Is Shouwang a massive miscalculation that was doomed from the start?

Sinologist Brent Fulton offers some analysis of the ongoing standoff between the Chinese authorities and a large, defiant unregistered church in Bejing:

“the public declaration of Shouwang’s intentions and the subsequent media attention that was drawn to the actual outdoor event triggered a very predictable official response. Furthermore, by demanding not only that they be allowed to meet, but also that the government guarantee in writing their ability to do so, the Shouwang leadership pushed the government beyond what its current policies could accommodate. Honoring Showuang’s request would have entailed a broad policy change, with ramifications not only for Shouwang but for thousands of unregistered religious groups across the country. The officials with whom Shouwang was dealing had no authority to make such a decision.

“Such is the nature of religious policy and its implementation in China: accept the ambiguity of functioning within a gray area, and one is free to operate within certain limits; demand that the government define what is and what is not allowed, and the scope of one’s freedoms narrows significantly.” [Link]

3 thoughts on “Is Shouwang a massive miscalculation that was doomed from the start?”

  1. In my view Shouwang is going the wrong way about being recognised and tolerated if not accepted by the Chinese Government. It would be far more effective if Shouwang formed an alliance with other religious groups and not just Christians. The government is able to reduce the damage it perceives is being done to Chinese society by dealing with each group one by one. Showang should appeciate their organisation is not the biggest religious headache the Government has. At the moment, it’s the fact that the Pope won’t recognise Archbishops selected by the Government that is causing the most concern. The second biggest concern is the increasing influence of Tibetan Buddhism and that the Kamapa of the Karma Kargyu sect has replaced the Dali Lama in but all but name as the spiritual head of the exiled Tibetan Community as well as in Tibet itself. The third biggest concern for the Chinese government that has religious as well as ethnic origins is the killing of nearly 30 Muslims in Hotan and Kashgar over the past two weeks.

    While Shouwang try to get the authoraties to allow then to do what they want the Chinese authoraties will just resort to the old game of ‘Divide and Rule.’

  2. Divide and rule certainly is a big part of the authorities M.O. I don’t know how much networking goes on between different religious groups in China, so I don’t know how much of an option that was for them or not, but no doubt the authorities would keep a sharp eye out for that sort of thing.

    I think it’s an interesting situation to observe because it’s not so clear-cut either way, especially when we consider the circumstances that led Shouwang to choose this particular public stance. I linked to an article a while back called “The Debate About Shouwang Church”, don’t know if you saw it, which looks at the church’s statement and outlines some criticisms, but the link seems to be giving me trouble at the moment. I found part of it quoted here.

    I also find observing foreign reactions to it interesting. Foreigners often enthusiastically talk like they’re all for Chinese people standing up for themselves, a ‘stick it to the Man’ sort of attitude, but when Christians do it, suddenly the enthusiasm is conspicuously diminished. Personally, I have a lot of questions about why Shouwang chose the road they did, but at the end of the day I’ll defer to them, since (a) they’re the insiders and (b) it’s their necks on the line, not mine.

  3. The best, fastest way to get your head kicked in by the chinese charlatan party is to connect with other groups. Connecting across social/regional/other boundaries is very closely monitored. One of the reasons behind the beijing massacre was that the students were being joined by workers. And, they dont control religious groups because theyre worried about the people, they do it because in the past religious groups have provided networks from which were launched powerful attacks on imperial power. Thats why the shaolin got shut down.

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