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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Restraint of Christianity in China, Part 1: The Bible Problem 

During the last year or so, there has been a spate of actions by the government that seems to suggest a new pressure on the church in China. I was going to call this "Repression of Christianty in China," but in deference to the Italian journalist's point about how dumplings are cooked, I decided to call it, "Restraint of Christianity in China." The story centers around the destruction of churches and crosses in the city of Wenzhou in the summer of 2014. But that incident or series of incidents was preceded by a severe restriction in the publication of Bibles, so I am going to divide this into two segments, the first dealing with the Bible problem, and the second addressing the situation in Wenzhou.

The Bible Problem. A year or so ago, I took a student to the bookstore in the Three-Self Church I attend to help her buy a Bible. They said they didn't have any. I didn't need one myself, but I was curious, so I went back every week and got the same answer. I should note that the particular type of Bible I was checking on was the bilingual version (pictured), because that is the one students prefer. Most students tell me that the English is easier to understand than the Chinese. In fact, the old Chinese Union Version was (and still is) an extraordinary literary accomplishment, put together and modified during a span of close to one hundred years, ending in 1919 or 1920. But it's basically a late Qing Dynasty work, so the language is archaic. But for Chinese students who read English, the bilingual version is really an ideal combination, because they can read the English, which is more comfortable for them, but they also have access to the Chinese Union Version, which is more scholarly, and sometimes more accurate than the English, because the CUV is not translated from English. It is translated directly from Greek and Hebrew to Chinese more literally than some English versions, and sometimes more accurately.

Anyway, it was clearly not available anymore, and I was very concerned about why not. I talked to three of the pastors--all three of them denied knowing anything about it. I know that seems extraordinary, but this is China. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. Finally I got the report, and, not surprisingly, it did not come from China, it came from Mission Network News.

Listen to the report, and draw your own conclusions, but here is what I think is happening:

In China, all Bibles are printed at Amity Press in Nanjing. Bibles are not allowed to have ISBN numbers, and sale of Bibles in public bookstores is strictly forbidden. I did see a couple black market Bibles in a bookstore once, but this is very rare. Basically, if you want to buy a Bible in China, you need to go to a Three-Self Church bookstore, or buy one on the street for a ghastly price. But having said that, there has not been a quota limit on purchase of Bibles by Church people in churches. So church people who wanted a Bible could usually get one (unless, as I said, there was a black market operation going on). What it comes down to is that the Party has resigned itself to the fact that there are going to be Christians in China, and that the Church is not going to go away. So they allow Bibles to be sold in Church bookstores to Church people, but not to the general public. What I think happened is that the Communist Party, in its periodic examination of the number of Bibles that were going out, discovered that somebody was going to a church or churches and buying up huge numbers of Bibles for the purpose of distributing them to people outside the church--that is, members of the general public who are not church goers and would not otherwise be inclined to come in contact with the Bible. So the Party decided to compensate for this by shutting down the production of Bibles for a period of time. This shows that they still have a few things to learn about economics--limiting supply does not diminish demand. Quite the opposite. But it also shows that they view the growth of Christianity with suspicion and concern.

Some people (myself included) might be inclined, at first, to see this as religious repression, but when I mentioned the issue to the Italian reporter, he just shrugged, "Rice, noodles, dumplings. Think about how they're cooked. They all involve water, but it's different." I have to admit he is right. The government is not trying to shut down Christianity. They are just adding some cold water to the mix to keep it from boiling over. Printing of Bibles has been restored now, and you can buy Bibles again, although I understand there is a quota of two Bibles per person. [Note that I am speaking about people in the cities. It is not always so easy in the countryside, as the report from Mission Network News indicates.]

