Posts tagged with: china

Earlier this month Forum 18 published an article that examined whether the establishment of a law regarding religion at a national level would be a positive step toward ending the sometimes arbitrary and uneven treatment of religious freedom issues throughout the country.

In “Would a religion law help promote religious freedom?” Magda Hornemann writes, “For many years, some religious believers and experts both inside and outside China have advocated the creation of a comprehensive religion law through the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.” The argument in favor of the establishment of such a law is that “the rights of religious believers would be better protected by being clearly stipulated and codified in an objective law of the land.”

The consensus at Forum 18 is that a law by itself would be no real positive step. After all, “Despite the words contained in China’s laws and regulations, what is even more important is how those words are interpreted – which in turn is affected by one’s view on the roles played by laws and regulations in society.”

Here’s Forum 18′s conclusion:

Without an independent judiciary, even a well-crafted law is likely to fail on its first try. Yet, it is clear that an independent judiciary is not possible within the existing political-legal context. As long as the state remains authoritarian, and while the political and legal culture remain unchanged, it also seems likely that a comprehensive religion law will not in itself end arbitrary state moves that inhibit the religious freedom of China’s citizens.

Even so, the implications of a new human rights group in China may mean that the establishment of a uniform religious law is a positive first step.

The current issue of Christianity Today features a profile on the Human Rights Protection Movement (HRPM). The HRPM is an association of “lawyers, pastors, journalists, and human rights leaders across China,” who “are trying out the strategies of the historic American civil rights movement, using litigation, media publicity, and nonviolent protests.”

In “China’s New Legal Eagles,” Tony Carnes examines in particular the legal aspects of the HRPM. That is, the HRPM provides legal defense for those who cannot afford it and challenges the Chinese government on the basis of its own written and established laws. Thus, oftentimes “the Chinese government is caught between its rhetoric proclaiming the rule of law and its practice of ignoring or abusing the law when it suits its purposes.”

This method of appealing to the current set of laws to defend freedom is one that is also used by International Justice Mission (IJM), for example, in fighting the international slave trade. IJM works “to rescue victims and to bring accountability to perpetrators through the enforcement of a country’s domestic laws.”

The basis for the work of many of the evangelical lawyers and activists in the HRPM is their Christian faith. Fan Yafeng, an influential constitutional scholar in Beijing, makes an compelling observation regarding Christianity in China: “We are seeing the intersection of law and religion in China. More and more Chinese public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China.”

What Yafeng is claiming about the relationship between Christianity and China today has often been repeated about the relationship between Christianity and the West.

In a 2004 essay, “A Time of Transition,” German philosopher and secularist Jürgen Habermas wrote, “Christianity, and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Over sixty years earlier German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of his historical context in an essay from his Ethics, “Church and World”:

Reason, culture, humanity, tolerance, autonomy—all these concepts, which until recently had served as battle cries against the church, against Christianity, even against Jesus Christ, now surprisingly find themselves in very close proximity, to the Christian domain. This happened at a point in time when everything Christian had been driven into a tight corner as never before, when the central Christian tenets were being emphasized in their sternest, most uncompromising, and most offensive form to reason, culture, humanity, and tolerance. Indeed, in exactly the reverse proportion that everything Christian was attacked and driven into a corner, it gained these concepts as allies, and thereby a scope of unimagined breadth

Later on Bonhoeffer reiterates the point quite stunningly:

It is not Christ who has to justify himself before the world by acknowledging the values of justice, truth, and freedom. Instead, it is these values that find themselves in need of justification, and their justification is in Jesus Christ alone. It is not a “Christian culture” that still has to make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; instead, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and claim for these higher values and their defenders who have been made to suffer.

Sadly, abuses of the rule of law in China are commonplace and Forum 18’s concerns about the independence and consistency of the judiciary are certainly relevant. Such concerns become even more pressing in the light of recent moves by the Chinese government to restrict the flow of information about court cases.

But these issues notwithstanding, the efforts of groups like HRPM show that appeals to the existing laws, within the context of the normative rule of law, can be an effective way to work for the protection of religious freedom. It may well be that a uniform, comprehensive, and objective national religion law would help rather than hinder the work of these evangelical “legal eagles.”

As Daniel Pulliam writes at GetReligion, “Those of us who have heard from Christian Chinese missionaries, perhaps at a church function, know that Christianity could change China.” The HRPM is an example of one way in which such positive changes can be accomplished.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Profit is a valid motivation for business and, generally speaking, a company that pursues profits within the bounds of law and morality will be fulfilling its purpose admirably.

But profit is an instrumental good rather than a final good, and so there are sometimes extraordinary circumstances that place additional moral obligations on business.

For an edifying story about a company that responded well to such circumstances, see US News & World Report on the financial firm Keefe, Bruyette, and Woods in its 9/11 issue.

For a less heartening story about businesses whose fulfilment of such obligations is at least doubtful, see Business Week‘s exposé of American tech companies’ dealings with the Chinese government.

