of our neighbourhood baozi shop. According to the stories, Mao supposedly refused to even touch money.

Syncretism is misleading because the integrity of the central meaning is lost while superficial elements are still adopted. The new idea gets swapped out for an old one, but the old idea dresses up as if it were the new idea.

mao temple2 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?Promoting Mao as a folk deity is not promoting Maoism; Maoism is against folk deities. Sticking a BMW logo on a Flying Pigeon bike doesn’t change the quality or nature of the vehicle, no matter how many people you convince to speak and act as if that bike was a luxury car. Swapping out a Chinese restaurant’s prosperity god statue for a Jesus figurine won’t make the shrine Christian; it just creates a new Chinese folk deity who looks like Jesus and is called “Jesus” but in any way that actually matters (according to Jesus) isn’t Jesus.

Doing that is bad — i.e. inaccurate — because the Jesus of Christianity and the deities of Chinese traditional religion are two different kinds of thing. And they each have a different kind of relationship to people; the way people relate to Jesus (according to Christianity) is different from the way people relate to Chinese folk deities (according to traditional Chinese religion). “Prayer” in the Christian sense of the word, as Jesus presents it, is a different kind of thing from “prayer” in a Chinese folk religion sense of the word. (Now if we swapped a God of Wealth statue for a Santa Claus figurine…I could get behind that. ;) )

The examples above are not awesome because they’re too obvious. In reality, syncretism is usually more subtle. The people doing it often don’t realize it, and if they care at all then they’d probably be offended and scandalized if they found out (not everyone cares). What people think they’re doing or say they’re doing is one thing, but their actual behaviour and the function of their language (rather than the surface meanings of their words) is another. What are they actually doing? Or what are they actually communicating by making those statements in those contexts? Are they, for example, really trying to promote and realize Maoism in their society, or just creating a Mao-themed object towards which they can express the worries of life and wish for prosperity and health? Or are they (second example) really trying to become the kind of people and live the kind of life to which Jesus invites them, or are they weekly participants in a religious-themed, self-help-dispensing, cultural values-affirming, family-friendly weekly social club? When it comes to Christians, if they’re the latter they probably still imagine they’re the former, and you’d have a heck of a time trying to make them see a difference.

There are four ubiquitous Chinese deities we routinely see in Qingdao: Cai Shen 财神 (prosperity god) and Guan Gong 关公 in the restaurants, Guanyin 观音 on necklace talismans, and Laughing Buddhas 笑佛 on business counters and dashboards. Lots more about Chinese deities and Mao below.

Mao as a god (literally & figuratively) in contemporary China:

Peruse the Chinese deities for sale:

How Christmas and traditional Chinese religion could so easily get along:

P.S. — It took a little while, but it seems at least some mainstream news media has finally discovered that Christianity is a significant factor in the Ongoing Event Which Must Not Be Named. See more from NPR, FP, SCMP and CDT.

P.P.S. — A pre-dawn police raid on Oct. 17 has resulted in the unceremonious departure of Guan Gong. I’ve not seen what’s become of the Jesus shrine.guangongcleanup1 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?
guangongcleanup2 A Chinese shrine to... Jesus?

P.P.P.S. — Feel free to offer input/corrections on Guan Gong worship and traditional Chinese religion in general. Obviously I’m not as familiar with that as I am with Christianity. And since traditional Chinese religion isn’t formally theologized, details can be hard to nail down.

Why we use SunVPN in China

When we first came to China in 2007, the average expat didn’t need a VPN. But a lot has changed since then.

For example, I use:

  • Gmail for e-mail;
  • Google for search and translation;
  • Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch with family and friends, and share pictures of our kids with their aunties, uncles, grandpas and grandmas;
  • Twitter for news;
  • YouTube to make music playlists for our family;

And in China, I need to VPN to access every single one of those. So without a VPN, I lose my first or only options for English-language e-mail, search, translation, news and social networking, and a lot of music.

微信 is great, but it’s not like all my North American friends and relatives are all going to ditch Facebook for WeChat any time soon.

