Chinese church grannies stick it to local authorities, occupy church building to save it from gov’t bulldozers

Here’s my soapbox: People need to update their understanding of Christian persecution in China. And a recent Chinese-officials-try-to-bulldoze-a-church incident that’s hit international news is a fine opportunity to illustrate what I’m on about here. Like it or not, the relationship between Chinese authorities and Chinese Christians is… not super-simple.

Does the Chinese gov’t persecute Christians?
First of all, it’s Chinese governments — plural — as in local, provincial, and national levels that are often at odds with one another, and never mind that levels of tolerance and policy implementation vary greatly from region to region. “The Chinese gov’t” is a complicated collection of departments that vary hierarchically and geographically, and each one has latitude re: its attitude and posture toward Christians within its territory. If some Chinese Christians are in trouble, we need to ask who’s giving it to them; “the Chinese gov’t” isn’t specific enough to be a useful answer. A given instance of Christians-in-trouble usually has little if anything to do with Beijing.

Second, this is a bad question, because if you’re talking about the whole country, the answer is:

  • “Sometimes, but not usually.”
  • “All the time, at least somewhere.”
  • “Systematically marginalized? Yes. Actively persecuted? Not so much.”

Chinese authorities leave most Chinese Christians alone most of the time (within a status quo of effective, systematic social marginalization). So a more useful question is, “What factors are most likely to provoke trouble from the authorities?” There’s a list.

But let’s get to the sensational persecution story. This one’s actually kind of fun. Christians brazenly defy lower levels of gov’t while appealing to higher levels of gov’t. From The Telegraph:

wenzhouoccupychurch1 Chinese church grannies stick it to local authorities, occupy church building to save it from govt bulldozers

Christians form human shield around church in ‘China’s Jerusalem’ after demolition threat
Christians have flocked to defend a church in eastern China after Communist Party officials claimed it was an “illegal construction” and announced plans to demolish it

If you see these kinds of (sensationalized) headlines and (understandably) get the impression that Beijing is literally plowing churches into the ground across the country, look at the details in more than one report. In this case, one province let churches get out of hand, so they’re reducing the number of extra-high, extra-conspicuous steeples and have picked a couple buildings for demolition. Here’re some hand-picked excerpts:

the Sanjiang church is part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China’s officially sanctioned and government-controlled Protestant church, making this week’s stand-off highly unusual.

A woman who introduced herself as a representative of the local government rejected claims the Communist Party was persecuting local Christians.

“They can believe. This is free. We can’t control them,” said the woman, who gave her name as Zhang Biyao.

Ms Zhang said the church had been illegally built and was structurally unsound. The government wanted to protect “people’s safety,” she claimed.

Sanjiang’s congregation was unconvinced.

Parishioners believe their church was targeted after Xia Baolong, the provincial Party chief, visited the region and was unimpressed by the prominence of a church built to house thousands of worshippers.

“His behaviour is illegal. He has abused his power. The construction of the church is not against the law,” said Wang Jianfeng, a 47-year-old man from a nearby congregation who was among hundreds of people gathered on the steps outside on Friday in a show of force.

Wen Xiaowu, another visitor, said he believed China’s president would be “displeased” with his Communist colleagues in Zhejiang.

“Xi Jinping has said society should be harmonious. He is very open-minded about disciples of the Christian church.”

So:
– Local officials allow the government-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Church (or at least a legally-registered church; reports conflict) to build a big flashy church building.

– The provincial head comes into town and doesn’t like it. The unwritten rule is that Christianity must keep a low profile, and Christians in this province have been pushing that line for a while. In fact there’s a province-wide campaign to tone down the visibility of churches, mostly by making some (not all) churches take down extra-conspicuous steeples. See other articles here and here. This problem arose in the first place because churches across the province were given so much relative leeway that their buildings became too numerous and conspicuous for the comfort of provincial Party officials. In more tightly restricted provinces, churches aren’t allowed to become this conspicuous.