Admitteldy, the issues in the latter story aren’t cut and dried. Companies can’t possibly be expected to control the uses to which their products are put. The defense offered by Thomas Lam of Cisco is compelling: “The networking hardware and software products that Cisco sells in China are exactly the same as we sell in every market in the world. It is our users, not Cisco, that determine the applications they deploy.”

But when a company is dealing with a government that has as spotty a human rights record as China’s, it should be especially circumspect, I think. To the contrary, Cisco and others have apparently catered to the country’s oppressive system, marketing their goods as “strengthening police control” and “increasing social stability.”

That seems not quite right.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tension between China and Taiwan is one of the more troubling matters in geopolitical affairs. Now AsiaNews reports that trade between China and Taiwas increased by 15 percent in the first half of 2006.

It’s been said that “where goods cross borders, armies don’t,” a reference to the fact that historically nations with commercial ties rarely go to war against each other. Without reading too much into one trade report, it may be a hopeful sign for the prospects of peace in southeast Asia.

Here’s a summary of a piece over at Forum 18:

Economics has a large effect on China’s religious freedom, Forum 18 News Service notes. Factors such as the need of religious communities for non-state income, significant regional wealth disparities, conflicts over economic interests, and artificially-induced dependence on the state income all provide the state with alternative ways of exercising control over religious communities. Examples where economics has a noticeable effect on religious freedom include, to Forum 18′s knowledge, the Buddhist Shaolin Temple’s business enterprises, clashes between Buddhist temple personnel and the tourism industry, the demolition of a Protestant church in Zhejiang Province, the expropriation of Catholic properties in Xian and Tianjin for commercial development, the dependence of senior state-sanctioned religious leaders on the state for personal income, and competition between and amongst registered and unregistered religious groups. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of economic clashes is the state, which can use both control of income and also favouritism in economic conflicts to restrict religious freedom.

The Voice of the Martyrs News & Prayer Update also passed this along from the China Aid Association:

A pastor in the Three-Self Church in Pinglu County, Shanxi Province was prohibited from preaching and forced to leave the church by the Religious Affairs Bureau. The Pinglu Church invited a Hong Kong-based American pastor, Dennis Balcombe (Chinese name Bao Dening), to visit the church. The evening of July 9th, the head of the Pinglu Religious Affairs Bureau, Zhang Lianjie, came to the church and tried to dismiss the Bible classes and forbid the children to listen to Bible stories. He returned the next day with more officials, forcing the elders to retract their invitation to Pastor Bao Dening. In spite of immense pressure, church activities continued. On July 24th, Zhang came again and announced that a meeting would be held the next day to “discuss” Pastor Hu Qinghua’s leaving Pinlu. All the members of TSPM (Three-Self-Patriotic Movement) and CCC (Chinese Christianity Council) were to be at the meeting. The meeting began at 6 p.m. and the elders enumerated the achievements of Pastor Hu since taking charge of the church. The meeting continued till 11 p.m., but no matter how hard the elders insisted, Zhang Lianjie declared that Pastor Hu Qinghua had to leave Pinglu Church immediately. Pastor Hu Qinghua has left Pinglu, but he still tries to comfort and encourage the brothers and sisters in Linglu Church, by phone, to stand firm in the truth.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Do economic, political, and religious freedom go together? Rodney Stark, writing in his recent book The Victory of Reason, says that “It seems doubtful than an effective modern economy can be created without adopting capitalism, as was demonstrated by the failure of the command economies of the Soviet Union and China.” He also writes,

There are many reasons people embrace Christianity, including its capacity to sustain a deeply emotional and existentially satisfying faith. But another significant factor is its appeal to reason and the fact that it is so inseparably linked to the rise of Western Civilization. For many non-Europeans, becoming a Christian is intrinsic to becoming modern. Thus it is quite plausible that Christianity remains an essential element in the globalization of modernity.

It is estimated that there are at least 100 million Christians living in China. Acton’s president Rev. Robert A. Sirico, writing in the Detroit News, says, “All of us who have an economic stake in China’s booming economy also have a responsibility to understand what is happening in religious matters.” He notes that “religious liberty sounds like chaos to Chinese authorities.”

He goes on to say,

The communists believed the same thing about free enterprise: It was nothing but anarchy and unplanned production. The reality turned out differently. If people organize their own economic lives, as workers, consumers and producers, remarkable things can happen.

So it is in the religious sphere. Freedom of religion can work for all people. Just as a free-market economy was an institution that came about gradually, the Vatican has reason to hope that the same will be true with religious liberty. The first step is diplomatic relations. From that follows more openness and more leverage.

In writing about religious economies, Stark concludes, “Clearly, a free market religious economy favors robust, energetic organizations.”

Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky writes about one aspect of the illiberal regime in China with respect to religious practice. In a Townhall.com column, Olasky says, “Charitable groups are rare in China, in part because government officials resist admitting that they need help in caring for the poor and oppressed. Chinese Christians, though, would like permission to establish homes for the elderly, hospitals, Christian schools and programs for recent migrants to cities.”