And that’s why we’re starting our third year with SunVPN. We use it at home on our computers and everywhere on our phones. With so many server locations to choose from, it means we can access stuff that’s country restricted — like NBC’s Olympics videos, Netflix movies or Comedy Central clips. It’s easy to install and use (we are not techie people at all), and on the rare occasion that something goes wrong (like when I clicked “Run” instead of “Run as Administrator” and didn’t know why it wasn’t working) their 24-hour support is really prompt. They support OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP connections, and have multiple servers in North America, Europe and East Asia.

Check them out:
If you’re inside China and not on a VPN, trying clicking here. Otherwise click here.

“…tear gas, or as it’s known in China, ‘the sky'”

It’s that special time of year again:

smartair ...tear gas, or as its known in China, the sky

The Colbert Report clip embedded below about a lot of severely inconvenienced Beijing pigeons and Some Event Which Must Not Be Named has reminded me that it’s time to order new filters for our DIY air purifiers. Because winter is coming to China. And that means the annual airpocalypse.

And we’ve got everything you need to know right here:

China Essentials: DIY home air purifiers

Because “…tear gas, or as it’s known in China, ‘the sky’.”

(You’ll need to set your VPN on a U.S. server to see the video.)
(We’ve gotta to do something about the pronunciation of Chinese names in mainstream English media.)

Anti-bribery signage at our hospital in Huangdao, China

Health is one of the biggest worldview disconnects between Chinese and Western cultures. Another is ethics. Putting it simplistically: To us, their stark pragmatism sounds amoral and selfish. To them, our abstract principles sound naive and heartless. It’s mutually appalling, and mutual understanding is nigh impossible. (Parenting has gotta be in the top 5.)

We’re halfway through a week in the hospital, and I thought this anti-“hongbao” signage was interesting. “Hongbao” (红包) is an ingrained aspect of Chinese culture where the patient’s family slips extra money to the surgeon in a “red envelope” to encourage better treatment. It’s illegal in Chinese countries, but that doesn’t stop it.

Front and center on the nurses’ station:

hongbaosign Anti bribery signage at our hospital in Huangdao, China
Honest medical treatment; Refuse to accept hongbao
诚信医疗拒收红包

Despite this, the translator assigned to us (she’s helpful, but her English is harder for us to understand than the doctor’s Chinese) says, “Sometimes, it still happens.”

Apparently there are a lot more ways than hongbao for doctors to earn extra ethically-suspect income. This poster is at the entrance to our floor:

To Strengthen Medical Treatment Clean Behaviour Customs, Construct “The Nine Forbiddens”
加强医疗卫生行风建设“九不准”

    hongbaoposter Anti bribery signage at our hospital in Huangdao, China
  1. It’s forbidden for health care personnel personal income to be connected to medication or medical examination income.
    不准将医疗卫生人员个人收入与药品和医学检查收入挂钩
  2. It’s forbidden to take a commission.
    不准开单提成
  3. It’s forbidden to receive payment against the rules.
    不准违规收费
  4. It’s forbidden to illegally accept social welfare subsidies.
    不准违规接受社会捐赠资助
  5. It’s forbidden to participate in marketing activities or distribute medical advertising against the rules.
    不准参与推销活动和违规发布医疗广告
  6. It’s forbidden to fill prescriptions for business purposes.
    不准为商业目的统方
  7. It’s forbidden to use illegally and selfishly procured medical products.
    不准违规自私采购使用医药产品
  8. It’s forbidden to accept kickbacks.
    不准收受回扣
  9. It’s forbidden to accept patient “hongbao”.
    不准收受患者“红包”

I don’t think hongbao is good despite what the authors linked below argue. But simplistically dismissing it as a bribe without first understanding it isn’t that helpful either. Looking more closely at the reasons and dynamics of this old practice also provides a helpful window into Chinese culture and common ethics. Here’s a bit from an American hongbao apologist:
From China, With Pragmatism

It is very common for a Chinese family to give hongbao to a surgeon who is about to perform a procedure on a family member. Everyone knows to do this, and everyone does it to the extent that they are able. The Americans in our group thought this practice was unethical bribery, because it sought to bias the doctor in one’s favor. The Chinese people at the table replied, “Of course it biases the doctor. That’s why we do it.” Not only were they mystified by the censure, but the Chinese were prompted to ask if the Americans had any children — for every parent surely uses any means necessary to protect loved ones.

