The Chinese state church’s call to worship song

During a recent Sunday lunch one of our kids mentioned, “Our Sunday school teacher told us we had to be quiet because we’re in God’s temple.”

chineseJesuschildrenWe told her the Sunday school teacher was wrong. (No hard feelings toward the teacher; you can’t expect volunteer Sunday school teachers to be theologians or exegetes, but temples and church buildings aren’t the same thing theologically or functionally.)

It’s not hard to guess why she would have said that: between the lyrics of the 3-Self Patriotic Church‘s opening song and Chinese Christians’ penchant for big church buildings with serious, stately services — our friend was turned away at the door of Qingdao’s flagship 3-Self church just last Sunday because she was wearing flip-flops and therefore “didn’t have a worshipful heart,” “wasn’t obedient to God,” and would “disturb other worshipers” — Chinese state churches send the “temple” message every week.

But if you’re going to spend Sunday mornings in a Chinese state church, this song, along with the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, are probably the most useful bits of Chinese to learn first.
tspm_choir
《主在圣殿中》 is the Chinese version of the 1872 hymn “The Lord is in His Holy Temple (Quam Dilecta)” by George F. Root (1820-1895) and based on Habakkuk 2:20. It’s sung by the choir as the call to worship (i.e. the “everyone quiet down we’re starting now” song). Usually the congregation just listens, but it’s musically interesting and you might want to sing along, doctrinal shortcomings notwithstanding. ;)

《主在圣殿中》
主在圣殿中 / zhǔ zài shèngdiàn zhōng
主在圣殿中 / zhǔ zài shèngdiàn zhōng
普天下的人 / pǔtiānxiàde rén
在主面前都应当肃静 / zài zhǔ miànqián dōu yīngdāng sùjìng
肃静 肃静 / sùjìng sùjìng
应当肃静 / yīngdāng sùjìng
阿们 / āmen

Original:
The Lord is in His holy temple,
the Lord is in His holy temple;
Let all the earth keep silence,
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
Keep silence, keep silence before Him.
tspm_chinglish

Chinese state church Sunday school Lord’s Prayer (video)

The cute last few seconds of the 7-year-old-and-under Sunday school class at the Chinese state church we attend on Sunday mornings (the very end is the best part!):

(It’s a YouTube video, so you’ll need a VPN in China.)

Learn the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed in Chinese here.

Wangjiaxiahe Christian Church, Qingdao, China

wangjiaxahe Sunday morning at Wangjiaxiahe Christian Church 王家下河基督教堂 in Qingdao’s Licang district 青岛市李沧区。

Dear everyone: You’re awesome!

chinese choir kid
Before going on stage to sing in a rain of bubbles this past Easter, a Sunday school kid from Qingdao’s Licun Christian Church is feeling good. 李村基督教会(三自爱国教会)。

Easter play in a Chinese church, Qingdao, China

An Easter play at the Licun Christian Church (3-Self Patriotic Church) in Qingdao, China.Chinese church Easter playChinese church easter playFor more about Easter in China, the Three-Self Patriotic Church (Chinese legal, government-administrated Protestant church), or this church in particular, see:

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

[UPDATE: After supposedly striking a deal to save the church building, gov’t seals off access and tears it down. Scroll to bottom for more photos and quotes.]

* * * * *

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:

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

…specifically, by painting “demolish” and “illegal construction” on the outside of the building. I suspect that got church-goers’ attention:

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 the 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.

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.

Update: Demolition

(Images and quotes from this Telegraph article and @tomphillipsin.)

Near the root of this conflict are provincial and local gov’t concerns that Christianity in Wenzhou is growing out of control:

Provincial authorities deny they are waging an orchestrated campaign against Christian places of worship. However, Feng Zhili, the head of Zhejiang’s ethnic and religious affairs committee, complained earlier this year that Christianity’s spread had been “too excessive and too haphazard”.

See where this church sat along the highway:

And so they got the occupiers out and neutralized, sealed off access, and brought in the excavators:

After mounting their high-profile occupation in early April, many protesters withdrew from Sanjiang church after its leaders appeared to have negotiated a compromise with the government.

However, that deal appears to have broken down in recent days with reports that some church leaders and worshippers had been harassed and detained by security agents and officials.

“All the roads are blocked, you can’t get close to the church,” said a local Protestant leader, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the government.

Photographs sent to The Telegraph and posted on social media sites showed at least four excavators that appeared to be ripping down large sections of the church’s exterior.

Other images showed black police vans, military trucks and security agents standing on the main road outside.

Church members told The Telegraph authorities had attempted to silence the congregation and said they believed their communications were being monitored. “My phone is not safe,” said one.

Asked to comment on Monday’s demolition, a propaganda official from Zhejiang’s Communist Party Committee said, “I don’t know” before the line went dead.

(Full article here.)

There are still appeals to Beijing, even from the head of China’s gov’t-controlled seminary:

In an unusual step, Chen Yilu, the head of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, spoke out against the provincial government’s “crude and hard-line” handling of the Sanjiang church crisis.

