Huoshi church member writes letter chronicling religious freedom abuse

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Huoshi church members worshiping before their church was
banned. (Photo: China Aid)
China Aid
Translated by Carolyn Song. Edited in English by Rachel Ritchie and Brynne Lawrence.

(Guiyang, Guizhou—Dec. 17, 2015) A member of a heavily persecuted house church in China’s inland Guizhou released a letter on International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, regarding the recent actions of authorities that his church has faced.

Zhang Tan, who says he was a former director of the Christianity branch of the Guizhou Provincial Religious Affairs Bureau and long-time scholar of religion, wrote of his experiences as a member of Huoshi Church within the context of ongoing persecution in Guizhou. Recently, authorities levied heavy fines against Huoshi Church, banned all gatherings, and detained the church leaders.

China Aid works to expose abuses of religious freedom and human rights such as those faced by the members of Huoshi Church. A translation of the letter, edited for clarity by China Aid, can be found below.

On Dec. 9, 2015, the day before Human Rights Day, I, who am visiting relatives in Australia, read on WeChat that my church—Huoshi Church in Guiyang—was banned by the authorities. The pastor was shoved, scolded and held in detention. Hundreds of church members were followed, had their freedoms restricted and communication monitored, and were interrogated, threatened and confronted. In the process of enforcing the law, the officers deliberately treated the pastors and church members with brutality, which was intended to lead to conflict so that the event would escalate, and they could apprehend people. But the pastors and church members only looked at them with mercy. Without warning, my faithful Swiss watch suddenly stopped at 9:00, seeming to freeze the day in history.

Yes, this day must be remembered in history. But why did this happen in Guizhou, I wonder?

Historically, Guizhou was a province of frequent “religious persecution.” The first religious persecution case after the signing of the Convention of Peking [in 1860] also happened in Guizhou; [it was] the “Qingyan Religious Case,” [which happened] in Guiyang.

It occurred in 1861, during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng of the Qing dynasty. At the time of the Dragon Boat Festival, the local people practiced “youbaibing” [Editor’s Note: Youbaibing is a custom observed in Guizhou, Sichuan, and Shaanxi where individuals collect flowers and herbs, which are boiled and used to wash the body], as is according to custom. When they passed the front door of the Catholic [church] located in Yaojiaguan, they shouted, “Burn down God’s church; imprison the foreigners,” and tried to pick quarrels with the monks, but there was no trouble after the quarrel. At that time, China was transforming from a traditional society into a modern society. The “gateway” was gradually opening up, and various contradictions [between the old and the new societies] were very sharp. Prior to this case, an official in training and substitute Confucian scholar in Guiyang, Miao Huanzhang, compiled and published the “Precious Instructions for Rescuing from Disaster,” a book advocating the “dismissal of heresy,” which incited anti-Catholic opinions. The action garnered the attention of Guizhou’s governor, He Guanying, and Admiral Tian Xingshu, who then jointly issued two confidential letters to the local government officials in the province, calling for “The people who plan to spread Catholicism and confuse the will of the people to be regarded as foreign bandits and be [subjected to] deportation at any time, or [the government should] use the law to find a way to punish them.” Qingyan’s mayor, Zhao Weisan, was originally just an ordinary Confucian scholar. Four of his six children were graduates of the provincial Imperial examinations, and one was the highest scorer. They were regarded as Guizhou province’s first educated household. Zhao Weisan immediately followed He Guanying and Tian Xingshu’s command and beheaded the main seminary’s gatekeeper, Luo Tingyin, seminary students Zhang Wenlan and Chen Changpin, and a female kitchen worker named Wang Maer (The first four victims were the first in China to be granted the title of saint by the Vatican.). The “Qingyan case” followed the run-through of the larger-scale “Boxer case.” The methods behind them were both advocated for by people who consider themselves “orthodox Confucian” intellectuals and supported either publicly or secretly by the ruling class, which served as ammunition for the good-for-nothing, ignorant masses of the common people.

The first case of persecution against Protestantism in China also occurred in Guizhou. That was the “Panghai Case” in 1892.

Australian missionary William S. Fleming, [who adopted the Chinese name Ming Jianguang], established churches in a Miao ethnic area and supported [the Miao people’s] legitimate rights. This offended the Han officers, who had been suppressing the Miao people on a long-term basis. William S. Fleming was killed by Xu Wujin, the leader of an anti-Qing dynasty society. This was the first missionary martyr in China, along with the martyrdom of Miao Protestants and the translator Pan Shoushan (who once translated the classics of the [Four Books and Five Classics] into English and Miao). The “Panghai case” was an ordinary religious case; there is not much content available in historical records. The most valuable part was that the handling of case reflected the principles of the spirit of the Bible. Dang Juren, who was preaching in Anshun, Guizhou, was ordered to handle the case. Even though he was subjected to the British Consulate’s pressure, he persisted in not demanding reparations for the missionary’s cases. He believed that all the missionaries to mainland China were there voluntarily to preach the Gospel; their martyrdom was a glorious path, taking up their own cross. Their martyrdom should not be compensated by “unreached people groups” who “do what they do not know.” The principle behind how this missionary case was handled later became the principle of how to deal with mainland China’s missionary cases. Later, during the Boxer Rebellion in mainland China, most missionaries were killed, but none of them claimed compensation.