When one embassy officer (working his best “hearts-and-minds diplomacy”) suggested that the Chinese switch the giving of hongbao to after the successful operation, rather than before, the Chinese were struck dumb with astonishment. Of course, you have to give the hongbao beforehand because it motivates the doctor. The gift tells the doctor: (a) to take special care with our child (b) we respect your surgical skills/education and “give face” accordingly (c) we are devoted to our child, will hold you responsible and have the means to do so. The fact that not everyone can afford to influence their doctor with hongbao is not grounds for withholding it, since we’re trying to protect my child here and now. The parent, according to the Chinese, should never weigh the child’s well-being against something so arcane as an abstract principle.

And here’s another piece that spreads the blame around:
Bribery serves as life-support for Chinese hospitals

Bribery is the lubricant that helps keep China’s public hospitals running, and the health system would struggle to function without illegal payments to poorly paid doctors and administrators, say medical practitioners and industry experts.
[...]
A doctor fresh out of medical school in Beijing earns about 3,000 yuan ($490) a month including bonuses — roughly the same as a taxi driver. A doctor with 10 years experience makes around 10,000 yuan a month, according to Peter Chen, chief executive of privately run Oasis International Hospital in Beijing.

“Without the grey income, doctors would not have the incentive to practice,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Dealing with the problem is not so easy:
Should Doctors Be Rewarded for Refusing Bribes?

hongbao is adding to the financial pressure most patients are already under, at a time when medical and health cost is very high. The public has long expressed their dissatisfaction with this accepted practice. The government has already taken a number of measures to save the deteriorating patient-doctor relationship resulting from hongbao by announcing that doctors who take bribes will be struck off the doctor roll. In some parts of China, it is announced that those who report this practice to the government can receive a reward worth thousands of yuan, while the doctors concerned will be dismissed. However, despite these kinds of measures, it seems the hongbao tradition is entrenched and likely to die a very slow death in China.

Here’s a little larger, current context for the hongbao practice:
Under the Knife — Why Chinese patients are turning against their doctors

Violence against doctors in China has become a familiar occurrence. In September, 2011, a calligrapher in Beijing, dissatisfied with his throat-cancer treatment, stabbed a doctor seventeen times. In May, 2012, a woman attacked a young nurse in Nanjing with a knife because of complications from an operation performed sixteen years earlier. In a two-week period this February, angry patients paralyzed a nurse in Nanjing, cut the throat of a doctor in Hebei, and beat a Heilongjiang doctor to death with a lead pipe. A survey by the China Hospital Management Association found that violence against medical personnel rose an average of twenty-three per cent each year between 2002 and 2012. By then, Chinese hospitals were reporting an average of twenty-seven attacks a year, per hospital.

How many construction cranes can you count in 30 seconds?

One thing that still amazes me about China is how things are sometimes done on a massive scale, bigger than anything I’ve even heard of anywhere else.

Took this video from a Qingdao taxi as we passed a construction site today. How many construction cranes can you count? I stopped counting after 30.

It’s embedded from YouTube, so you’ll need a VPN if you’re in China. Screenshot below, of only one portion of the entire building site:

IMG 0654a Copy How many construction cranes can you count in 30 seconds?

Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?

guantouroof Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?There’s an official campaign on in Zhejiang 浙江 province, home of “China’s Jerusalem” (a.k.a. Wenzhou 温州, the epicenter of traditional Chinese Christianity), in which the government is either forcibly removing crosses from the tops of the church buildings or simply bulldozing them. One Catholic news site had documented 64 demolitions as of May 21. A Protestant human rights advocacy group puts the current total at around 360. And it continues with another one reported this week (Telegraph). Demolition crews come in at 3am, and churches are warned that if they don’t allow their cross to be removed then their whole building will be demolished just like that that huge, new, famous one. Church members are putting up resistance, though so far it’s been ultimately futile (see here for the first big clash that made international news, in which church grannies occupied their church building).

guantouprotest Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?

Why? If you answer, “Because they were in violation of building codes! We don’t tolerate that sort of thing in England and neither should the Chinese!” then YOU FAIL China 101 (and this panda facepalm is for you). pandafacepalm Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?If this campaign really was about public safety, building codes and zoning laws as the government claims, then they’d be flattening most of Zhejiang province, not zeroing in on churches (duh — I know I shouldn’t read the comments under news stories, but I still couldn’t believe how many times I saw this idea pop up). If you answer, “Because China’s run by atheistic anti-Christian Communists and it’s just like when Mao was alive!” then you’re slightly closer to the truth, but you’re still headed for summer school.

