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Linfen Church Demolition

The Linfen Church Demolition
What We Know and What We Don’t Know
By Joann Pittman ⋅ Jan 15, 2018 ⋅ Topic: Church and State

Security officials demolished the Jindeng Tai Church building in the coal-mining city of Linfen, Shanxi province. It didn’t take long for the news and shocking pictures of the destruction to make its way into the news worldwide.

The Guardian posted a video of the demolition:

Here are some things we know and don’t know about the church and the incident.

What We Know

The name of the church that was demolished is Jindeng Tai (金灯台), which translates “Golden Lampstand.” It is an unregistered church, which means that it is not affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the China Christian Council. Being unregistered means that it has no legal status, even though it claims to have 50,000 members, or followers. It is led by husband/wife pastors Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli, who started the church in 1992.

This is not the first time the church has had a run-in with the authorities. Andrew Kaiser, in his book about the history of Christian missions in China, The Rushing on of the Purposes of God, writes:

“In the post-Olympic years, however, state resistance to the increasingly vocal and confident Christian community became more and more common.  The September 2009 detention and imprisonment of several pastors at Fushan and Golden Lampstand (Jin Dengtai) churches from the unregistered Linfen Church garnered international attention. The violence of the confrontations, with supposedly hundreds of thugs representing the security forces beating worshipers and destroying property at both sites, was particularly egregious. Nevertheless, the buildings had not received construction approval and the fifty-thousand member church was not legally registered, and so with little or no due process the church leaders received long sentences. (p. 251)”

Local authorities claim that demolition is part of a campaign against “illegal buildings,” and that the church never secured the necessary permits to build.

What We Don’t Know

We don’t know what triggered the incident at this time. Campaigns against illegal structures are common in China so it is certainly possible that this church and its building are caught up in that.

It is also possible that, given the tighter religious regulations that are scheduled to go into effect on February 1, officials (illegal structure campaign or not) felt emboldened to go after the church. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both.

While this may not be a popular thing to say, we probably won’t know which of those two contexts and factors is the main driver of this incident. I suspect it is a combination of both.

At “ChinaSource” we will continue to monitor the situation in China as these new regulations begin to take effect, and pray for our brothers and sisters there who face an increasingly tight environment.

Image credit: Screen shot of the video published by The Guardian supplied by ChinaAid.

Joann Pittman
Joann Pittman is Senior Vice President of ChinaSource. She is the editor of ZGBriefs and Chinese Church Voices, as well as a regular contributor to ChinaSource publications. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and most recently,… View Full Bio

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Thirty Years in China

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Thirty Years in China; Four Observed Trends
By: Joann Pittman

Thirty years ago, I set off for what I thought would be a “one-year” teaching stint in China. Twenty-eight years later, I moved back to the States. Either I’m really bad at math or that was one very long year.

I worked in three different cities: Zhengzhou, Changchun, and Beijing. I wore many different hats: English teacher, Chinese language student, Chinese language program director, English teaching program director, cross-cultural trainer. I learned lots, and of course, made many mistakes.

I count myself privileged to have had a front row seat to watch China transform itself from a country on the brink of social and economic collapse to the world’s second largest economy.

My connections to China actually predate 1984, though. I grew up in Pakistan in the 1960s during a time when Pakistan was one of China’s only friends. My mom drove us to school every morning, and along the way we passed the Chinese Consulate, with its imposing portrait of Chairman Mao. As kids, we had a nickname for him, but it’s probably better left unspoken. It was from Pakistan that Henry Kissinger made his secret trip into China that laid the ground for Nixon’s visit in 1972. When I was in junior high school, there was even talk of a class trip to China; unfortunately the Chinese government. decided it was not in their interest to have a couple dozen American 8th graders roaming around their country.

My first actual visit to China came in 1979, the first year that China “opened up” to American tourists. I was doing a summer internship in Hong Kong, and when the opportunity to do a three-day tour to Guangzhou with a group of American college students came up, I took it. What I saw was a country unlike anything I had ever seen (and I had seen a couple dozen countries already). China was just three years out from the end of the Cultural Revolution, and the exhaustion and oppression was palpable. I remember thinking that if it continued to open-up, it might be interesting to work there someday. As I look back over three decades in China, these are some of the trends that I have witnessed.

1. Ration coupons to Wal-Mart
When I arrived in China, ration coupons were still in use. The political campaigns of the 60s and 70s had brought scarcity (and even famine), so essential foodstuffs were rationed: meat, flour, sugar, and eggs. As foreigners, we could not get the required ration coupons, which meant that we could not purchase any of those items. However, our school was given extra ration coupons so they could feed us. The ration coupons remained in use until the end of the 1980s.In China today, there is no shortage of food or consumer goods available to those with purchasing power. Every major city has a Wal-Mart or some other big box store with food and other items stacked floor to ceiling. Sometimes when I see older people wandering around in these stores, the ones who experienced the famines of the 60s, I wonder what they are thinking.

2. Isolated to Engaged
In the 1980s the world of a Chinese citizen was quite small, existing primarily of family and the work unit. It was difficult to travel within China, and almost impossible to travel outside of China. The students that I taught knew almost nothing of the outside world, and I was the first non-Chinese they had ever seen. I remember one of my students telling me that he had secretly learned English from VOA broadcasts while hiding under the bed. Today the nation of China is fully engaged on the world stage. Its economy is integrated with the global economy and China is seeking to establish itself as a major world power, a second superpower to act as a counterweight to the United States. Chines citizens are traveling and living and working abroad in record numbers as passports and visas are easier to get. In the 1980s I worked hard to explain what a “hamburger stand” was (it was a lesson in the textbook we used), but today kids often ask me if we have McDonald’s in America too.

3. Conformity to Self-expression
One of the enduring images in my mind of China in the 1980’s is the uniform drabness of it all. In addition to the sky and the buildings all being various shades of grey, everyone was still wearing the same dark blue or green “Mao suits” (Chinese call them Sun Yat-sen suits, by the way). Everyone dressed alike and thought alike. The political and social system had no room or tolerance for self-expression. Today, one only occasionally sees Mao suits worn by peasants or construction workers, and everything from fashion to architecture seems to scream out “LOOK AT ME!” The post-90s generation is all about individual self-expression and their own (as opposed to state-mandated) social connections.

4. The Church: Hidden to Visible
In the 1980s the church was in survival mode, having just come through the Cultural Revolution during which religions were banished from Chinese society. Churches were slowly beginning to reopen and pastors were being let out of prison and back into their pulpits. By and large, the church was invisible to society around it. Throughout the 90s and 2000s the church moved into the shadows it was visible, but not very. As it became more visible, it found ways to serve the needs of society. And today, there is even the beginning of a sending movement, with missionaries leaving China to go to other countries. To go from survival to sending in the space of 30 years is an amazing testament of God’s grace and the power of the gospel.

It will be interesting to watch what happens in China over the next thirty years. To quote Rob Gifford, author of China Road: Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, “the next thirty years cannot and will not be like the last thirty years.”

See my personal blog “Outside In” for more China stories.

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Joann Pittman is Senior Vice President of ChinaSource. She is the editor of ZGBriefs and Chinese Church Voices, as well as a regular contributor to ChinaSource publications. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and most recently, cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has previously taught Chinese at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN), and is currently a guest instructor at Wheaton College and Taylor University (IN), teaching Chinese culture and communication. Joann has a BA in social sciences from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN), and an MA in teaching from the University of St. Thomas (MN). She is the author of Survival Chinese Lessons, published by Dawson Media. Her personal blog, “Outside-In” can be found at joannpittman.com, where she writes on China and issues related to “living well where you don’t belong.” You can find her on Twitter @jkpittman.com.

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ZGBriefs Newsletter

ZGBrief GWMutianyuOne of the best ways I’ve found to stay “up-to-date” on China issues is to subscribe to the ZGBriefs Newsletter”.

The service is “free” (though they do periodically request donations), and you will receive a “weekly” email with condensed news stories and articles on China along with links to the stories/article themselves.

You can sign up at www.zgbriefs.com.

In case you were wondering, the “ZG” in ZGBriefs is short for “Zhongguo” (中国), which is Chinese for “China.”

 

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