The Kaizhou case, the Zunyi case, and later the Weining case, which happened during the Cultural Revolution, should all be recorded in Guizhou’s history.

The Qingyan case and the Panghai case, which happened [more than] 100 years ago, all had a common outcome; that is, they all obtained the government’s respectful, political rehabilitation and were exonerated. I believe if [the persecution of Huoshi Church had] happened then, Huoshi’s case would also get the same treatment. At this point, I recalled that when I first arrived in Guizhou province in 1983 to participate in the work of political rehabilitation in the Religious Affairs Bureau, “Yang Zhicheng’s counterrevolutionary group’s case” was also a religious case. Pastor Yang Zhicheng and co-workers, affected by unfair treatment, did not require compensation and resettlement but took the time to do one thing—preach the Gospel, which was delayed for such a long time. I did not know what kind of spirit supported their actions, but from the merciful eyes of Pastor Yang Hua yesterday, I once again understood Pastor Yang Zhicheng’s lifelong attitude of joy and peace.

In the letter I wrote the day before yesterday, “Please Pray for Huoshi Church in Guiyang,” I gave a brief introduction about Huoshi Church. As a current Christian, a church member of Huoshi church, a former director in charge of Christianity at the Guizhou Provincial Religious Affairs Bureau and a long-term policy researching scholar of religion, I believe my observation of Huoshi Church is comprehensive and objective.

In the prayer letter, I wrote: “Huoshi Church was not an underground church from the beginning. They openly leased office space in which to gather and reported every major religious activity to government departments and public security bureau. All activities were open and transparent. They established and democratically elected a deacon board for conducting affairs and managing finances and established a number of management systems. All management was open and transparent; they applied for registration to the authorities over the years and accepted the government’s management. The organization was open and transparent; they have the same “confession of faith” as the world’s major churches, [and they] spread the same truth. Their faith is open and transparent; they run independently by themselves and are strictly self-supported. They are the true “Three-Self Church.”

Here I display some stories I collected, taking “socialism’s core system of values” as a reference, which is just as the ruling party at the 18th Party Congress proposed: prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious with freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity and kindness. Let us think about what Huoshi Church is—a positive, energetic and harmonious society or an illegal organization.

In Huoshi Church, you’ll see a lot of brothers and sisters raise children with disabilities. Later, I learned that the church congregation carried out the adoption of abandoned children with the agreement of the government departments. These abandoned children got very good physical and mental care from the foster families, who attended the church, until the government found [a family willing to] formally adopt the children. Over the years, the project adopted out more than 1,600 abandoned infants, helped create more than 1,600 happy families and also saved the lives of more than 1,600 orphans.

In the “Home of Love,” which is run by [Christians who attend] Huoshi Church, we can see that the children were here from the orphanage to have a hot shower, a hot meal, a haircut, a change of clean clothes and experienced the warmth of a family while learning some survival skills in order to become a useful person in society.

I’ve seen a disabled youth; he was abandoned at six years old by his biological father at Guiyang Railway Station and was from Sichuan. He hated society and mankind. It was the “Home of Love” that adopted him and paid for four surgeries to enable him to stand up and taught him how to make bread to enable him to survive. Most importantly they warmed his injured, cold heart with love. Now, the young person keeps giving his care to similarly unfortunate children.

Let’s read the Guizhou Metropolis Daily’s “Free training for children with cerebral palsy and autism; ‘Fountain of Love’ takes 13 years to build a colorful world of love” [published] on April 30, 2015.The “Fountain of Love” mentioned in this report is also a charity project run by Huoshi Church. They took 13 years to build “Fountain of Love” for more than 30 children with cerebral palsy and autism.

I once ran the kindergarten for autistic children, and I know the best time for treatment. I also know that, when a family has a child with autism, it also means that they lose their happiness. It was Huoshi Church’s selfless dedication that brought hope to more than 30 children and brought warmth to 30 families.

Once I heard a sister testifying. She said she had once run a small estate with her husband, but both of them loved gambling. After losing all of their property, she and her husband made a decision and bought tickets to Macau with the last of their money [and went there] together with their child for their last shot. Their intention was to go back to their original life if they won; if they lost, they would all three jump into the sea together. Just before the plane took off, they met Christians from Huoshi Church, who persuaded them to go back. Now, they have joined the church and quit gambling, and their lives are very fulfilling.