But the direction of your pet prejudices doesn’t matter because (as often happens) government documents have been leaked, showing us exactly why they’re going after churches. Ian Johnson, a 20-year veteran of Chinese state-religion reportage whom I’ve cited before for his reportage on the FLG, confirms in Church-State Clash in China Coalesces Around a Toppled Spire (NYT) what seasoned China people should have been able to figure out from the details in Tom Phillips’ earlier reporting (Telegraph). I’ll quote bits of Ian Johnson’s latest to fill in the three bullet points below, but you should read the whole thing; there’s lots of important detail I’m leaving out here.

First, what started all this?

The church’s problems seem to have begun with a visit to the region in October by the provincial party secretary, Xia Baolong, a close ally of President Xi. Visiting a new economic zone north of Wenzhou, Mr. Xia was reportedly disturbed that a religious building, especially one seen as representing a foreign belief, dominated the skyline. The next month, members of the congregation said, they were told to remove the cross atop their church’s steeple.

“Xia Baolong came to inspect last autumn, and he saw the cross,” said an official in the Wenzhou government’s religious hierarchy. “He said: ‘Take down the cross. It’s so high, and it’s not appropriate.’ But the people said: ‘Well, we’ve already put it up there, and from a faith point of view, it’s our faith, the cross. How can we take it down?’ ”

sanjianghighwaybefore Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?
sanjianghighwayafter Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?
sanjianghighwayafter2 Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?

“Public safety & zoning violations”? Srsly, guys?

The government has defended its actions, saying the churches violated zoning restrictions. However, an internal government document reviewed by The New York Times makes it clear the demolitions are part of a strategy to reduce Christianity’s public profile.

The nine-page provincial policy statement says the government aims to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities, but it specifies only one religion, Christianity, and one symbol, crosses.

“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document says. “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”
[...]
Officials argued that the church violated zoning rules, but the provincial policy paper suggests that argument was a tactical cover. The paper, called “Working Document Concerning the Realization of Handling of Illegal Religious Buildings,” said the policy would face international scrutiny so officials should be careful to cloak their effort under the guise of cracking down on building codes. “Be particular about tactics, be careful about methods,” it said, urging officials to focus on the idea of “illegal construction.” “This is crucial to investigate and prosecute from the perspective of laws and regulations to avoid inviting heavy criticism.”
[...]
“They said, ‘This will be your last church for 20 years, so make it big,’ ” said a member of the Sanjiang congregation involved in the negotiations. “They also told us that the development zone was a big project and needed a big church as a sign of how this was an outward-looking community.”

An official in the city’s religious affairs bureau acknowledged that “officials said it could be bigger, but perhaps this was a mistake.”

guantoucrossdown Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?

Why single out Christianity?

Protestantism is also linked to a national debate about “universal values.” Some Chinese Protestants argue that rights such as freedom of expression are God-given, and thus cannot be taken away by the state. These beliefs have led many Protestants to take up human rights work. A disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent political cases, for example, are Protestant.
[...]
The leveling of the Sanjiang Church came amid growing tensions not only between Christianity and the Communist government, but also between Christianity and other religions. It was preceded by a local petition accusing the church of destroying the area’s feng shui, geomantic principles that underlie traditional Chinese folk religion.
[...]
Increasingly, those other religions are receiving greater support from the Communist Party. In March, Mr. Xi praised Buddhism for its contributions to China.
[...]
Just a decade ago, the Communist Party condemned fortunetelling, feng shui and many traditional funerary rites as “feudal superstition.” Now, these are protected under government programs to support “intangible cultural heritage.”

ChinaSource sums it up in It’s About the Space:

…while space for Christianity and religious belief IS expanding in China, it is still the government that has the power to determine the limits of that space. And every once in awhile it needs to give a visible demonstration of that power.

The on-going church demolition and cross-removal campaign is about the growing ideological and physical space that Christianity is occupying in China; this campaign is “a shot across the bow” of Protestant Christianity.