– So the local officials, who care first and foremost about their careers (which depend mostly on kissing up to their superiors) announce that the church building is illegal and, for the sake of “the People’s safety”, the “unsound” building must be destroyed, even though they’d previously designated the building a “model project”.

– So rank and file Christians publicly defy the local and provincial authorities, by [1] staging a sensational protest, [2] singling out the provincial Party head by name for blame, [3] appealing to higher levels of Chinese gov’t (in this case the Chairman himself) [4] via domestic and international news media. (Using news media to apply pressure to the gov’t is common, though also dangerous.)

–> In other words, these Chinese Christians are appealing to the Chinese gov’t (President Xi Jinping) to protect their legal rights against persecutors from the Chinese gov’t (Zhejiang province Party head Xia Baolong and the local officials carrying out his orders).

If they get to keep their church building, will headlines read, “Chinese central authorities defend Christian church”? I suspect not.

wenzhouoccupychurch2 Chinese church grannies stick it to local authorities, occupy church building to save it from govt bulldozers

Read the whole thing; while it may be short on solid info, it’s full of colourful anecdotes:

Sanjiang’s resistance has been organised with almost military precision. A makeshift kitchen behind the altar provides rice, pork and fried liver with leeks for those occupying the church while women hand out bottles of water and satsumas at the entrance.

By day, Christians from around the province crowd the church’s steps, with undercover security agents mingling among them, snapping photos and eavesdropping. By night, hundreds of worshippers take it in turns to keep watch, grabbing a few hours of sleep on cramped wooden pews between shifts.

Yang Zhumei, 74, said she had pleaded with officials to leave her church alone.

“I held their hands and said, “Comrades, don’t take down our cross. I can give you my head instead.”

The Christians have seen to it that the local and provincial authorities now have an embarrassing mess on their hands that will look much worse to their superiors than an overly-conspicuous church building would have. But even if the Christians win this round and keep their building, they’ll still be left with a ticked-off provincial Party head whose security forces know who every single one of those protestors is. For these Christians, things might not be easy until he retires or gets promoted.

It’s also worth comparing this to another recent local-government-hassles-legal-church-over-property incident.

More from this particular soapbox:

P.S. — Images are from the Telegraph article, but I couldn’t find any attribution info.

Viral one-minute Chinese sex ed video — English translation

So there are these minute-long Chinese sex ed videos that’ve gone viral on the Chinese internet. I suspect they’re actually aimed at parents, but they’re funny and well done. Here’s a translation of the first one, which compares conception to getting a shot at the doctor’s and makes fun of the classic Chinese answer to, “Where did I come from?”

chinesesexed Viral one minute Chinese sex ed video    English translation
Your mom says you were brought back from the garbage pile?

We’ve had an interest in Chinese sex ed ever since we first arrived as language students and got involved with Bright Future, a sex ed project run by an American at Tianjin University. The traditional taboo against talking about sex is still strongly felt in China, so sex ed is a special challenge. And the not-talking-about-it enables copious amounts of risky sexual behaviours and their damaging consequences (see links at the bottom), so we’re fans of creative efforts like Bright Future.

DSCN5810Chuck Viral one minute Chinese sex ed video    English translation
A hands-on Bright Future birth control class at Tianjin University

Here I’ve embedded the video from YouTube, but if you’re in China without a VPN you can also see it on Youku and Tudou. Embedded from Youku at the bottom.

(If you want to mouseover the Chinese and get instant pop-up pronunciation/translation, install this in your web browser.)

一分钟性教育(1):小孩从哪儿来?

One-minute Sex Ed #1: Where Did You Come From?

