Another Week, Another Crackdown on Shouwang Church in Beijing

imageThe Hong Kong Institute Religion Blog April 25, 2011
As expected, Shouwang church members attempted to celebrate Easter yesterday, outdoors, since they have had no church premises for several weeks now. And as in the past two weeks, members were arrested and detained. According to Brian Spegele in the Wall Street Journal (April 25, A-6), citing the China Aid Association, at least 34 people were “detained,” meaning not necessarily arrested, and another 500 were kept in their homes and not allowed to leave for worship. Once again the main pastor, Jin Tianming, was kept at home. (Photo: Easter Worship at Shouwang)

The continued pressure on this church is revealing. Sure, strictly speaking the church is unregistered and has no premises. However in the past several years Shouwang has been allowed to operate without harassment. In the process it has morphed into something more than a typical “house” church: it is now large enough to carry particular weight. Its presence in the capital simply underlines this symbolic weight.
The usual explanation for the authorities’ recent crackdown on Shouwang, as well as crackdowns on other dissidents and certain demonstrations of dissent, is two-fold. First there is a five-year leadership transition cycle to take into account. Hu Jintao’s leadership group will pass the reigns to Xi Jinping in just over a year, in 2012, and both outgoing and incoming groups want smooth transitions. Secondly there is skittishness over contagion from the Saffron Revolutions convulsing the Middle East since February. The official reaction has been a swift and heavy suppression of every whiff of dissent, however mild. Any event could in theory become a spark igniting something greater, it is apparently feared.
The problem with the heavy-handed reaction to any bit of dissent is it shows up the government’s very nervousness and, hence, fragility. It also goes against the grain of recent relaxation in expression enjoyed by millions of Chinese in many areas of everyday life. Sadly, relaxation of some freedoms is on-again, off-again.
Interestingly, the church used Google Buzz to send messages asking followers to gather for Easter.
One more thing highlighted here: Shouwang followers’ fearlessness in contining to worship points up the challenge to real suppression. The followers make planned, almost pig-headed appearences in public to make a point, which is…. conceivably, the depth of their personal beliefs that they have a right to worship, as well as a right to have a place of worship, and they are willing to sacrifice their well-being to express that right. In other words, the government is dealing with highly motivated, organized religious practitioners. Not ideal opponents if you want a smooth transition to anything.

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Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
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