The Chinese authorities don’t mind tolerating a Christianity that is effectively socially marginalized — i.e. it stays out of public consciousness. But Christians will expand into as much space as they’re allowed, and in the more tolerant cities and provinces like Qingdao in Shandong and (formerly) Zhejiang, that space continues to grow. Sometimes newly developing business districts like to accessorize with a fancy church building; it makes them feel open and cosmopolitan. This was the case with the Sanjiang church above, which the Zhejiang government made an example out of. It’s also what appears to be happening fifteen minutes from our neighbourhood in Qingdao, where an elaborate new church building with fancy stained glass and a river sits beside a big new park and a block away from a shiny shopping centre in a sea of construction.

But in Zhejiang province at least, the local Christian presence has exceeded the current limits of the government’s comfort zone. At the highest levels Christianity is perceived as a tool for foreign antagonists, partly because of Communist China’s ideological heritage, and partly because in China as elsewhere throughout history, the connection between human rights and Christianity is becoming increasingly clear — Christianity is disproportionately represented among China’s human rights agitators.

Also from the Ian Johnson and the NYT:

P.S. - Here’s two related things — an explanation of the Chinese words for “church”, and a translated bit from a Chinese pastor, calling for Chinese Christians to re-think their focus on church buildings in light of the recent conflict. (Chinese Christians — and local governments developing new districts — do tend to have a ‘thing’ for fancy church buildings.) At the very least, it’s an interesting anecdote for how Chinese Christians are processing this particular campaign:

When it comes to our faith, the word jiaohui (church, congregation, fellowship) is not the same as jiaotang (church building). It may be possible to deal violently with a jiaotang, but not with the jiaohui. Christians shouldn’t be so sad. Maybe this is a good time to reflect and wonder if we have put too much focus on church buildings. With this jiaotang now destroyed, we should focus our efforts on building the jiaohui.
[...]
The church (jiaohui) is not a church building (jiaotang). The original meaning of the term church (jiaohui) is “a people called by God gathered together.” The key terms are “called by God,” “people,” and “gather together.” It does not say that that “gathering together” must be done in a church building (jiaotang). Protestant theology has always emphasized that the key functions of the church (jiaohui) are “preaching the Word” and “properly administering the sacraments.” These two principles define what a true church (jiaohui) is. It says nothing about a building.

cranecrossbanner Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?

P.P.S. – For some further perspective on persecution, consider that at the same time Zhejiang province is bulldozing church buildings, this woman just gave birth in shackles on death row and will receive 100 lashes before she is hanged… because she’s not Muslim.

Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult-stamped money

In Qingdao, China it’s not uncommon to find anti-Party messages stamped on our money. I have a collection going. They’re created by a huge home-grown Chinese religious group that the Chinese government officially designated an “evil cult” in the late-90’s. Here’s the most recent one I’ve received:

flgmoney Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult stamped money
“On a 100million year old ancient stone in Guizhou province suddenly appears ‘China Communist Party Die’ six big characters, quickly declare withdrawal from the Party and guarantee your well-being, Quit the Party Team phone number: 001…”

New anti-cult posters continue to go up on our neighbourhood’s Anti-Evil Cult Warning & Education Propaganda Board (all of them anti-FLG or anti-Almighty God/Eastern Lightning). Normally they’re simple and illustrated, like this one currently posted beside a copy of the Alarm Bell News (a publication for “upholding science and opposing evil cults” by the Guarding Against and Dealing With the Evil Cult Problem Office):

* * * * *

xiejiaoposterfull Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult stamped money
Guard Against and Resist Evil Cults, Construct a Harmonious Society

1. What is an Evil Cult?
Evil cult refers to the fraudulent use of religion, Qigong or other established things; deified ringleaders; make use of, create, and disseminate superstition, fallacies, etc., to deceive others; grow and control members; illegal organizations that endanger society.

2. What is the Basic Nature of an Evil Cult?
Anti-humanity, anti-science, anti-society.

3. What are the Main Features of an Evil Cult?
1) Anti-science, fabricate falsehoods.
2) Deified leader, psychological control.
3) Secret societies, illegal activities.
4) Swindle believers, extort wealth.
5) Opposed to the government, hostile to society.
6) Proclaim doom, create panic.