So the most significant fact about the Bible problem is that it is not that significant. The Party's decision to (artificially) reduce supply has almost certainly increased demand, so it is likely that there will be more Bibles in China than there would have been if they had just left the matter alone. In today's China, anyone with a smart phone can have a Bible in minutes. I don't have an iPhone, but I know with an Android phone you can Blue Tooth the .apk file from one phone to another very easily. There is no restriction on how many times a file like that can be duplicated, and, of course, no way that any government entity can track how many eBibles are being distributed. So Bibles are here to stay. It's not like it used to be... but that brings up a question: How did it used to be?

Let's talk about that. The Communist Party is very much opposed to foreign control of religion, and when they first came to power, the Bible was viewed as a foreign book and religion viewed as the "opium of the people," to quote Karl Marx (das Opium des Volkes). So there was much government opposition to the Bible, and they were not easy to find. But there were attempts to bring them in from outside, the most notable being the the massive smuggling operation called, "Project Pearl," where a missionary by the name of Brother David smuggled a million bibles into China. I first read about Project Pearl in the classic book about Bible smuggling by Brother Andrew. I next read about it in Jesus in Beijing just before I moved to China. In that book, David Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine says that the CIA was flying overhead and was astounded by what they saw. I have often wondered if it was in fact the CIA that tipped off the Chinese that a massive smuggling operation was going on right under their noses. Clearly the CIA could not have known that it was Bibles, not drugs that were being smuggled. At any rate, the police did show up, but they were too late, and the incident became a profound embarrassment to the Chinese government. You shouldn't be able to smuggle a million of anything into a country. I believe it was this embarrassment that eventually led to the establishment of Amity Press, which has printed millions of Bibles for the Christians of China since that incident.

The Bible is a revolutionary book. Empires have risen and fallen on the truth in its pages. Horace Greely said,

It is impossible to enslave, mentally or socially, a bible-reading people. The principles of the bible are the groundwork of human freedom.
Bible-reading people are hard to manipulate. They tend to be independent thinkers. So it is understandable that governments inclined toward controling the thinking of the people would want to keep those people from reading the Bible. But this recent attempt by the powers that be in China is not likely to work, because people tend to want what is forbidden. They would be smarter to try the American approach: let people have all the Bibles they want until they get tired of them. In America, the Bible has sold more copies than any other book for so long that it no longer even appears on best-seller lists. Americans buy the Bible in every size and shape, but rarely to they actually sit down and read it. In China, if a Christian has a Bible, he or she is much more likely to read it. Christians in China ask me probing questions about the Bible. So I am not worried. The long term effect of this pruning is going to be good for China.

By the way, the reason my Bible looks so rugged is not because I read it all the time. In fact, I do most of my daily Bible reading on my smart phone these days. But in the early morning, I like to go sit by the lake and have my devotions. Clumsy as I am, my Bible fell in the lake the other day. I fished it out right away, but the pages are a little crinkly.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Brave New China - A Global Metamorphosis 

The title is a little murky. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But I figured it would be interesting, and I was not disappointed.

Click picture for larger image.
Went to Think in China again last night. The Italian guy has lived in China for twenty years as a journalist. His point was to emphasize the greatness of change in China as compared to the west. He said that in the West we still dress pretty much like our grandparents. But In China, people a couple generations back would not look anything like they do today. Considering the issue of China's authoritarian system, he used an interesting analogy from the traditional method of cooking Chinese dumplings. He said you add cold water as the water is boiling to bring the temperature back down. So China tends to restrict certain activity to moderate it. If they didn't want the water to heat up at all, they would just turn off the burner. There is considerable merit to this notion. So during the Q and A section, when I asked about the actions of the party last summer in tearing down crosses in the city of Wenzhou, he tended to minimize it. He is partly right. But he was not very well informed. He said the government did not destroy any churches, and that is not true. Still, his point is well taken and worthy of consideration. The powers that be are not foolish enough to think that they can wipe out Christianity. They used to think so, that's for sure. But they have left that thinking behind. They do try to moderate Christianity in ways that seem bizarre to a westerner. In the United States you wouldn't see the leader of a community ripping crosses off churches just because he thought they were unsightly. But the repression clearly does not represent a determination to eliminate Christianity. They haven't turned off the burner. They just added a little cold water.

