UCA News: Professor Xing Fuzeng: I entered the China Liaison Office

UCA News
By Xing Fuzeng
02-02 -2016

Translation by China Aid. [Editor’s Note: “China Liaison Office” is short for The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It is the People’s Republic of China’s Central People’s Government representative office in Hong Kong. It is one of three agencies of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong and functions as an organization to speak to the people of Hong Kong on behalf of the central government.]

■ This afternoon (February 1), I entered a place that will not be unfamiliar to the people of Hong Kong, but is still full of mysteries—the Liaison Office.

This meeting was organized by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s (CPPCC) National Committee member Rong Yongqi, who is a Christian, and the minister of the department that manages the coordination of the Liaison Office, Shen Chong, in order to express concern over the events concerning Pastor Gu Yuese. The participants were composed of [people] elected by the five principal Christian groups: Chen Yihua, Li Bingguang, Xuzhao Ying, Wu Siyuan, and Mrs Cheung Ang Siew Mei, as well as some pastors and church members with similar concerns, such as Wuzong Wen, He Zhidi, Enoch Lam and Zhang Malong. Because I published the joint statement and went asking for signatures yesterday with Liang Jialin in order to call attention to [Pastor Gu’s case] and [call] for aid for Pastor Gu, I received a sudden invitation during this evening’s meeting. At noon, together with the other teachers, we had a festive dinner with the student union. I had to leave early. I also explained the reason I was going to the Liaison Office to the crowd as I was leaving.

Concern and anxiety
From what I remember, what was said at the meeting can be summarized as follows: First, each individual spoke of the friendship shared with Pastor Joseph Gu, and testified that he is a highly respected servant of the Lord. Second, we didn’t understand why, if cross demolitions in the province had ceased for a time, there are more crosses that are being torn down again (from the dialogue, it was found that they had also reported these events to the Liaison Office). This causes us to feel confused. Why is Zhejiang’s policy different from that of the central government? Third, Pastor Gu was investigated for embezzling funds, but is it or is it not because of his opposition to cross demolitions that [these charges] are being raked up against him?

As I began to speak, I pointed out that the event is not only a matter of concern, but also a cause for great anxiety. Therefore, I drafted a public statement together with Liang Jialin, and, after it was publicized on Sunday evening, the response was overwhelming. More than one thousand people have signed, reflecting the concern of Hong Kong Christians over this issue. Additionally, I reiterated the main points of the declaration, with particular emphasis on the fact that I believe that there will be further official details announced soon and the foreseeable official position is that this was a purely economic crime that had nothing to do with the demolition of crosses. However, this will certainly not dispel the doubts of those in the outside world regarding Pastor Gu being targeted and settling accounts with authorities for his opposition of cross demolitions. The event has posed serious impact on Chinese church and state relations. Finally, I said that Pastor Gu’s arrest being connected to economic charges seems to have raised concern, but during the cross demolitions, less concern was raised for the great number of pastors, believers and human rights lawyers arrested by the authorities. [These other arrests] don’t even have a surface-level connection to economic charges; they were arrested simply because objected to cross demolitions and have not been released yet. In addition to Pastor Gu, they are also worthy of attention.

All responses are as expected

After hearing everyone speak, Minister Shen answered as following:

First, we must have confidence in the national religious policy. In the past two decades, has the number of churches in China and the number of believers become greater or fewer? Overall, is this progressive or regressive?

Second, we must consider the overall situation. Is [this issue itself] the whole or only part of something larger? Among China’s 31 provinces, only Zhejiang is demolishing crosses, so, from an overall perspective, the religious policy has not fundamentally changed! Beware, however, that the development of religion is as fast as that of the economy. In the same way that our pollution problem is derived from rapid economic development, will not rapid religious development lead to derivative problems? For example, because there have been fake Chinese Buddhas, the national religious affairs bureau is required to provide a list. Zhejiang is just one area where the illegal construction issue reflects that economic development is going too fast. Cross demolition reflects some administrative considerations that don’t take into account [the feelings of religious people] and lead to hurt. This has been reported to the national religious affairs bureau.

Third, do not evaluate Gu himself. Economic issues and embezzlement of public funds also happen in the mainland. Perhaps they are joined to emotions, but they are still illegal. These occur even in religious circles. Therefore, to separate emotion and intellect, one must rely on the specific findings.

Finally, he promised to report to the relevant authorities in a timely manner and expressed hope that everyone would have confidence in the country. At the same time, he said that the National Conference of Religious Work would convene during the year and would sum up ten years of Chinese religious work.

What I felt
When I received the invitation to attend the meeting of the Liaison Office, I asked myself, Will it be useful? What are my expectations? Frankly, I did not have any expectations before the meeting, but their response was still entirely as expected. I finally agreed to attend the meeting, and the reason is very simple: I just wanted to hear what their “statement” was. Perhaps it is the nature of a researcher to like collecting data. Of course, once I was sitting within the Liaison Office, I felt I should speak out, like I was supposed to.