你从哪儿来的?
Where did you come from?
当然是你爸妈生的啊!
Of course your dad and mom borned you!
老师跟你说是爱情的结晶?No, no, no,
Teacher told you it was love crystals? No no no…
我们是哺乳动物又不是晶体
We are mammals, not crystal
只有受精哪来的结晶
There’s just fertilization, where’s the crystallization?
你妈跟你讲,是从垃圾堆里捡回来的?
Your mom says you were brought back from the garbage pile?
也不是,你妈记错了
Nope, your mom remembers wrong
你是从小树林里捡回来的
You were brought back from a small grove of trees
哦,不
Uh, no
你是在小树林里受精的
You were conceived in a small grove of trees*
这个受精啊
This conception
就是你爸的精子钻到你妈的卵子里去
is your dad’s sperm making its way into your mom’s ovum
你问精子怎么进去的……
You ask how does the sperm go in…
呃,医院打针见过吧?
Um, you’ve seen an injection in the hospital, right?
针头戳一下,药水推进去
The needle pokes all of sudden, and the medicine is pushed in
过程差不多
That’s the process, more or less
哦,想知道你怎么长成这么大的呀?
Oh, so you want to know how you grew up this big?
刚开始受精卵比你的头发丝还细呢
At the very start the fertilized egg was thinner than your hair
用眼睛是看不到的
Couldn’t be seen with eyes
精子那么小,所以针管一定很小?
Since the sperm is that small, so the needle must be really small?
不不不!这和注射器大小没有关系!
No! No! No! This has nothing to do with the syringe’s size!
啊,你问会不会和打针一样疼?
Ah, you’re asking does it hurt as much as an injection?
嗯,多少会疼那么一下吧
Um, I guess it will hurt like that just a bit**
总之,你要孝顺你妈,知道了吗?
Basically, you need to show filial piety to your mother, understand?
然后受精卵会分裂
Afterwards the fertilized egg will divide
一分二、二分四、四分八……
One into two, two into four, four into eight, etc.
接着呢,会形成组织器官
After that, it will take shape and organize organs
慢慢分化
Slowly differentiating
这样你就有了心肝脾肺肾,眼耳鼻舌喉等等零碎儿了
This way you have a heart, liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, throat, etc., odds and ends
什么?你妈说确定你是从垃圾堆里捡回来的?!
What? Your mom says she’s certain you were brought back from the garbage pile?!
我擦
Censored (“I erase”)
等等,我得去跟她聊聊……
Hold on, I need to have a chat with her…

(*P.S. — “…conceived in a small grove of trees” isn’t just some random joke. In memoirs we’ve read of China’s 1980′s, it was apparently not uncommon for couples to sneak out to public parks at night to fool around because they had nowhere else to go; living quarters were crowded and lacking privacy. I’m guessing that’s what they’re alluding to.)

(**P.P.S. — How would you translate this? 嗯,多少会疼那么一下吧)

More about Sex Ed (and the lack thereof) in China:

Abortion, AIDS, prostitution and gendercide:

Chinese proficiency in 1.7 years — *really*?

New Year’s is a great time to plan out language learning goals. But it helps to be smart about it.

onedoesnotsimplylearnchinese Chinese proficiency in 1.7 years    *really*?

There’s a language study infographic floating around comparing the difficulty of various languages for native English speakers. It says you need 1.69 years/2,200 classroom hours to reach proficiency in Chinese:

hardestlanguagescrop Chinese proficiency in 1.7 years    *really*?

People always disagree about how long it takes to learn Chinese, mostly because they talk about it with mushy terms: “learn Chinese”, “speak Chinese”, “know Chinese”, “fluent”, “proficient”, etc. I’m not gonna bother arguing with this graphic’s fuzzy term, but here are four other somewhat authoritative takes on how much time you need to learn Chinese. Accurate language learning expectations are important, so it’s well worth comparing.

Linguist John Pasden’s Sinosplice post “How long does it take to get fluent in Chinese?” quotes two Chinese experts. First, Da Shan aka Mark Rowswell aka the most famous foreigner in China:

2 years to lie on your resume and hope no Chinese speaker interviews you for a job…

5 years for basic fluency, but with difficulty.

10 years to feel comfortable in the language.