I also know a provincial cadre’s child (his parents and my parents used to be in the same institute). This small, unscrupulous “Yanei” [Editor’s Note: This term means “high-ranking officer’s child.”] totally deserved to be described as “bad from head to toe.” His mother told her pain to whoever she met. She [said] she would be a slave for whoever could educate her son and [prepare him to] marry. He later joined Huoshi Church and quit smoking and picking quarrels. Since then, he also quit smoking, joined the church and became a deacon and also formed a happy family. His parents didn’t become slaves of somebody but became the children of God.

In Huoshi Church, there is a person who was involved in China’s democracy movement. He suffered too much unfair treatment: six years behind bars and blinded in one eye. To this day, he is still under surveillance and [has suffered the] loss of jobs and of his family. However, this person full of bitter experiences made my eyes fill with tears with his first testimony. At that time, when the Communist Party was 18 years old, they proposed rule of law and political reforms. When discussing the news, he said: “If the Communist Party really wants reform, it needs to be willing to give up all hatred. This will be a blessing for the Communist Party. I know that only God has such power to reverse people. Through a true and living church, God is giving the Chinese community a new desire to rebuild a long-lost heart.”

Why was this church, which provided positive energy to the community, banned by authorities? On the bulletin issued by the Nanming District Branch of the Guiyang Religious Affairs Bureau in Nanming District, Guiyang, something like this is written: “Upon investigation, Li Zhiming and Su Tianfu’s property, located at Apartments 8, 9, 10, and 11, on the 24th Floor, Building C9, Unit 2, in Huaguoyuan Garden, Nanming District, was converted into a religious venue without authorization, which violated ‘Regulations on Religious Affairs (Promulgated by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China; effective as of March 1, 2005). Now it must be banned according to “Regulations on Religious Affairs (Promulgated by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China; effective as of March 1, 2005).’”

Something like this is written on the bulletin sent by the Guiyang Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau: “Upon investigation, Guiyang Huoshi Church (also called, “Guiyang Christian Huoshi Church or Huoshi Church”) was found to be unregistered. [It was] conducting activities as a non-authorized social organization and is an illegal, civil society organization. According to the State Council’s Regulations Governing the Registration of Social Groups and the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ Interim Measures for Banning Illegal Non-Governmental Organizations, Guiyang Huoshi Church must be banned.”

From the two bulletins, the key words are “unregistered” and “without authorization,” correct?

I said earlier that “Huoshi Church was not an underground church from the beginning. They openly leased an office space in which to gather and reported every major religious activity to government departments and public security bureau. All activities were open and transparent; they established and democratically elected a deacon board for conducting affairs and managing finances and established a number of management systems. All management was open and transparent. They applied to the authorities for registration over several years and accepted the government’s management. The organization was open and transparent.

During the six years after its founding, Huoshi Church applied for registration to the government department eight times on their own initiative. The latest instance occurred in 2013, when the director of Guizhou’s Religious Affairs Bureau, Mr. Long Defang, personally notified Huoshi Church’s pastor, Yang Hua, that the department experienced difficulty registering the church and that he hoped to solve the issue of registering Huoshi Church’s venue, allowing the church to quickly report to authorities. However, after we submitted all the application materials, his words were meaningless.

I consulted the director of Christianity of the Guizhou Religious Affairs Bureau, Li Weigui, while I was being interviewed by provincial, municipal and district religious bureaus. Li Weigui explained that this was his personal opinion not the organization’s. At the very least, this illustrates that the officials in the government’s administrative departments have “personal opinions” when they handle Huoshi Church’s problems, and the “personal opinion” [to ban the church] is from the highest person in charge of government administration. Why can’t Huoshi Church be approved after applying for registration eight times? The key lies in whether or not it participates in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee.

Under the existing national policies, churches can only take part in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee before they are legally registered and need to register as a part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee before they can register with the civil affairs departments. Over the years, religious authorities at all levels repeatedly ordered Huoshi Church to take part in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee and promised to recognize the legitimacy of Huoshi Church even if the church joined the TSPM in name only. However, we believe that the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee is a political organization and made many mistakes during past political movements, which it did not take the initiative to admit.

With genuine faith, and as a Three-Self Church in the truest sense, we do not want to participate in political organizations, particularly a political organization that committed many political mistakes and will not admit it, defiling the sanctity of the Lord’s Church. Similarly, we also think that participation in the the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee as the sole criterion for being accepted by government leadership has tarnished the government’s righteousness.

Because of the banning of Huoshi Church, house churches all over the country are all within the scope of banishment, which is a major event that would involve five or six million people! As a former religious leader and long-term scholar of religious policy, I think that dealing with religious issues, especially the way political campaigns deal with religious issues, is inappropriate. As a Christian and member of Huoshi Church, I would say that we do not fear. We accept that God blesses us; we also accept that God allows suffering to happen.

Zhang Tan, a member of Huoshi Church in Guiyang

World Human Rights Day
December 10, 2015

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