House arrest with Chinese characteristics

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to visit someone under house arrest in China (who’s allowed visitors), here’s a translated first-hand account:

“I pressed 9 button for the 9th floor, someone immediately began to examine us with an investigative look. I avoided that suspicious eye-contact… As soon as I came out of the elevator, I was stunned as I was already facing a desk with an appointment book with visitors’ names and their IDs. Obviously, this place has been turned into a formal mini-office and I found this both funny and annoying. A policewoman stood at the side of desk and was ready for the confrontation. When she saw my eyesight turned right in search of Tianming’s door, she seemed to know that we were visitors instead of tenants on the 9th floor. So the questioning started…

“Tianming is receiving the highest standard of the house arrest as both the police and DSPS agents not only have the office desks, they also have foldable beds. It is said only security guards and doorkeepers are hired for regular members of the church and they have only camp chairs and recliners.
“For Tianming … seeing so many brothers and sisters of Shouwang Church … detained, interrogated, released each week and seeing so many people forced to move or fired from jobs, it is more miserable and harder to endure than if he experienced these himself. Now, …the sheep are being beaten but the shepherds cannot stand out to fend off the blows. It is hard to describe in words how heart-wrenching it is to see all this happening around him.”
[Link: Visit to Pastor Jin Tianming.]

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]

Happy Easter, China [Update 5] — Persecution, resistance & Sunday morning attendance are on the rise

Discussion & Analysis
This translated article provides a partial window into Beijing’s rationale for its harshest repression in over 20 years:
Does This Help Explain the Recent Crackdown?
“The reader will see the importance of this article as revealing the kind of advice currently being given by researchers to the government at the highest level. It may explain why there is no thaw in religious policy and continuing pressure on the house-churches.

“The entire translation … deserves careful reading, but for now we should just note that the Chinese author mixes some fact with a considerable amount of fantasy to concoct a scenario which must be horrifying to his readers. Clearly, he either willfully hides what he knows, or is hindered by massive ignorance of the essence of Christianity, both in the West and in China. His own cultural and political blinders make it impossible for him to understand either the history of Christianity in China or its present condition. Readers of the entire article will sense confusion and repetition in his argument, obviously caused by fear and prejudice.
[…]
“…this article seems to fit the general “Red” revival taking place in China; as such, it represents a definite backward trend that has affected the information and security sectors of the government, and accords with the strong insistence upon Chinese nationalism that has fueled important foreign policy moves in the past year.”

People’s University prof’s appeal on behalf of the persecuted
“The significance of this case goes far beyond just one church; it involves the entire enterprise of China’s progress in protecting human rights and property rights. Only by establishing institutions and procedures that citizens can use effectively … can the abuse of governmental power (and not just personal corruption), which is disastrous for the country and calamitous for the people, be successfully stopped.”

How should foreign Christians respond? How about: by keeping quiet?
“Considering the historic, and now heightened, suspicion by the Chinese government that Chinese Christians are tools of American strategic policy, however, I think we should keep quiet for a while.”

Beijing’s Theology of Repression
“China is cracking down on Christians who consider God, not the Communist Party, the head of the church.”

Recent Developments
Authorities go after bosses and landlords

World Vision pressures employee to quit

State church pastors aid police interrogations, forced internal repatriation

Police force entry and deportation out of their jurisdiction

Another internal deportation

Setting up a legal committee

On Sunday #14, attendance is up

Previous Updates

Happy Easter, China [Update #4] — Treatment of detainees deteriorates, shift in interrogation tactics

China’s official Three-Self church is now helping interrogate Sunday morning detainees.

Nastiness, hacking & “education”
“We understand officers in the police stations tend to be a little nervous in this sensitive period, but we still don’t understand why officers from a few police stations showed signs that they are ignorant of the law and lack humanitarianism… May God have mercy on those people in this country who do such ignorant things as this.”

Why We Won’t Join the Three-Self Patriotic Association
“In reality, however, what we see is that, precisely because of this non-separation of church and state, a very ironic phenomenon has resulted: a Three-Self organization in name that claims to promote self-governance, self-support and self-propagation of churches but cannot achieve the same self-governance, self-support and self-propagation of itself.”

Interrogation Tactics Shift
“This clearly shows that the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee, which is ultimately controlled by the Communist Party, is directly involved…”

No Response to Pastors’ Joint-Petition

Shouwang Church Awaits Breakthrough Discussions with Authorities

Crammed onto Buses (The American Spectator)

Why Do Christian Groups in China Put Authorities on Red Alert? (Time)

Should the China Ambassador Worship at a House Church? (CT)

Church-state clash will tell China’s future (TNT)

Previous Updates:

Happy Easter, China [Update #3] — Formal petition calls Beijing out

*Update on the update*: Start watching at 21:30 of this report to see actually footage of what actually happens each Sunday.

Cyberattacks, house arrests, detainings, evictions, firings, internal deportations and other harassments continue, but that hasn’t stopped the embattled unregistered church from continuing to meet publicly outdoors for seven consecutive Sundays as of last Sunday. They say they’ll continue meeting outdoors until Christmas or until the authorities allow them to rent indoor spaces or occupy the property they’ve purchased. Translated recent public statements from the church are here, here and here. Meanwhile seventeen similar groups across China have formally petitioned the government (read the English translation here), requesting changes to outdated regulations that they blame for creating the current problem. Overseas Chinese are also organizing support.

Mainstream media coverage:

You can find an on-going news roundup on this story here, provided the website manages to continue fending off the hackers.

Previous updates:

Happy Easter, China [Update #2]

Unfortunately, this “showdown” has the potential to get quite ugly.

Letter from a Beijing Pastor
This translated letter from a Beijing church pastor shares his recent experience in detention, the escalating threats he’s faced, and his message for the Chinese authorities.

Why They Refuse to Stop Meeting Outdoors
“Shouwang vows to continue the showdown until Christmas in hopes of ending Achilles’ heel of unregistered churches: government pressure on landlords.”

Don’t pick a fight with China’s Christians
“…if the State really is seeking a confrontation with [unregistered Christians] then it is bearding a far bigger and potentially dangerous tiger than the liberal fringes that it has attacked so far…Forcing Christians to chose between their loyalty to their Church and their State is a choice that many don’t want to make, but they will, if pushed.”

Counting China’s Christians
“There are as many Christians in China as there are members of the Communist Party.”

Escalation expected

Previous China Easter 2011 news updates:

Eye-catching slice-of-life pictures from Beijing

Here’s an eye-catching photo gallery of regular people doing regular things in Beijing. Here’s what some of the Chinese commentors had to say:
“I am a chinese guy, i have to say this subject is the worst ever. The photographer showed us only boring pieces lives of chinese people, nothing more.”
“I’m a Beijing native, I will have to say, most of the pictures are really realistic, and driving me homesick.”
“Is is the real life.”