Second, Chinese linguist Dr. David Moser:

The old saying I heard when I first started learning Chinese was, “Learning Chinese is a five-year lesson in humility”. At the time I assumed that the point of this aphorism was that after five years you will have mastered humility along with Chinese. After I put in my five years, however, I realized the sad truth: I had mastered humility, alright, but my Chinese still had a long way to go. And still does.
[...]
My own experience, in a nutshell: French language students after 4 years are hanging out in Paris bistros, reading everything from Voltaire to Le Monde with relative ease, and having arguments about existentialism and debt ceilings. Chinese language students after four years still can’t read novels or newspapers, can have only simple conversations about food, and cannot yet function in the culture as mature adults. And this even goes for many graduate students with 6-7 or 8 years of Chinese.

Third, Joann Pittman, consultant, trainer, teacher, researcher, and writer with 28 years in China shares some research stats in her post, “How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese?” Among her conclusions:

Even though I started ‘learning’ Chinese 22 years ago, I don’t yet consider myself to have ‘learned’ Chinese
[...]
a learner with average aptitude should plan to spend 50 weeks (@30 hours per week) to reach limited working proficiency level

Fourth, linguist and Chinese textbook author Martin Symonds in our post, “Learning Mandarin: Realistic Expectations”:

Full-time Mandarin Study
# of years 1 2 4 8 !??!
Proficiency Level Survival Daily Living Minimum Work Full Work Native

Like Joann says, the point isn’t to scare people off or kill their enthusiasm for learning Chinese, but to give them realistic expectations so they can become better language learners, and craft their study according to their language goals.

There’s lots more in our Learning Mandarin topic.

civilizedchinese Chinese proficiency in 1.7 years    *really*?Make civilized students.
Constantly use the Common Speech. Everywhere use civilized language

文明学生
时时普通话处处文明

The 2013 Grinch Award (is for your educational benefit) [Updated]

[UPDATE: For sober and informed analysis of Christianity in China, ChinaSource.org is the best single source I know of.]

Just because a Chinese Christian is in trouble doesn’t mean they’re in trouble just because they’re a Christian. Their Christianity may have something to do with it, or it may have almost nothing to do with. China being as it is, the “whys” are usually a little more complicated and a lot more pragmatic. This is not the Mao Era.

Grinch The 2013 Grinch Award (is for your educational benefit) [Updated]I haven’t gone searching for instances of Christmastime crackdowns this year. But this one did cross my news feed, and it’s a fine example for helping people see that “China cracks down on a church” stories are not necessarily a case of a communist atheocracy’s thought police persecuting ideological dissenters. I’m not saying that ideologically-driven persecution doesn’t ever happen in today’s China, just that for any given instance chances are far greater it’s:

  • [a] motivated by something more tangible than ideology (like money, land or face; they probably aren’t being harassed just because they’re Christians), and
  • [b] initiated by local, not the central, authorities.

In this one, it appears that greedy local authorities won’t give a local church the land that’s owed them (land grabs are hardly uncommon in China), so the church has lawyered up, and the local authorities are not taking that very well.

If we look at the details the picture that emerges isn’t so much one of snuffing out Christmas or Christianity; it’s about fighting/punishing a local organization who refuses to let the gov’t take its land without a fight.

Crackdown stymies China church’s Christmas meeting

The canceled meeting at the church in Henan province’s Nanle county came during a month-long crackdown on the church over a land dispute that pits its popular preacher against the county government [...]

…their pastor, Zhang Shaojie, and more than a dozen of his aides have been detained by police for more than a month and denied access to their lawyers…

The case has drawn the scrutiny of rights lawyers and activists who say it exposes a county government’s ability to act with impunity against a local Christian church even if it is state-sanctioned. Supporters of the church say the county government reneged on an agreement to allocate it a piece of land for the construction of a new building, leaving them without a place of worship.

Now, it could be that this local government is on an illegal ideological witch hunt. It’s not like that hasn’t happened before in China. But, China being as it is, it’s much more likely that the local authorities see an opportunity to essentially steal land from a group whom they’ve calculated does not have the power to fight back and win. Land disputes in China are common as, well, dirt. Even we’ve known of legal, registered churches in land disputes with local authorities in both Chinese cities we’ve called home.