I recall, in that meeting place, a long reception room that can accommodate more than 10 people—a spacious arrangement. In the middle were two seats for the chairmen. Extending on both sides, there are small tables for tea between sofas, and everybody had a cup of Chinese tea. There is no big difference from the layout seen every day on television. Sitting there, it seems just like staying in China.

I believe Minister Shen has already met many of the participating public figures (some of the people had once participated in the communications class), and the atmosphere of these talks is not stiff. As the minister of the coordinating unit (as far as I understand, the function of the coordination department is just like the mainland’s United Front Work Department of CPC Central Committee), he may be said to dutifully and immediately respond to the concerns of Christian public figures and promises to report everyone’s suggestions. He said he was responsible for what he had said and welcomed us to quote him.

After leaving the Liaison Office, I tried to sort out my thoughts that evening. First, we had launched a movement collecting signatures, the purpose of which was to make the church in Hong Kong care about the event and also display Hong Kong as a currently free area, both by raising voices for the mainland Chinese and expressing concern and care for the cross demolitions and Pastor Gu’s events. Some people might ask, in a case like this, does collecting signatures even work? Indeed, we are not really so naive to believe that collecting signatures (even if thousands of people are involved) will guarantee change. This is not an issue that may or may not be useful, rather, it is an issue [that needs to be decided whether something] should or shouldn’t be done. Faced with absurd lies, how can we not let more people know the truth, thereby resisting the large, state propaganda machine (Just like today, when there were still people who said the cross demolitions are to remove illegal structures. Even if this is because of ignorance, it is just as if they are willing to be the mouthpiece of lies.)? Petition signing is the first step; the next step in this course is not to enter the Liaison Office (though, this was never our idea and route). How can we arouse more attention and [raise up] the community of believers? How can we motivate more effective solidarity with the oppressed Chinese? This is our job and responsibility

Second, we entered the Liaison Office, of course, to hear the “official” statement. From Minister Shen’s three-point response, we can see the route of standard answers. First, he compares from the perspective of time, and says China’s development has been progressing. Second, he compares from the perspective of space, and says that when a problem occurs in one place, it does not mean it is a global problem. As a scholar caring for and researching China, I, of course, do not deny these two almost common-sense truths, but these can almost be used as the all-purpose answer to all problems for China, and frankly, it just to avoids the issue and does not face the problem. What is “China” in the end? If the problem occurs in every place and is true, can you still have the excuse that this is only partial, and that “China” as a whole is still progressing, meaning no problem is really happening? Is the so-called local problem not truly a problem? Please do not forget that yes, Zhejiang is just one of 31 provinces, but what occurred in the province in the past was the overall implementation of cross demolitions by strong-willed provincial leaders from the top down. The people who have public power made use of “law enforcement,” brutally trampled religious freedom in over 2,000 churches that suffered cross demolitions and have even unreasonably detained people who opposed the demolitions. Is this merely the carelessness of a lower administrative officer in the law enforcement department? More than 2,000 church crosses have been dismantled, and the dignity and religious feelings of more than two million Christians have been trampled on, and this is not the right and true heart [of the issue]? If “China” is only ever reduced to a macroscopic and abstract concept, and the real individuals in [the country] are pressured—if this one-sided propaganda only sees China “as a whole,”— is this so-called “progress” real progress? Does not every oppressed individual reveal the hypocrisy of the “whole?”

Third, the future official propaganda machine must comprehensively stick to calling these economic offenses of “embezzlement of funds” to avoid the problem of cross demolitions and the anti-demolition protests. As a citizen of Hong Kong, the country of China increasingly confuses me. On one hand, it continues to frame “political” charges, but on the other hand, when facing a real political problem, it disguises this by wrapping it up in an “apolitical” package. Perhaps, in a politicized country, many people who want to stay away from politics simply cannot avoid them. The cross is political. Cross demolitions are also political, and religious leaders who don’t obey politics will nonetheless be ruthlessly brought down by politics to settle accounts. More tragically, religious organizations are not only suffering political interference but becoming members of the political establishment themselves.

The Liaison Office is a unique place and strictly guarded. Local demonstrations and petitions often occur here, and, of course, there are some people who take it as a proud occasion to be able to enter the Liaison Office to communicate [their ideas]. However, this time, I entered with a normal attitude, without any expectations, just in order to speak out as I am supposed to.

“China,” to me, has become very strange. In this very “Chinese” place, I had a glimpse of “China,” the country, and, of course, heard the very “Chinese” voice.

However, what I think about, and what my inner being recalls and prays for is actually the many well-known and unknown individuals on Chinese soil who receive persecution. I have heard that there is still the rallying shout of [those who have] voices and the voiceless all around the country.

By Xing Fuzeng, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dean of Chung Chi Seminary

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