In a strongly-worded commentary that has been circulating online, Mr Chen said the incident would damage the Communist Party’s image as well as harming “social stability”. He called on Beijing to “intervene as soon as possible to avoid further deterioration”.

But, as they say, “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away” (山高皇帝远).


More from this particular soapbox:

Christmas Eve… with Chinese characteristics

Christmas Eve, 2008 (written at 4:30pm)
When I parked my bike outside the gym before lunch, “Uncle” Li, who watches the bikes and sometimes feels my pants to see if I’m wearing enough layers, was talking with his taxi driver buddies trying to figure out which comes first: Peaceful Night (平安夜/Christmas Eve) or Christmas. “Christmas Eve is tomorrow, right? And today is Christmas?” he guessed. Less than two hours later I eavesdropped on the same basic conversation in a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop while eating lunch, except this time the chef guessed correctly.

Santa Claus decorations are everywhere, but Christmas isn’t all that meaningful to the average Mainlander; even some Mainland Christians have told me how the holiday doesn’t really mean anything special to them. Everyone still goes to work like any other day, even the English teachers. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t noticeable curiosity in something that many Mainlanders see as exotic. Every year Christmas services in Tianjin are packed, even by Chinese standards (I suspect this might also be due to the relatively small number of churches).

The two main churches in town are “Old XÄ«kāi” (老西开), a French cathedral in what’s become the most popular and trendy shopping district, and ShānxÄ« Road (山西路), a TSPM church not too far away from XÄ«kāi Cathedral. Tonight at ShānxÄ« Lù, for example, one of our English teacher friends says her students plan to get there at 4:30 for a Christmas Eve service that starts at 7:00 because they’re afraid they might not all get seats otherwise.

XÄ«kāi is offering an English-language “foreign passport holders only” service in a building next door to the cathedral at 6:30pm, and a Chinese-language midnight mass that is open to all (I assume, as I’m going). The only Chinese nationals in attendance at the English-language service will be the choir. Part of the rationale for not having the English service in the cathedral, which is beautiful, is because it’s Christmas Eve and it would be difficult to hold the service amidst the hordes of local tourists who will be running around taking pictures. Part of the rationale for forbidding locals to attend an English language church service presided over by a foreigner is… outside the scope of this post. (Photo at left is not from XÄ«kāi.) You can read XÄ«kāi’s English introduction for yourself here.

Originally we were getting sent by the magazine to do some PR at a 5-star hotel Christmas banquet, but that fell through at the last minute. Jessica has a miserable cold and is going to bed early, otherwise I’d suggest we take a stab at both churches. Instead, I’ll go alone and meet a friend at the midnight mass. I know, I’m a terrible husband, sneaking off without my wife to go to church on Christmas Eve! In the morning we’ll skype our families.

In Tianjin it’s easy for Christmas to come and go without feeling like it’s come and gone — I want something significant and meaningful to mark the event. Plus I’m curious to see the local Tianjin Christmas curiosity for myself. I wonder if the crowds will be less at a midnight mass this year on account of it being midnight on a weekday. We’ll see! It will be maybe my second time ever to attend any kind of mass.

[*…fast-forward about eight hours…*]

Christmas Morning, 2008 (written at 12:20am)
The banner says (I think):

“Celebrate/congratulate Jesus holy birth”
慶賀耶稣聖誕
qìnghè Yēsū shèngdàn

Legions of police were deployed for crowd control for blocks around the church. I arrived just after 11pm (an hour early). I joined the crowd and was effectively herded in one side door of the church, past the altar, and out the other side door. On the way in some people (who were almost all young people) stopped to light candles. A kid next to me made the sign of the cross while walking past the altar. The seating area, which was packed solid wall to wall with several hundred, maybe over a thousand people, was roped off. I didn’t have time to even think about pulling out the camera and finding a seat was out of the question. Shannon’s English students who went three hours early to the ShānxÄ« Lù church had the right idea. We exited the church grounds through the main gate, where cops with megaphones told us to hurry it up.

The cathedral is in Tianjin’s biggest trendiest outdoor shopping district, and tonight it was literally “people mountain people sea” (人山人海). It was a real festival atmosphere, with lots of street food vendors, balloons, young people, a stage show with clowns, and that special battery-powered bling Chinese love so much (most popular battery-powered headgear: Santa hats with flashing red hearts, devil horns, bunny ears, and carnival masks).

Christmas is seen by many as a lovers’ holiday somewhat akin to Valentine’s Day, and of course, a time to shop. Thousands of midnight shoppers wanted to come take photos of the cathedral and they crowded around the police lines with their cameras. With all the police barricades, it took me 15 minutes to walk from the church back to my bike; normally that’d be a one minute walk. This was the scene facing away from the cathedral’s main gate toward the shopping streets:

I am cold and sleepy and going to bed! Merry Christmas! 圣诞快乐!