Whether by direct oppression or regulation through bureaucratic registration, religious freedom is severely limited in China. The Persecution Blog, sponsored by The Voice of the Martyrs, blogs daily on the situation facing the persecuted church. Stacy Harp passes along this pointed question from Todd Nettleton, Director of News Services with The Voice of the Martyrs, “If registration is the answer for Chinese Christians, then why was a registered church raided by police?”

Forum 18 reports that even the scholarly study of religion is restricted in China: “There is much frustration amongst scholars with their inability, due to the state’s sensitivity, to conduct research on religion and religious communities in contemporary China.”

For more on religious freedom in China and around the world, visit these sites:

  • Forum 18, based in Oslo, Norway, and is “committed to religious freedom for all on the basis of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

  • China Aid, “advocacy for the persecuted faithful in China.”
  • The Voice of the Martyrs, “a non-profit, interdenominational organization with a vision for aiding Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ, fulfilling the Great Commission, and educating the world about the ongoing persecution of Christians.”
  • Center for Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, which “defends against religious persecution of all groups throughout the world,” and which, I am told, is looking for a program director at its Washington, DC offices.

Update: More news here and here about the Chinese government’s demolition of an unlicensed church building and the resulting clash with protesters. (HT: CT Blog)

In an earlier post on illicit Catholic ordinations in China, I noted that there appeared to be a rift developing between the Patriotic Association and the rest of the government. Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen confirmed that impression in remarks he made yesterday in Rome, as reported by AsiaNews:

The Patriotic Association wanted “it to be a slap in the face, but actually, they were defeated by the clear statement of the Holy See, to which the government responded very mildly”, continued Cardinal Zen.

The Chinese neo-cardinal said this low-key response meant that the government “has accepted this new evolution of the situation”. He added: “The Chinese government had clearly told Liu Bainian [PA vice-chairman] to stop these ordinations.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, May 12, 2006

It’s been in the news for a few days already, but the charges and countercharges continue to fly. Anyone familiar with Catholicism in China knows that the Vatican and the Chinese Communist government have been more or less at loggerheads ever since Mao Zedong drove Catholicism underground. At the heart of the dispute is the Vatican’s insistence on its right to appoint bishops; the Chinese government sees this as “foreign interference” in domestic affairs. The government’s Patriotic Association (PA) is the bureau in charge of Catholicism in China. Complicating the matter is the fact that many (nearly all?) the bishops appointed by the PA have subsequently and clandestinely sought ex post facto approval from the Vatican, thereby normalizing their status as leaders of the local churches.

Of late, there had appeared some indications that relations were thawing. The Vatican expressed its willingness to establish full diplomatic relations with China—it’s one of a few countries that officially recognizes only Taiwan—if only the government would decisively concede the point about episcopal appointments. But earlier this week the PA ordained two bishops without the pope’s approval—indeed, in the face of warnings from Rome. That blew another chill wind across Vatican-China relations.

We at Acton have generally taken an optimistic stance on China, hoping that economic and political engagement would eventually bring about prosperity, openness, and political and religious freedom. Chinese authorities seem determined to call into question that optimism.

Yet glimmers of hope remain. AsiaNews has an extraordinarily thorough and informative roster of stories on the latest dispute here. Reading them provides a sense of the complexity of the Chinese religious situation. One senses that there may be a conflict between the PA and the broader Chinese government over this issue of Catholic bishops. That is, the PA, fearful of the loss of power, is trying to reassert its traditional prerogatives. But the rest of the government is more interested in fostering international goodwill by improving relations with the Vatican—especially ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. One hopes that the PA loses that fight, and that religious freedom, which is a vital correlate of political and economic freedom, takes a big step forward in China.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 27, 2006

A number of bloggers have expressed grave concerns over Google’s decision to accomodate the demands of the communist government in its web search offerings in China.

David Mills at Mere Comments writes that Google is “serving a brutal government and helping it oppress its people, even if its service will prove only partially effective.” He complains that Google’s motives are purely pecuniary, and that the company is only acceding to the government’s wishes because “If it didn’t help the Chinese government oppress its people, it wouldn’t make much money in China.” Mills notes that Google is following Microsoft and Yahoo search engines in making these concessions

It seems a pretty easy judgment to make: Google is selling out. My first instinct is to agree and throw my lot in with those condemning Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google executives have described it as a “difficult decision.” But Mills writes, “There is no ethical dilemma, because they do not have to do business in China at all.”

But this is the point at which such judgments themselves are rather simplistic and superficial. First of all, Google does have a responsibility to its shareholders to seek out new areas of profitability, and the most populous nation on the planet can hardly be overlooked.

The fact is that the people of mainland China are living under a repressive regime. The lack of such fundamental rights as free expression and speech are completely alien to us in the West, and so we react strongly when we hear about censorship and denial of human rights abroad.

But the question then becomes, “What is the best way to move China toward economic, political, and religious freedom?” It has long been assumed by proponents of liberal democracies that these three aspects of freedom are inextricably linked. If you truly have one, then you truly have all three. That position is being put to the test in China and other countries, which are seeking to liberalize elements of the economic and business sectors without substantially altering their hold on religious and political freedoms.
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