Anyway, point being that when you hear a Chinese church persecution story you must look at the details. These days Chinese Christians are relatively rarely persecuted for their beliefs themselves (generally speaking). More often it’s because of something related (or even unrelated): their church bucked the status quo, the government wants their land, they said something to foreign reporters that ticked off someone of consequence, they embarrassed the authorities by doing too much public charity, they caused trouble for the authorities by fighting injustice in the courts or media, there’s bad local history involving churches, the church leaders have bad/no guanxi, etc., etc. Some of those things are related to or a result of their Christianity, some aren’t. But either way, it’s much different from going after a group just because they call themselves Christians. In the above AP story, it’s apparently a legal, registered, “government-run” Three-Self Patriotic Church that’s in trouble.

Local officials don’t care what people believe; they care about money and about their careers — and if your group does something to mess with either of those two things (by not letting them rob you, or potentially making them look bad to their superiors), you risk retaliation.

Previous Grinch Awards:

***–> More on not thinking simplistically about Christianity in China: <--***

Pro-life in abortion-saturated China — What do you do?

(Before we begin…)

memorialforunbornchildren Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

  • If you or someone you’re close to has had an abortion, there is loving, compassionate help available here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
  • If you work in the abortion industry, there are former industry workers who will help you quit (quietly or as a whistle-blower), find a new job, and even provide legal help if needed.
  • If you’re pregnant and want help, you can find everything from a listening ear to a maternity home here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(If you know of other crisis pregnancy or post-abortion resources, please let me know!)

* * * * *

Abortion-saturated China

If you don’t read Chinese, what would you assume this ad — with it’s heart-shaped-hand-enveloped unborn child — is for?

chineseforloveabortionadcrop Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?
Painless Abortion Surgery 无痛人流术
Give love the safest guarantee 给爱最安全的保障
Because of love — for / give the unmet child 因为爱——给未谋面的孩子
Ultimately / in the end, the best gift 最后,最好的礼物

Chinese abortion rates are so high that Chinese temporary residents skew their host countries’ abortion stats. “Pro-life” encompasses more issues than abortion, issues for which China also provides plenty of fodder (China executes more people than pretty much everyone else, for example). But I’m betting abortion is the one that’s most in-your-face.

The reasons for this are many: a big, bold abortion industry + general aversions toward the Pill or condoms + zero support for unwed mothers + the One Child Policy + male chauvinism + collectivist identity that doesn’t recognize the inherent worth or intrinsic rights of the human individual + abortion as an enhancement of China’s ongoing legacy of infanticide + poor sex ed + casual attitudes toward abortion… Point being that the chances of personally encountering abortion-related situations in China are very, very high, whether your looking for them or not.

dismembermentiswrongextremists Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

For example, here’s a conversation a new coworker of mine had at her preschool branch just last week, on her 5th day in China:

Today the girls learned I had a huge family [she has 9 siblings]. One responded, “Your mother is very lucky, I dream of having many children in the next life.” Another responded that she already had her first child and needed to go have an abortion, do I have advice for her? Ahhh, what?!! I was like, “Oh, no! Are you sad?” She said, “Yes,” but remained totally expressionless, no big deal attitude and then kept on doing whatever she had been doing.

Imagine: it’s your 5th day in China, you’ve just learned “你好” and “谢谢“, you’re jet-lagged like anything, and a coworker asks you for advice on her impending One-Child Policy-mandated abortion.

Pro Life conscience, Abortion-saturated China

embryology textbook Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

For those of you who realize that the unborn are living human individuals and who believe in universal human rights, that denying basic human rights to an entire class of human beings for the purpose of legalizing their slaughter by the millions is a gross injustice; and that offering (for a fee) to dismember alive or chemically burn to death the babies of women in hardship enables, perpetuates and profits from systemic inequality and male chauvinism, here are some questions (others are welcome to comment, too):

How do you handle living in this abortion-saturated society? What do you do? If you’re semi-literate you’ve seen the “3-minute” “painless” abortion ads. If you have Chinese friends you’ve probably had or at least overheard deceptively casual “Oh I’ve gotta go get an abortion”-type conversations. How do you respond? How do you think you should respond? How do you wish you’d responded differently in the past? Do you know of resources or opportunities for people who want to help (pregnancy and maternity support charities, adoption route options, sex education projects, etc.)? Contact me personally if you don’t want the information out in public.

peopleandchoices275 Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?womendeservebetter275 Pro life in abortion saturated China    What do you do?