The Chinese professor I have heard before. He was much more philosophical about issues like pollution than I am. He said that there is a trade off when a country is in a state of development. He kept comparing China to India. That is a little worrying. If the best you can say is that you're a little bit better than India, things are not going well. But when I talked to him afterward, I mentioned the recent pollution video, and he did say, as seems evident, that is some debate now in the government, with some supporting the recent video by the CCTV broadcaster, and others opposed to it.

Although both of these guys tend to emphasize how much freer China is today than in the past, they were both quite artful in their statements about anything related to the Party. They know what country they are in. Still they did make some interesting points, and it must be admitted that the Party does allow more of this kind of discussion, especially if it takes place in a venue that is perceived to be dominated by foreigners rather than local Chinese people.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Stress 

Last week I was talking with my students about the issue of stress. In my opinion, Chinese undergraduate students are healthier mentally than American undergraduates. But after they graduate, Chinese young people have more pressures imposed on them by society that American young people don't have to deal with. For example, once students graduate from college, their parents will begin to put pressure on them to get married. And when they do get married, there is pressure on them to buy a house. Many young men feel that they will not be able to find a wife if they do not buy a house. Some years ago, I was having coffee with a friend of mine. She was planning to get married in three months and while we were talking, her mother called. When she had finished talking with her mother, she said, "My mother said if my boyfriend cannot buy a house for me, perhaps I should find another man." I said, "You're getting married in three months and your mother is telling you to find another guy?" So young people in China often buy a house when the market is not really right for it, and hurry into marriage so that they can say they have someone.

American young people have a more complicated college life. It's pretty hard to get buy without a car in the States. And many students have part time jobs that take up their time. But after they graduate, American young people have fewer social expectations on them than Chinese young people. There is less inclination for parents to push their children to get married as soon as possible. And when they go get married, they are pretty much free to buy a house when they feel the opportunity is right.

But that having been said, everybody has some stress in their life, and we all have to learn how to deal with it. So I asked my students to tell me what they do to cope with stress. Here are some examples:

Talk with friends.
Talk with my parents.
Eat and sleep.
Talk with my friend and cry.
Watch horror movies and scream.
Singing loud and dancing with passion.
Take a shower.
Go shopping.
Read a book.
Eat bananas.
Listen to music.
Eat some chocolate.
Buy something online even if it's useless.
Play basketball.
Walk lonely.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew 1923-2015 

This time it's true. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore died yesterday morning.

I was in third or fourth grade at the boarding school in northern Japan when I read in my Weekly Reader that Singapore and teamed up with Malaya and a couple other insignificant areas to form the new country of "Malaysia." The year was 1963. At the time I didn't think much about it--I just thought the new name sounded better than "Malaya." I was puzzled when Singapore pulled out of the deal a couple years later. But when I read Lee Kuan Yew's autobiography years ago, he told the story differently. He says in his book that he cried when the decision was made to push Singapore out. It has been some twelve years now since I read his memoirs, so I can't remember just how he put it, but at the time I thought it must be political posturing. That departure turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Singapore. They were not under the British and they were also not chained to Malaysia. Can you imagine Singapore today being saddled with Malaysia's woes? I don't know--maybe at the time he just couldn't see the future and feared that this would doom Singapore to being returned to colonial status or something.

During the Cold War years of the sixties, we always used to hear talk of "Communist infiltrators" trying to take over the world. Lee Kuan Yew turned the whole idea on its head. He infiltrated the Communist party of Singapore, used it to take over the country, and then eliminated the Communist Party. The CIA became nervous about his association with the Communists and talked to the British. The British either knew what Lee Kuan Yew was up to, or they just knew him better than the Americans did. Lee Kuan Yew was educated in Britain, and if I'm not mistaken, he practiced law there for a few years. Anyway, the Brits trusted him and told the CIA not to worry. But the CIA wouldn't leave it alone and stupidly tried to infiltrate the Singapore police. They got caught, and then offered Lee Kuan Yew a $3 million bribe to hush it up. He refused. When he recounted this story several years later, the CIA denied it. That was also stupid--given a choice between Lee Kuan Yew and the CIA, anyone with half a brain would believe Lee Kuan Yew. Here's his statement:

The Americans should know the character of the men they are dealing with in Singapore and not get themselves further dragged into calumny. They are not dealing with Ngo Dinh Diem or Syngman Rhee. You do not buy and sell this Government.
Lee Kuan Yew has not been without critics. He was compassionate, but he was also an autocratic leader. They used to call him "Hitler with a heart." He outlawed chewing gum, and there is lots of back and forth on how much dissent is really tolerated in Singapore. But he was always easy-going with religious people. He would say, "Pray to whatever God you believe in." Singapore has some of the largest churches in the world. It's interesting that China seems to see Singapore as a model for how they want to operate--a tight ship run by a benevolent dictator. But if that is their thinking, they have a long ways to go. Singapore is a much more open society than China. By a long shot. There is no GFW in Singapore, and as far as I know, you can buy foreign newspapers on Singapore without restriction. But I guess I would have to say that Singapore is not a happy place for trouble makers or protesters. And there have been some cases of foreign migrant workers being abused by corrupt employers. But it must also be said that Lee Kuan Yew built Singapore into a place where educated professionals from just about any background or culture who are willing to work and mind their own business can find a way to fit in. You don't meet professional anywhere who don't like Singapore, or at least value the experience of having worked there. To see what Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore, you really need to look at a map and see just how insignificant that little portion of the beach is from a natural perspective. That it should become a major international city-state is something that no one could have guessed just by looking at what the people of Singapore had to work with.

Lee Kuan Yew will go down in history as an extraordinary leader in a time of great change as the belated remnants of the nineteenth century colonial period moved toward independent statehood. Vietnam is an example of one that had much more rugged and tragic transition.

Monday, March 23, 2015

First Bloom 2015 

I actually think I missed the first bloom on the mountain this year, because I was really busy last week.It would be quite a late spring if that were not the case. Generally, I expect to see at least one little flower on the mountain by the middle of March. And I took this from across the lake, so it isn't a very good view of the flowers, but they are there. Behind them is the old Qing Dynasty training tower used for teaching soldiers how to scale walls. Interesting, since the Qing Dynasty was started when the government minister opened the gate and let them in, not because they were able to scale the Great Wall. The Fragrant Hills area was mainly the resort of Qian Long, from the Qing Dynasty, which is the most recent dynasty, so it is relatively new when viewed from the perspective of China's history as a whole. Still, that old tower has been standing there since a quarter of a century before the Declaration of Independence was signed, so that is a few winters back.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interesting. Yesterday, CCTV English did a full report on the nightly news regarding the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore. This evening, they announced that the report had been a hoax. This has to be very embarrassing for CCTV, because it underscores the fact that much of their news comes from scanning other media rather than individual "shoe leather" reporting. But, to be fair, they are not alone. More and more young media wonks are basing their reports on stuff they have gathered from surfing the Internet rather than walking the streets and getting the information themselves. The Asia Wall Street Journal has been banned from the Bridge Cafe in Wudaokou now--the government won't allow them to display it, because they don't control it, but before Xi Jinping came to power and the Wall Street Journal was available, I used to read reports from time to time that were ridiculously ignorant. It was quite obvious from reading them that the writers thereof were sitting in New York and surfing the Internet. They sure didn't know much about China.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Farina 

Believe it or not, I bought a box of Cream of Wheat in Wudaokou the other day. Hard to believe. I might as well be living in America.You can see that I tried to tear the box open from the top. Shows how long it has been. I haven't had Cream of Wheat for a lifetime. I am pretty open minded about what I eat, but I tend to be pretty picky about breakfast. German muesli is readily available here in Beijing, but a little expensive. Fortunately, Australian oatmeal is quite reasonable, so most of the time I eat oatmeal. But now there is a new market in Wudaokou that has shredded wheat and a few other American cereals. Most American breakfast cereal is highly processed, so I haven't missed it. But shredded wheat is just that, and cream of wheat is also pretty much pure wheat grain, although not the whole grain. I also get an Australian cereal called "Weet-Bix." I have never quite gotten used to the standard Chinese "rice water" breakfast porridge, but there are some traditional breakfast eats that I do like. One of them is called "Xiaomai," which is basically cooked whole wheat wrapped in a dumpling. It is hard to believe that a bowl of Cream of Wheat and Xiaomai dumpling dipped in vinegar are actually two different forms of the same thing, but they pretty much are. So even though I missed having a bowl of farina once in awhile, if I had Cream of Wheat every morning and I could never stop at the jiaozi shop in my village and have a plate of Xiaomai and a bowl of egg drop soup I'd probably miss that too.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Jessup 

Just found out the other day that the CYU team has been invited to Washington D.C. for an exhibition match.

The Jessup International Moot Court competition is held every year and involves almost 700 law schools worldwide. Last Fall, Professor Murase from Tokyo, had asked another American professor and myself to help coach the CYU team. Professor Murase has written a text on International law, and it has just been translated into Chinese by a member of the CYU faculty, so he had volunteered to help get develop the CYU team.

At the China competition in February, I felt that the CYU team did exceptionally well. But there were two matches where the opposing team was split--one contestant was exceptionally good and the other was quite below par. The judges apparently decided to base the score on the performance of the best player, so in those matches, the other team took the win. The result was that the CYU team came in 17th out of 40 teams nationwide. That is still a remarkable performance for such a small law school. In the past, no one has really expected the CYU team to accomplish much of anything. But I still feel they did much better than they were given credit for.

Anyway, Professor Murase and Dr. Chen from CYU have managed to arrange for the CYU team to do an exhibition match in Washington at the international competition, and the college has agreed to pay for their transportation, so this way they will get the opportunity I feel they really deserve to show what they can do.

This year's moot court case involves two fictitious countries and deals with the issue of secession. It is obviously based on the recent secession and annexation of Crimea. The final competition in Washington D.C. is actually held before the judges of the International Court of Justice. But here in Beijing the judges were international legal people who are working in Beijing in some legal capacity, or have been involved in previous Jessup competitions. Some of them are really quite good.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Dali 

Just got to Dali. I took the long, twelve-hour bus ride from Daocheng down to Zhongdian (which is now called Shangri La ) a week ago today. I had checked out several hostels on the youth hostel website, but one of them that I had passed up was recommended to me quite highly by one of the young travelers in Daocheng, so I decided to go there. The reason I had passed it up is because there was absolutely no detail information on the English version of the website (which is the one I use). Everything was blank. In fact, the place was run by a very nice Naxi lady. I told her that she should put in some information on the English site. She told me that they come from the countryside and none of them speak English. It was evident that they didn't know that much about hosteling, but they had actually built a very nice (albeit a bit rustic) hostel from what looked like it had been an old school or something. They had resources. When I called from the bus station, instead of telling me which bus to catch, she sent someone in an SUV to pick me up. If they ever get around to putting in some information on the English site, they are going to be very popular, becuase they are just about the nicest people you could hope to meet. They'll have to get some university student volunteers or something, because none of them speak English. But they were very friendly and accomodating. And they have a breakfast menu which includes a set group of items designed for Chinese people. I carry my own oatmeal, so I just ordered some special high country barley bread and a couple eggs. I only stayed there one night, because I wanted to get down to Lijiang for the weekend. She had some friends going down to Lijiang the next day, so I asked her what the bus fair was and offered to pay them that much. She quoted me a price of 70 kuai, and I didn't argue. When the two guys came to pick me up, they helped me carry my stuff to the car. The guy who was carrying my bag said, "Your bag is very heavy. I'm going to have to charge you 100." I put an end to that nonsense in a big hurry, and we were on our way."

Lijiang is known for the old city. There is nothing else there. The old city is on the United Nations register of historic places. But it's so touristed now. Really frustrating. But the youth hostel was very nice--a good place to work and study. I was there almost a week, because I wanted to take a side trip to Lugo Lake. I had a problem with reservations because there were lots of people there, and the hostel told me that their reservation system malfunctioned and they had more reservations than beds. On top of that, every day had intermittent torrential rains. I was beginning to get the picture. Fortunately, yesterday I met a guy who grew up in that area. He told me that the best time to go there was in the spring or fall. I had read something to that effect in the Lonely Planet. But he told me that the hiking trails were not very safe in the summer. I was glad for the info. I will be back. But not in the heat of the tourist season.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Daocheng 

My last evening in Daocheng. I left Chengdu Friday, and got to Kanding after a grueling 12 hour bus trip. Some of the road wasn't that bad, but some of it was very, very bad. Some of the worst roads I have seen in my life. I remember those roads well from my childhood in Japan. But what added to the problem was the kind of traffic on those roads. Big trucks carrying heavy loads.

When I got to Kanding, I called the Dongba hostel. They told me to turn left out of the bus stop and start walking. That didn't seem very helpful. But I was able to ask people as I was walking and I found the place. When I got there, they told me that they did not have any beds. That after I had called them several times and been told that they had plenty of beds. In fact, I had called them that morning from the bus to verify again that I was coming. The proprietor told me she would go out in the street with me and try to scrounge up something. I was not impressed. It was clear to me how they operated. They pretend to take reservations, but they do not honor them. They operate on first come, first served basis, which is their right. But the problem is, they don't tell you that honestly. They let you think you have a reservation, but if someone else comes first, they give your bed to them and then when you come they offer to help you find something. I really don't like to operate that way. Fortunately, there is a YHA hostel in Kanding, I had originally planned to go there, but the other one was recommended to me by some Chinese folks in Chengdu. Anyway, I went the Konka Hostel. They told me they did not have any dorm beds, but that I could sleep in a tent. I wasn't enthusiastic about squeezing into a small tend, but I also didn't want to sleep in the street. So I told them to show me the tent. To my surprise, it was a huge tent with ten beds in it. That would not be comfortable in Chengdu or Beijing because no air conditioning. But in the mountains, it is quite pleasant, because the air is cool at night.

I stayed in Kanding for two nights and left early Sunday morning for Daocheng. Another grueling, twelve-hour road trip. When we finally to Daocheng, I called the Yading YHA hostel, and they told me to wait for them. After a few minutes a couple of young people from the hostel showed up and led me to where it was. One of them insisted on carrying my heavy backpack. When I got there, I met some young people who wanted to go to an onsen. They had been asking everyone who came, because the deal was that if they had at least four people, the hot springs place would provide free pickup. I was exhausted. I really didn't feel like doing it. But I knew that if I did, I would come back and sleep like a baby. I'm really glad I went with them. Twenty-five RMB per person--thirty if you want a private hot tub. I paid the extra 5 kuai and got a private room. It wasn't quite like Japan. There was no washing area. I'm not sure what people here do. Do they just wash right in the tub? Or do they treat it like a swimming pool instead of a bath? I don't know. But in Japan it would be a mortal sin to wash right in the hot water, so I couldn't bring myself to do it. That's OK. I'm philosophical about that. I can take a shower any time. After we got out, they served us yak butter tea, which for me was exactly what the doctor ordered. A little salty, and very nourishing.

Yesterday, I rented an e-bike and took one of the volunteers from the youth hostel for a ride through the beautiful Tibetan countryside around Daocheng (although Daocheng is officially in Sichuan Province). Fortunately, the Tibetan kids we talked to spoke Mandarin, so we were able to communicate with them. But when one of their mothers came up, she just waved and said, "Bu dong. (I don't understand)."

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