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?
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“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.”

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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.

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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.

Patriotic Chinese Kindergarten Kungfu — lyrics & video for 精忠报国 by 屠洪纲

kindergartenkungfu01crop.PNG Patriotic Chinese Kindergarten Kungfu    lyrics & video for 精忠报国 by 屠洪纲

Our 4-year-old goes to an all-Chinese preschool, where I also teach. We’re the only foreigners. The 5 and 6-year-olds do this as a regular exercise routine:

It’s a song about complete devotion and loyalty to China, which in English could be “Dedication and Loyalty to the Country” or “Serve the Country with Utmost Loyalty”. The title is a reference to famous historical-mythical General Yue Fei’s tattoo. He was traitorously executed and posthumously has come to epitomize loyalty to China. The Wikipedia article is worth a read, as this song has all kinds of historical/cultural associations.

Here’s the mp3 and Chinese lyrics (mouseover for pronunciation!) with English translation (mostly someone else’s). Music videos here (youtube) and here (youku).

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报国 by 洪纲

狼烟江山
The fire beacon rises, look toward the rivers and mountains of the north

Dragons’ puffs and horses’ neighs are like blows of a frosted sword
黄河茫茫
Hearts as boundless as the water of the Yellow River
二十纵横
Who defies the length and breadth of the past twenty years?

Wild hatred where my sword points
多少手足
Countless brothers, loyal souls, bones buried in unfamiliar lands

What regret is it to die a hundred times protecting family and country?
叹惜无语血泪
Enduring sighs of regret, speechless, tears of blood fill the eyes
马蹄
Horses’ hooves go south, the people look toward the north
青黄飞扬
Toward the north the grass yellows, dust flying up
守土开疆
I’m willing to guard this territory and re-claim the land
堂堂中国四方
Grand China will make all sides bring tribute

Some interesting notes on this song here:

Many people in the west believe that Chinese are in general motivated by an irrational nationalism cultivated by the communist party to secure its political hold on the country. This is why some of the protests by Chinese nationals overseas have been labeled as “rebirth of the red guards”. Personally, I think this misunderstanding reflects a lack of knowledge about Chinese history, which in the thousand years past have been filled with foreign invasions and civil wars. We Chinese are peace lovers, but our own history has taught us that unification as a country, especially in the face of foreign threats has always been the prerequisite for a peaceful life.

This music video is by the singer Tu HongGang, who was trained as a Beijing opera singer, but turned into a pop singer in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The song is entitled 精忠报国, which translates to ‘dedication and loyalty to the country,’ or ‘serve the country with the utmost loyalty.’ The phrase by itself originates from the story of Yue Fei, “a famous Chinese patriot and military general who fought for the Southern Song Dynasty against the Jurchen armies of the Jin Dynasty. Since his political execution by the traitor Qin Hui, Yue Fei has evolved into the standard model of loyalty in Chinese culture.” According to legends, his mother tattooed these four characters across his back before he left home to join the army in 1122. More on his story can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yue_Fei

Note the first picture on the right, which shows the statue of Yue Fei, from the Yue Fei Mausoleum in Hangzhou. The four characters on his banner say, Huan Wo He Shan , or “Give back my rivers and mountains”.

I love the song (and the singer!) very much, I feel it echoes much of the patriotism which Chinese holds as part of our cultural identity.

kindergartenkungfu02crop Patriotic Chinese Kindergarten Kungfu    lyrics & video for 精忠报国 by 屠洪纲

More Chinese music (many with lyrics & guitar chords!):

Chinese New Year:

Christmas:

KTV!

Would you rather… Chinese Communists or Princess Barbies?

I’m co-hosting the preschool’s variety show/graduation ceremony this week. My job is to translate and say their host script in English. I can live with, “Children all have this beautiful desire in their hearts, to grow up and wear camouflage uniforms just like Uncle in the People’s Liberation Army, loving the Party, loving the country, and being a brave person!” But I think a small part of me will die inside when I have to say, “Look, everyone! Here comes Princess Barbie!”

benigngirl20110520 QingdaoHuangdao 240 Would you rather... Chinese Communists or Princess Barbies?

Our 4-yr-old in her Chinese preschool’s Flag-Raising Ceremony

Our daughter goes to a local, all-Chinese preschool. We live in the neighbourhood and I’m their 外教。 She started last November but unlike most kids who go all day five days a week, she only goes mornings on Mon/Wed/Fri. We’re the only foreigners. This week she got to participate in the Monday morning flag-raising ceremony.

IMG 2080 Our 4 yr old in her Chinese preschools Flag Raising Ceremony

They deliberately put her in the class with the nicest teachers, who don’t criticize and shame and negatively compare and threaten as per normal in China (and like in the other classes). As the English teacher, I’m in each of the seven classes every morning so it’s easy for me to compare their discipline and teaching styles.

IMG 2090 Our 4 yr old in her Chinese preschools Flag Raising Ceremony

It seems like participating in this event and celebrating her birthday, which means going through the birthday kid routine that all the other kids go through on their birthdays, have gone a long way toward her fitting in — both in how she feels and how the other kids relate to her. Maybe it’s made everyone realize more that she’s a student, too, and not just some weird visitor. And of course it helps that her Chinese is way better now than when she started.

IMG 2104 Our 4 yr old in her Chinese preschools Flag Raising Ceremony

The chain is owned by an American/Chinese couple who are our friends and members of our NGO. This means I have way more leverage to address issues than I normally would, so this is an exceptional situation for us. I don’t know what we’d do if our only options were normal preschools. Even for the most cross-culturally savvy families, sometimes putting a foreign kid in a Chinese preschool just doesn’t work. There are endless possibilities for deal-breaking conflict.