Some of our own abortion-in-China stories (more are on the way), including a hospital experience and some translated conversations and advertising are here:

Abortion & China:

How to: avoid seat belt fines while still unnecessarily risking your life in Chinese traffic

In China we usually couldn’t wear seat belts even if we wanted to. Taxi drivers have them tucked into the seats to get them out of the way, or they’re dirty and hard to pull out from lack of use. But recently I’ve noticed a lot of taxi drivers doing this:

Chineseseatbelt How to: avoid seat belt fines while still unnecessarily risking your life in Chinese traffic

They’ve started wearing the seat belt without clicking it into place. Every time I ask them they tell me how much money and how many points they’ll lose if a traffic camera catches them without a seat belt (something like 6 points and a few hundred 元 — I forget exactly but it’s steep).

Thoughts like: “I drive all day every day, maybe wearing this thing properly would be worth it” or “Since I’m pulling this thing over my lap anyway, I might as well click it into place and benefit” apparently haven’t crossed anyone’s mind. But how could they not?

Sure, it could just be that they don’t like feeling restricted. But I have a theory:* Chinese attitudes toward laws are different because law means something different here. And this seat belt behaviour at least partially reflects that. (*Yes, I’m making most of this up.)

Rule of law, rule by law & human nature

For North Americans, laws are for us, for the individual. It’s rule of law — at least in our heads. Our laws (in theory, ideally) exist to create equality, protect the common people from the powerful and maximize individual self-determination. Of course the reality differs greatly from the ideal, but the ideal exists and it’s on that basis that we (imagine that we) fight for, abide by or disobey laws, when we aren’t just being rebellious and sticking it to authority out of principle. Disobeying a good law or respecting a bad one runs counter to some of our deepest cultural ideals.

But in China, it’s rule by law. Laws are tools arbitrarily used by the rulers to control the masses; the average individual’s enhancement is not really part of the theoretical equation. For thousands of years. Our Western ideals are not part of China’s cultural DNA, even subconsciously. Instead there’s a pragmatic, power-calculating default posture: “What will happen if I don’t obey?” Compliance is just about avoiding fines from a newly-enforced law that wasn’t created with your well-being in mind. So a seat belt law, stiffly enforced to generate better traffic stats? Sure they’ll do what’s necessary to avoid the fines without stopping to imagine the personal benefit of the law itself, even if gaining that benefit only requires a split-second more effort. When laws aren’t for you, the idea that a new regulation might include a personal benefit doesn’t automatically spring to mind.

 How to: avoid seat belt fines while still unnecessarily risking your life in Chinese traffic

But let’s be clear: the cultural contrast I’m drawing here is in degree of tendency. When it comes to cross-cultural experience and behaviour differences, our differences are significant, but so is our common humanity.** People are people: take away the penalties and see how much North Americans respect the concept of rule of law, how much our behaviour is guided by principles! But Westerners’ are still significantly influenced by our cultural ideals and experience involving rule of law, ideals and experience that Mainland Chinese in general do not have. Significantly different historical-cultural influences lean on our human nature, resulting in different default behaviour.

At least that’s my theory. I know I’m stretching it. :) But I’m going to start asking drivers directly anyway, just for fun.

Our own Chinese traffic adventures, like taking video while pedaling one-handed through rush hour traffic in Tianjin, can be found here:

**P.S. - IMO, our differences are more profound than people typically realize. But so is what we have in common. IOW, we’re both more different and more similar than people usually imagine. (Internet acronyms FTW!)

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?