China Aid Association
In early February, Fu stood in the Thomas Jefferson room of the Library of Congress, and received the 2007 John Leland Religious Liberty Award at a ceremony attended by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, co-chair of the Task Force for International Religious Freedom, and Richard Land of the SBC.
The award’s previous recipients include President Bush.
“It was a pretty big honor,” said Doug Robison, chairman of the board for China Aid, who called the award “… The Southern Baptist equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Fu said he was surprised to receive the award, since he hadn’t heard any updates about it in a while.
“I heard about (getting) this award, right after the New Year at Stanton, where I was attending a Christian conference over there,” he said. “A charismatic prophet prophesied that I would have a big exposure.
“The next day, I got a phone call and e-mail … that I was voted unanimously to get the award.”
Fu said the award will help raise awareness about the organization he spent years crafting.
“So that was a big honor and a great encouragement because there are so many brothers and sisters in China that are in labor camp and in jail,” he said. “I know they were greatly encouraged when they heard this news.”
He knows how much they need encouragement.
He was once one of them.
“Cornbread even with worms in it”
Fu began his freedom-seeking sorties early.
For starters, he was an active participant in the democracy demonstrations in Tianamen Square in the spring of 1989.
Fu was there, and a leader of the student democracy movement. More than a million marched in the street at one point, agitating for democracy until, on June 4, the Chinese government had enough, and opened fire. The number of casualties will never be known, but could be anywhere from several hundred to 3,000.
Fu wasn’t one of them, but he did clash with the government seven years later.
In China, it’s illegal to worship at any but the three state-sanctioned churches, including a Catholic church that doesn’t have ties to Rome. It is illegal to worship or create churches of any religion or philosophy not under government control.
“Any independent organization or individuals — especially religious ones — are regarded as a threat to their ruling,” Fu said. He said the government credits Christianity, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, as one of the causes of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Roland Spickermann, associate professor of history at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, regularly teaches a class on Modern China, its history and its challenges.
He agreed that China is incredibly skeptical of the Roman Catholic Church, with its foreign influence, but also of groups it can’t control.
“They don’t want churches that they can’t control, or at least monitor, because these are other alternative forms of authority and possibly alternative means of influencing the population,” he said.
Yet three years after the Tianamen massacre, Fu was secretly tutoring a house church of 30 students, according to China Aid documents. A few years later, Fu and his wife Cai Bochun (Heidi) started a Bible school in an abandoned factory.
But then it got worse.
Police discovered the school and arrested them both. They were sent to prison — an experience that would change them, though they were only imprisoned for two months.
“My cell was a 20-square-foot room and squeezed up to 25 people; We were like Chinese dumplings,” he said. In fact, space was so tight, a person lost his spot as soon as he left to use the toilet.
As bad as the overcrowding was, there were worse things.
“You eat from very dirty (utensils) … just two days a meal with some cabbage spoiled with sand … cornbread, even with worms in it,” he said.
And then, there were the interrogations.
“I witnessed how these prisoners were beaten up or tortured from electric shock batons,” he said. “One prisoner, after one round of interrogation, he could not walk. He was bleeding everywhere, his leg was broken.”
In other cases, pastors could face forced labor camps with 19-hour days, and death sentences.
Though the couple was released after two months, they knew they had to escape because another arrest was imminent.
“We had to leave in the middle of the night by jumping from our window in the toilet room,” he said. They fled to Hong Kong (not then under Chinese control) by posing as tourists, then continually petitioned the U.S. for a visa.
Just three days before Hong Kong reverted into Chinese hands, they were granted a direct invitation from President Clinton, and journeyed to safety.
Obviously, though, the plight of their countrymen never left them.
“I just still want to help find a way to help our brothers and sisters,” Fu said.
Though Fu’s work focuses on encouraging Christians, Christians are not the only religious group being persecuted in China, said Spickermann, who teaches the China classes. (“And then it got worse” is actually a common saying in those classes.)
In fact, because of the rapid changes overtaking society, he said that Chinese are turning in droves to Islam, to Confucianism, to Christianity, to Buddhism and especially to Falun Gong.
“There are flourishing underground churches all over China,” he said. “It’s going to be a time of a lot of religious growth … because there are so many uprooted and alienated people now.”
Social ties are fraying, he said, as the old family structures and lifestyle erode and the country modernizes.
“You have 200 million migrant workers and cities growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “If society is uprooted, you have people who are looking to re-establish those ties.”
Spickermann said that the Communist government deals so harshly with these un-sanctioned groups, especially Christianity, because of its history.
“It was very easy to associate Western religions with imperialism … ‘these dominant foreigners that abused us,'” he said. “So when the communists came to power in 1949, they attemped to domesticate some of these religions.”
And that meant cutting all ties with the Roman Catholic Church, which answers to Rome, and instead founding its own.
“They don’t want any kind of foreign influence,” he said.
He said the struggle for underground churches and the government’s response would likely continue.
It is, he noted, “one-fourth of the world,” he said. “It’s a gigantic cauldron.”
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China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]