IMG 2110 Our 4 yr old in her Chinese preschools Flag Raising Ceremony

Their sashes say “I’m a little flag-bearer” 旗手。 Here’s the video of her little performance:

(Part of being at this local Chinese preschool is a horrible, disorganized sound system. Normally this doesn’t matter, because the point of a Chinese sound system is not to clearly amplify speech or music; it’s to make noise so that events feel more 热闹。 On this day, the mics they first tried to use at the base of the flagpole were set to broadcast inside the school instead of outside. But the other mics that do broadcast through the outdoor speakers couldn’t reach all the way to the flagpole, so they moved the kids over to one side. And then the batteries were worn out and fuzzy and loose. But anyway… :)

She said:

大家刚刚一首歌
我的幼儿园
幼儿园朋友
唱歌跳舞
大家一起快乐

Which means:

Hi, everybody! I’m Lu Xinyu from Little Class 2. I just turned 4. I want to sing a song for you:
I love my preschool
At preschool there are lots of friends
There’s singing and dancing
Everybody’s happy together

This was our first day, at the end of October:

firstdayofschool Our 4 yr old in her Chinese preschools Flag Raising Ceremony

More Chinese preschool stuff:

“That’s right, I’m a foreigner!” 对,我是外国人!

Once upon a time we went to an all-Chinese mall in Vancouver, Canada to practice Chinese. We overheard this group of college-age girls say, “Hey, those wàiguórén speak Chinese!” Wàiguórén (外国人) meaning “foreigner.” And never mind who was in whose country.

Anyway, saw this shirt tonight and had to share. Reminds me of the mzungu shirts worn by wàiguórén in East Africa during bad reactions to culture stress. But with a twist. And not worn by a mzungu/wàiguórén:

duiwoshiwaiguoren Thats right, Im a foreigner! 对,我是外国人!
外国人!” — 弗 2:19
“That’s right, I’m a foreigner!” — Ephesians 2:19

Aside from just being funny, it’s also interesting because of China’s general love/hate relationship with wàiguórén/the West. Just this week I come across usage of “fake foreign devil” 鬼子. And not to mention Chinese Christianity‘s complicated relationship to the English language, Western culture and Western Christianity in particular.

Maybe the t-shirt’s just a Bible joke and not meant to reference any of that. Or maybe it’s deliberately redefining the terms. Either way the joke’s historical-cultural context is hard to ignore. Because historical-cultural context is always hard to ignore. At least for this 外国人

P.S. -
And lest anyone feel like accusing this guy of being a fake foreign devil (鬼子), I should point out that not only does he not speak any English, he doesn’t even have an ‘English name’. Dude is just not interested in “sniffing after foreigners’ farts.

Related stuff:

Our neighbourhood’s anti-Japanese restaurant

I ducked my head in this restaurant to see if they served dog. Turns out they don’t serve Japanese. And they totally weren’t seeing the slogan possibility with serving dog but not Japanese. Anyway:

IMG 3150banner Our neighbourhoods anti Japanese restaurant
“Diaoyu Islands are inherently China’s territory,
this restaurant will not receive Japanese people!”
钓鱼中国固有领土恕不接待日本
IMG 3148flag Our neighbourhoods anti Japanese restaurant

Interestingly enough, the restaurant right next door is also very patriotic, with “Comrade Mao Zedong” posters on the wall.

For more about popular Chinese hatred for Japan:

“A pile of loose sand” and civic consciousness in China

Read Ian Johnson’s Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China (2004). Plenty of important insights to be gained from this book, particularly since “evil cults” have been in the news again and Johnson does a great job illustrating why and how certain groups can be so brutally persecuted. A related insight that I find interesting is the challenge of developing “civic consciousness” among ordinary Chinese.

“A pile of loose sand” and the lack of Chinese civic consciousness
In the early 20th century, Dr. Sun Yat-sen famously referred to the Chinese as “a pile of loose sand” and apparently saw nationalism as the solution:

For the most part the four hundred million Chinese can be spoken of as completely Han Chinese with common customs and habits. We are completely of one race. But in the world today, what position do we occupy? Compared to the other peoples of the world we have the greatest population and our civilization is four thousand years old; we should therefore be advancing in rank with the nations of Europe and America. But the Chinese people have only family and clan solidarity; they do not have a hundred million people gathering together in China, in reality they are just a pile of loose sand.

That was almost a century ago. Today, China suffers from nationalism overload, yet the same lack of civic consciousness still plagues domestic China. Consider these comments from award-winning journalist Ian Johnson describing late-90’s China:

wildgrass A pile of loose sand and civic consciousness in ChinaA friend of mine liked to argue . . . [that] the crackdown showed that Chinese actually didn’t care much about each other or the discrepancy in what they saw and what the [authorities] did. There was no solidarity with the persecuted, unless they were family members or personal friends. It was like the traffic accidents that one sees in big Chinese cities — crowds gather only to stare; almost no one stops to help. No wonder [the authorities] could hold on to power so easily, he said. It doesn’t have to divide and conquer its enemies; they are divided of their own accord. I had to agree with him, because I rarely encountered a person who got really angry about the way [the authorities] treated [the persecuted] adherents. While some far-thinking people saw the campaign as unjustified and cruel, most simply shrugged and wondered why people bothered to stand up for something they believed in. Concerned with their daily struggles, they couldn’t understand why [the persecuted] believers insisted on exercising publicly. “Why not just exercise in the living room?” was the most common response I got when I asked about the repression… [pp. 288-289].

For more about the specific persecuted group referred to above and a similar group, see these links: