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China: Christianity vs. Communism

In China, the disappearance of blogs has become part of blogging life. Not an accepted part, however. More than just badges of blogger honor, the increasing number of Chinese blogs which have been blocked or deleted also serve as an indicator of just how many Chinese people find themselves at odds with the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) unwritten terms regarding what people can and cannot say on the internet, including opposition to their rule.

Sichuan native Wang Yi knows more about this than most. At five blogs and counting, not many Chinese bloggers can say they've been shut down as many times as the 33-year-old author, Chinese constitutional law expert and Chengdu University business administration instructor has. Wang is also a Christian, a group frequently targetted by authorities on the mainland. On a recent trip to Hong Kong he sat down for an interview with Open magazine to discuss his beliefs and his politics. He posted the interview on his blog [zh] this week and here is a translation of what Wang had to say:

我為甚麼信仰基督教?— Why I Believe In Christianity

An interview with Chinese legal and religious scholar Wang Yi conducted by Tsoi Wing-mui.

The three situations which lead to intellectual awakening

Question: I've heard you're a Christian. We see now that a large group of Chinese liberal intellectuals, including some civil rights lawyers, have started going to church. Why do we see this phenomenon?

Wang Yi: There's a few situations at play here. The several generations following 1949, including our own, all grew up with an atheist education. Our awakenings have taken place in different circumstances. Awakening for humanist intellectuals might be from an aesthetic point of view, with the realization that certain language is not accepted under the rule of the CCP. Underground literature and poems from the 1970s had their start with just such an awakening.

Another set of circumstances revolves around the awakening up to the worth, the value in pursuing a free democracy, of going back to the traditions of the May 4th movement and in politics, reconsidering and revolting against the CCP's one-party autocratic rule. During the whole of the 1980s, the so-called new enlightenment generation, this was the value in enlightenment. Including, of course, internal aesthetic enlightenment.

Q: And then?

Wang: The third is reconsidering spiritual awakening. For Chinese intellectuals, 1989 was a symbolic event. Prior to 1989, intellectuals attached importance to pursuing a free democracy. These sorts of pursuits have to do with the beliefs of many traditional Chinese intellectuals in that personal morality creates stable families which lead to healthy governance resulting in a peaceful world, as well as the sense of mission and self-awareness these sorts of Confucian scholar-bureaucrats have in taking on important tasks in society.

But to make the dream of democracy one's goal in life is quite dangerous. First, it's an easy dream to have shattered. Quite quickly you will come to realize there's no way for this dream to come true, like so many intellectuals who after 1989 became disillusioned and either compromised with society and the CCP or else became nihilistic and moved toward relativism, with no strength or energy to support their ideals. This is the reason the majority of intellectuals chose cynicism and surrendered.

Second, the minority of people who their whole life maintain faith in democracy and freedom keep that faith, despite the difficulty in doing so. But the worshipping of the painstaking does not mean one's is a worthy life, and cannot ensure that after democratization one will not become corrupt.

Q: I've heard Jiao Guobiao also believes in Christianity?

Wang: These last few years intellectuals on the mainland, especially those in pursuit of a free democracy, appear to be taking up the trend of believing in Christ. Many intellectuals have begun becoming Christians, novelists Bei Cun and Yu Jie for example, and from within the group of civil rights lawyers are Li Baiguang and Gao Zhisheng, among others. Many people have begun becoming more intimate with Christianity, including Jiao Guobiao who just recently has been reborn a Christian. Being reborn in my mind definitely needs this kind of belief. We must let the son of God be the lord of our lives and open our mouths in prayer and admit that belief is in our hearts. Only then can one undergo the baptism ceremony.

Moving from individualism to a higher source

Q: How did you get started on the path to Christianity?

Wang: I first encountered the bible when I was in university, but only for research purposes. Very early on I opposed the atheism of the CCP; not an atheist but also not yet a believer. I used to be very admiring and respectful of those who believed, but felt it would be impossible for me in this life to enter this this kind of realm. These few years as an intellectual in pursuit of freedom and democracy, with some personal effort I've earned the respect and praise of many people, but I've always kept aware of the complex of self-flattery and self-righteousness scholar-bureaucrats easily fall into.

When I began insisting on extremely bold political criticism and speech, that's when I began to receive a lot of pressure. My classes were stopped, my appointment was intervened upon, the propaganda department wouldn't let any mainstream media print my articles, even my family was harassed; when they received an intimidating anonymous letter, I began feeling not dread or fear but just a sort of exhaustion. I once took a very individualistic stance, often stressing why I had to write articles criticizing the CCP—because I didn't feel comfortable. I was the kind of person that couldn't accept anything but freedom. Not as an act for other people, but as my personal choice. Whenever feeling so exhausted—which led to feeling incapable—I would sometimes worry about the precariousness of these kinds of individualistic choices. If one day I find myself with less space to work in, would I just give up?

This is where faith begins, in questioning one's self. He's made me humble, allowed me to see that I too am a sinner, a disloyal person, despite that some people feel I've done some meaningful things. I've come to see that my strength comes from a higher source other than myself. I believe democracy and freedom are of universal importance, good and just, worth a lifetime of pursuit. But justice and goodness do not pour out from my inner being; I am not the source. I can only go and accept him, use a humble heart to receive him. This is how I slowly came to have faith in Christianity, accepting the love and justice within Christianity.

Two cases of persecution of churches shook me to the soul

Q: During the process of your entering the Christian faith, leading up to your revelation, had there been someone preaching to you?

Wang: Prior to that, while I had already started studying the bible, there were some friends, like Yu Jie, who were evangelizing to me, and I had begun attending some church meetings and activities; whenever I went to Beijing I would take part in Yu Jie's Ark Church services. But my becoming a Christian had a lot to do with the case of two churches which had received political persecution. One is the case of the Church of South China, one of the most tragic cases of the CCP's crackdown on Christian family churches these last few years.

In 2001 this church's priest Gong Shengliang and two other people as soon as they were put on trial were charged with the crimes of leading a cult, rape and intentional harm and were then sentenced to death. All sixty members of the Church of South China were either imprisoned or sentenced to hard labour. In April of last year two sisters of the Church of South China came to Chengdu, one of which is Gong Shengliang's little sister. I invited them and some of my intellectual friends in Chengdu to my house for a meeting, asked them to tell us about the Church of South China's case and of their beliefs.

They told us the circumstances of being persecuted, of being cruelly tortured into making confessions, how one sister was beaten to death by one of the guards and their being forced into admitting that their teacher and priest Gong Shengliang had raped them. That meeting had a huge impact on me. I could see on their faces a sort of divine glow. These country women with just elementary-school educations gave a great shock to these intellectuals. I felt as though I'd never before experienced the goodness of light or humanity. Prior to this I'd seen the documentary The Cross in China. This film had a great impact on mainland liberal intellectuals, including me.

After these two Church of South China sisters left, a meeting began in my home, a bible study group. In October last year we and several civil rights lawyers went together to investigate the Church of South China case. We and many sisters which Gong had been accused by the CCP of raping made a complete written and video recording. We saw the circumstances with which the entire Church of South China had been persecuted, and saw their devotional piety and purity. These were not the cultists and heretics from CCP propaganda.

Q: And the second case?

Wang: Was last year's Cai Zhuohua's bible-printing case. I was one of the members of the defense team. Last year I took part in two investigations and defenses of the case of Christian persecution. Last year I also attended meetings and bible studies which in the end confirmed my faith.

The pursuit of democracy and freedom is even firmer with belief in the Lord.

Q: Were there any dramatic details in this process?

Wang: There's one very dramatic event which led to my believing. In June last year I was atop a ladder in my home, looking for a book on the highest shelf of my bookcase and not being careful I lost my balance and fell. That time I had to get nine stitches and lay in bed for a month. After falling, while I was laying on the floor unable to move, at that moment I began to sing hymns and began to pray.

This was my first time to open my mouth in prayer. I feel this was a very symbolic and significant experience for me. That enormous bookcase of mine represents intellectuals’ knowledge, rationalism and conceit. We rely on knowledge and rationalism to seek truth. You feel as though you have grasped the truth, struggled against a despotic regime. You are standing on the side of justice, on the pinnacle of morality.

As a result I tumbled down from the highest place. At that moment I felt as though I had reached the extent of rationalism, I felt that intellectuals relying on their own strength have no way to arrive at the truth. Emptyhanded, I began to accept the revelation from above. To do so is to have a peaceful and joyous state of mind. This event had a very important significance in my believing.

Q: After you began to believe, was your undertaking of pursuing a free democracy all the more firm?

Wang: After intellectuals accepted belief in Christ, their understanding of free democracy became a step deeper than it had been during the 1980s and 1990s. For Christian intellectuals, a political community must be democratic and free, because people are all created from God, that's why all people are born equal. If we don't have that, we don't have the grounds to require other people treat us like brothers, and the strong will overcome the weak.

We often say the CCP's rule lacks legitimacy. If you don't have the people's consent, then who are you to govern me? Some dominating types might say, ‘what do I need you to agree for? I've got guns and cannons so why do I need you to agree?’ A political body is comprised of people coming together and it can only be a democratic and free one, because human equality and independence ultimately come from God.

For a Christian, this is just an entry point. As far as I'm concerned, in wanting to pursue a free democracy in China, it's a sense of mission! I cannot accept seeing a society that is not fair, just and free. Now having belief in the Lord, I'm much more steadfast than I was before. I've also observed that many liberal intellectuals after they take up Christianity have this kind of bravery and mission, and in this bravery develop humility, not self-pride.

Prayer meetings are ordinarily five to six hours

Q: The spread of Christianity in China is extremely pervasive, is that so?

Wang: It's not bad, evidently. In the 1980s and 1990s the spread of Christianity was primarily seen in countryside churches, less so in cities and among intellectuals. One was overseas churches coming back to preach, mainly centered in cities. Many preachers were Korean and overseas Chinese, including Taiwanese churches who did a lot of evangelization work on the mainland. The second type was Chinese countryside churches were rather developed, so in the 1990s they began moving towards the cities to evangelize.

Most importantly were Wenzhou city churches, as well as Henan province churches. These last few years has seen a trend of visible escalation of urban intellectual fellowships, including university student fellowships. Last year I went to one student fellowship in Chengdu and was surprised to see three of my own students in that fellowship. From this small example we can see that the spread of the gospel into the lives of intellectuals and students is quite extensive.

Q: Does the revival of Christianity have anything to do with China's current nihilism?

Wang: Of course. Ever since the 1980s and 1990s society has been discussing the problems of nihilism and the spiritual vacuum, the longing for a belief system. That's why a lot of people who have returned from overseas and go to the countryside churches are extremely shocked to see the piety of mainland Christians. The yearning for righteousness is totally different from overseas. When I was abroad I attended some Sunday services, usually just an hour and a half. On the mainland, though, including in my own home, meetings often go for five or six hours. While at the Church of South China, I saw that they all get up at five a.m. every morning, read the bible for half an hour and then pray straight until eight o'clock, everyday.

Many people when discussing Falun Gong will also bring up the problem of mainland China's belief vacuum. Recently Buddhism has been very prosperously spreading in cities and in the countryside, including among CCP cadres. Suining city in Sichuan province has very deep Catholic traditions. I went to Suining's Buyun town to investigate China's first county head direct elections and was surprised to see that ten villages have thirteen temples and one Catholic church. The strength of revival of religious belief in China today is extremely powerful.

The original version of the interview can be found here. The torture, forced confessions and executions mentioned above are tactics sometimes used in China's larger campaign against unauthorized religious activities. Ark Church, also mentioned above, is the focus of a documentary currently being filmed by Beijing or Bust blogger Wu Hao, who was detained by Chinese police in late February. Despite concerted efforts by Wu's family to secure his release, his whereabouts remain unknown to this day. Up-to-date information on Wu's situation can be found here.

1 comment

  • […] I read this article on Global Voices from China titled “Christianity vs. Communism”, which is an English translation of an interview with Chinese legal and religious scholar Wang Yi conducted by Tsoi Wing-mui from Open Magazine. Reading in the international press about the link between pro-democracy and the church movement within China is one thing, reading it from someone who is in the midst of it is even more meaningful, and really caused me to pause to understand more. […]

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