Keep away from evil cults; Live healthily
Qingdao City Guard Against & Deal With the Evil Cult Problem Office

防范抵御邪教 构建和谐社会

一、什么是邪教?
邪教是指冒用宗教、气功或者其他名义建立,神化首要分子,利用制造、散布迷信邪说等手段迷信、蒙骗他人,发展、控制成员,危害社会的非法组织。

二、邪教的本质是什么?
反人类、反科学、反社会

三、邪教的主要特征有哪些?
1、反对科学,编造邪说。
2、神化头子,精神控制。
3、秘密结社,非法活动。
4、坑骗信徒,聚敛钱财。
5、反对政府,仇视社会。
6、宣扬灾劫,制造恐慌。

远离邪教 健康生活
青岛市防范和处理邪教问题办公室

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But just last week I noticed this next one, which addresses the defaced money directly. Unlike the cute comic-style posters; this is serious black and white multiple-official-red-stamped business. Rough translation below the image (feel free to suggest corrections!):

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poster1 Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult stamped money

Chinese Communist Party Shandong Province Party Committee Ministry of Propaganda
Shandong Province People’s Government Guarding Against & Dealing With the Evil Cult Problem Office
Shandong Province Public Security Bureau
China People’s Bank Jinan Branch

Regarding Being on Guard Against and Striking the “FLG” Evil Cult Organization
A Notice About Using RMB to Carry Out Reactionary Propaganda

For the past few years, some “FLG” evil cult members have been making use of the way RMB circulates, using handwriting, stamps, coloured printing, and other methods, writing and publicizing evil cult slogans on RMB, especially spreading reactionary content attacking and slandering the Chinese Communist Party and socialist system, projecting a vile and harmful influence. Under the Public Security Bureau’s crackdown and the broad masses of the people’s energetic boycott, this reactionary sabotage by “FLG” evil cult members has been been checked. But, due to the stubbornness of evil cult activity, currently a large number of these kinds of RMB still appear in society, and the response of the broad masses of the people is strong.

RMB is our China’s legal currency. “FLG” evil cult members adopt the method of defiling RMB to advance reactionary propaganda, they have no right to violate the People’s Republic of China People’s Bank Law and the People’s Republic of China RMB Administration Regulations, and furthermore they’ve violated our nation’s Criminal Law and Public Security Administration Penalties Law — a serious kind of anti-law, anti-society illegal criminal activity. The PRC Chinese People’s Bank Law 19th provision: deliberately damaging RMB is prohibited. The PRC RMB Administration Regulations 23rd provision: those who deliberately damage RMB will be warned by the Public Security Bureau, and a maximum fine of 10,000 yuan will be imposed. PRC Criminal Law 105th article 2nd provision: starting a rumour, slander or other methods of incitement to subvert state power and overthrow the socialist system will be punished with a maximum five year prison term, detention, supervision, or loss of political privileges; ringleaders and major offenders, a minimum five years prison term. 300th article 1st provision: organizing and making use of secret societies, evil cult organizations or using superstition to damage national law and implemented administrative statues, minimum three years to maximum seven years prison term; when circumstances are especially serious, minimum seven year prison term.

The image of the RMB must not be damaged, the dignity of law must not be trampled. The Public Security Bureau at all levels should intensify surveillance and detection efforts, punish criminal action of the “FLG” evil cult using RMB for reactionary propaganda, and maintain an orderly circulation and reputation of RMB. Advocacy at all levels of financial institutions, major Party and government organizations, schools, enterprises and institutions to prevent the evil cult sector, carry out various forms of extensive publicity and educational activities to give the public a clearer understanding of the “FLG” evil cult’s use of RMB for reactionary propaganda and serious illegal purposes, and enhance the image and legal responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the RMB, the ways and means to master the correct treatment, strive to create a good social atmosphere. The masses should raise awareness of and consciously resist the illegal and criminal activities of the “FLG”, and in daily life should ignore and reject the use of such defiled RMB, and if they receive such RMB should have it exchanged at the nearest bank branch as soon as possible. If suspicious persons are discovered writing reactionary content on RMB, actively report to the Public Security Bureau. Each bank branch should perform their required duties and enhance service awareness timely and according to the provisions for the masses to freely exchange such defiled RMB.

