Guest post: A Dangerous, Disturbing Pattern

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Dangerous, Disturbing Pattern
By Jinghong Cai
Edited by China Aid Association

Hear us, our God, for we are despised 

(Neh 4:4)

“Think about it—many people in the world cannot go to church today, because they are threatened to be killed or arrested if they go to a church like ours, New Life Assembly of God,” my pastor said as he challenged our minds when he preached about Nehemiah on July 27.

It is true. In Beijing, where I am from, my fellow Christians of the Shouwang Church first lost their sanctuary then lost the place of worship that they rented or purchased, and next had no indoor or outdoor place for gathering as a congregation. This Church has endured persecution for 53 straight weeks, with church leaders being placed under house arrest or taken into police custody. Yet, they have adamantly refused to join the government-sanctioned church because they openly confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and believe strictly in the Bible. Church members said that the police track them and confine them to their homes from every Friday evening to Sunday night in order to prevent them from attending Sunday services.

One recent Sunday morning, I had a dream, rather a nightmare, of being chained to the gate of my apartment building by the police. I woke up perspiring heavily, and thanked God when I realized it was only a dream and that I can go to my church freely.

The Bible story of “Rebuilding the Wall” (Neh 4) reminds me of the recent crackdown campaign against “evil cults” in China. At the end of May, a woman was beaten to death by a group of men in a McDonald’s restaurant in Shandong Province. The government-run CCTV said the murderers were members of a Christian “sect” called the Church of Almighty God, and that, somehow, it was a faith-based killing. The Chinese government has a black list with at least 20 spiritual groups labeled as “evil cults”—about two thirds are Christian groups.

Do people with strong Christian faith belong to so-called evil cults? I strongly suspect that the Chinese authorities have thrown insults in the face of the builders (Neh 4:5). So why is the Chinese regime suddenly so focused on “cults?” The propaganda being spewed by the official media sounds all too familiar; it is the same pattern the Communist Party used to eradicate Falun Gong believers.

Beginning in the winter of 1999, our dinnertime was always peppered with bloody news about members of the “horrible” Falun Gong group, who reportedly either violently killed themselves or brutally murdered their daughters or others. CCTV—the central government TV station—filled the prime-time airwaves broadcasting how evil the “cult” Falun Gong was. At work, we were forced to attend so-called political study meetings, which in effect were brainwashing sessions. The Party leaders of our university launched an investigation into who had been a Falun Gong member, who had family members who practiced Falun Gong, and who we knew in the neighborhood that practiced Falun Gong.

In about a year, the Party secretary of our university announced the names of employees that had been fired for continuing contact with their Falun Gong relatives. He also reported some cases of men sent to the “re-education camp” because they used to practice Falun Gong, and others were arrested because they secretly continued practicing Falun Gong. After about three to five years of this relentless campaign, Falun Gong seemed to have vanished, at least from our lives in China. The government disdainfully announced its success in eradicating such an “evil cult.”

Angst became part of our daily lives. The People’s Daily, the most important Party newspaper, published alarming articles detailing how Falun Gong, as a religious cult, recruited and controlled adherents by fabricating and spreading superstitions and heresies, and how the founder of Falun Gong defrauded and victimized women and young people. The national news media warned the public against this outlawed spiritual group that was demonized by the authorities as coercive and dangerous. I cannot remember how many members of this “cult” were rounded up and arrested, but every evening, CCTV news reported that some Falun Gong “criminals” were taken into custody. I often had nightmares of bloody corpses that I saw on TV and newspaper pictures.

Years of non-stop propaganda have convinced the majority of the Chinese public that adherents to so-called cults deserve little sympathy. When I was in China, I never questioned that Falun Gong was an “evil cult.” When underground Falun Gong activists “sneaked” into our lives—secretly dropping pamphlets, sending spam emails, or claiming that the Communist Party was persecuting them, I automatically followed the government’s instruction and immediately trashed them or deleted them.

I never wanted to know anything about Falun Gong, even after I left China, because even being in possession of a piece of literature from this group could lead to brutal treatment by the police and jail time. In 2006, when some colleagues and I visited Hong Kong and Macao as tourists, we ran into Falun Gong members who tried to give us their pamphlets. We all avoided them as mice fleeing from a big cat. Our tour guide from the Beijing travel agency told us to check our luggage before leaving for home, because if one piece of such a flyer were found when going through the Chinese customs, we would all end up in jail. I kept this “habit”—not listening to, looking at, or talking to any Falun Gong member—for a long time, even after I left China and lived abroad.

In 2012, I saw a group of Falun Gong members in Philadelphia, about 20 people, practicing on the lawn in front of the Liberty Bell museum. For the first time in my life, I dared to observe them and even talked to them. To my utter surprise, they were not the evil monsters I had been taught to believe they were; quite the contrary, they were peaceful, pleasant and very friendly.

The recent crackdown on “evil cults” in China has left many people with the impression that this anti-cult campaign mirrors the same pattern the Chinese government used to persecute Falun Gong believers. This time, the target is Christianity, a “foreign” religion that makes the Chinese leadership particularly nervous.

I have done some research and found some similar scenarios as well as “strategies” adopted by the Chinese authorities. First, the number of believers is increasing very fast, as many as tens of millions (some international organizations estimated there are above 68 million Christians in China). Second, after a woman was murdered at a MacDonald’s, the state broadcaster CCTV clearly engaged in disinformation to make people establish a connection between “evil cults” and Christians. The government arrested 6 people, including a 12-year old boy.

A few days later, the government published a list of 20 active “cults.” From then on, every TV channel and newspaper in China has been issuing warnings about the dangers of “evil cults,” and urging community organizations, village authorities, and schools to take preventive actions, including forcing people to attend brainwashing sessions and investigating and tracking people from the underground churches.

Then the People’s Daily website (of the Communist Party) and the Global Times (a government newspaper) launched a barrage of attacks on China’s underground Christian churches. Christians who refuse to join the government-sanctioned churches and continue fighting for their religious freedom, can be easily categorized as members of an “evil cult” and blacklisted. Also, the Chinese media run by the government routinely present underground churches as an American “Trojan horse.” At the beginning of July, I called my father in China, and he seriously warned me that the United States has always been hostile to China, and I was to remain alert. My loving father suddenly reverted to his role during Mao’s time—a representative of the Communist Party with the mission to “educate” people not to be deceived by the imperialism.

As I warily see a repetition of the pattern used to persecute Falun Gong practitioners, I wonder what’s next for Chinese Christians. I pray for my Christian brothers and sisters in China. I urge you to pray with me.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me
(Psa 23:4)

Jinghong Cai is a PhD Candidate in the field of Education at a university in the U.S. and a guest contributor at China Aid. You may follow her on Twitter at @jhcai613
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