Let’s act together firmly in the fight with the “FLG” evil cult’s criminal actions of using RMB for reactionary propaganda, take concrete actions to safeguard the image of the RMB, and maintain the dignity of national law in order to accelerate the construction of the economy and culture of Shandong Province, to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, for the “Chinese Dream” of creating a harmonious and stable social environment!

April 10, 2014

中共山东省委宣传部
山东省人民政府防范和处理邪教问题办公室
山东省公安厅
中国人民银行济南分行

关于防范打击“FLG”邪教组织
利用人民币进行反动宣传的通告

近年来,一些“FLG”邪教分子利用人民币的流通特性,采用手写、盖印、彩色打印等手法,在人民币上书写和印制邪教标语特别是攻击诋毁中国共产党和社会主义制度的反动内容进行传播,影响恶劣危害突出。在公安机关严厉打击和广大人民群积极抵制下,“FLG”邪教分子的这一反动破坏行径受到了一定遏制。但是,由于邪教活动的顽固性,目前社会面上此类人民币仍大量出现,广大人民群众反映强烈。

人民币是我国法定货币。“FLG”邪教分子采取污损人民币的方式进行反动宣传,不权违反了《中华人民共和国中国人民银行法》《中华人民共和国人民币管理条例》,而且触犯了我国《刑法》和《治安管理处罚法》,是一种反法律反社会的严重违法犯罪行动。《中华人民共和国中国人民银行法》第十九条规定:禁止故意毁损人民币。《中华人民共和国人民币管理条例》第四十三条规定:故意毁损人民币的,由公安机关给予警告,并处1万元以下的罚款。《中华人民共和国刑法》第一百零五条第二款规定:以造谣、诽谤或者其他方式煽动颠覆国家政权、推翻社会主义制度的,处五年以下有期徒刑、拘役、管制或者剥夺政治权利;首要分子或者罪行重大的,处五年以上有期徒刑。第三百条第一款规定:组织和利用会道门、邪教组织或者利用迷信破坏国家法律、行政法规实施的,处三年以上七年以下有期徒刑;情节特别严重的,处七年以上有期徒刑。

人民币的形象不容破坏,法律的尊严践踏。各级公安机关要加大侦察破案力度,依法严惩“FLG”邪教分子利用人民币进行反动宣传的违法犯罪行动,维护人民币的流通秩序和良好信誉。各级宣传,防范处理邪教部门和金融机构以及广大党政组织、学校、企事业单位要广泛开展各种形式的宣传教育活动,是公众进一步认清“FLG”邪教分子利用人民币进行反动宣传的罪恶目的的和严重违法性,增强维护人民币形象和法律尊严的责任感,掌握正确处理的方式方法,着力营造良好社会氛围。广大人民群众要提高防范意识,自觉抵制“FLG”分子的违法犯罪活动,日常生活中注意拒收和不使用此类污损人民币,一旦收到此类人民币要尽快到就近银行网点进行兑换。如发现有在人民币上涂印反动内容的可疑人员,要积极向公安机关报告。各银行网点要认真履行法定职责,提高服务意识,按规定及时无偿为群众兑换此类污损人民币。

让我们共同行动起来,坚决同“FLG”邪教分子利用人民币进行反动宣传的违法犯罪行为作斗争,以实际行动维护人民币的形象,维护国家法律的尊严,为加快山东经济文化强省建设、实现中华民族伟大复兴的“中国梦”创造和谐稳定社会环境!

2014年4月10日

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xiejiaobulldoze Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult stamped money
The science bulldozer uproots superstition with scientific truth.

pesticideofscience Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult stamped money
The pesticide of upholding science kills the pests of superstition on the tree of socialism.

alarmbell1 Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult stamped money
The AlarmBell News. Headlines:
“Stay far away from evil cults, don’t be a captive puppet”;
“Clearly understand the ‘FLG’ evil cult’s basic nature” (p.2);
“How ‘Almighty God’ brainwashes believers” (p.3).

alarmbell2 Propaganda Fight 2: neighbourhood posters directly address cult stamped money
Headlines:
“Licang District launches anti-evil cult knowledge training”;
“How Almighty God brainwashes believers”;
“Evil cult organizations control believers through communication deprivation”;
“China’s approach to and methods of dealing with evil cults in the past”.

If you just can’t get enough “evil cult” propaganda: