Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Boxer Rebellion 

Click for article.

The other day I opened the History Channel app on my little Samsung tablet and a documentary on the Boxer Rebellion in China caught my attention. The Boxer Rebellion is often misunderstood as "Chinese attacking foreigners." But the Boxers were a select group. This was a strange, devilish religious cult of rural people who had come to believe that they were impervious to foreign bullets.

This term is misleading for those who come from a western context. In America we think of boxing as hitting. But when Chinese people talk about martial arts like Tai Chi, they often use the term "boxing" when they are speaking English. Their reasoning is that since it involves the hands, it must be like boxing. But it's not really the same.

Much debate has centered around the original cause for their anger at foreigners. Since missionaries became the primary target, there seems to be the impression that missionaries did something to offend the Boxers (and by extension, the Chinese people in general). But is this fair? The documentary mentions the fact that the missionaries attacked ancestor worship, which was a cherished tradition and very much ingrained in Chinese culture. I question whether that was really the main issue, because it has never been clear to me the extent to which the Boxers were angry because of things the missionaries had actually done, or by crazy rumors about the foreigners that had no basis in fact. But, just for the sake of argument, let's examine the charge. Did the missionaries really attack the practice of ancestor worhip?

Yes. Guilty as charged. This had not always been true historically in China, and was in sharp contrast to Matteo Ricci (利玛窦), who tended to downplay the significance of ancestor worship. Ricci had a problem with Buddhism. But he had no real quarrel with the Confucian practice of ancestor worship, which he dismissed as veneration for the dead.

But the evangelical Christian missionaries who spread across China in the 19th and 20th centuries saw things very differently. To them, worshiping ancestors was no different from worshiping idols. So, to the extent that the Boxers may have been angered at the missionaries for threatening traditional beliefs, their fears were richly justified. But my problem is that I don't know if that's true. What I mean is, as I have stated earlier, I don't know if the anger of the Boxers really had anything to do with things like ancestor worship, or if they had somehow become convinced the foreigners were actually responsible for the drought that had plagued the countryside.

Whatever the case, it is important to point out that there were many ordinary Chinese people who were very much opposed to the Boxers, and, in fact, many of them also became victims of the Boxers. The great question historically is the extent to which the Dragon Lady supported the Boxers. Initially she seemed to be taking a neutral position, although I tend to think that she was secretly glad the foreigners were having trouble. But the documentary says that corrupt ministers in her government tricked her into thinking that the foreigners were trying to dethrone her. She blew a gasket and ordered the imperial army to aid the Boxers. This was a fatal error, because the Boxers were sure to fail eventually, and she bore the brunt of the blame for everything the Boxers did.

But let's get back to the missionaries for a minute. I guess I pay attention to this, because my parents were missionaries. So when I hear reports like this, I am struck by the contrast between what is often expressed, and what I see from my frame of reference. You see, from a secular perspective, helping people with education or medical services is considered a good thing for missionaries to do. But changing people's beliefs is considered an invasion of their culture. I don't agree with this. If people are worshiping their ancestors and their ancestors cannot really help them, then we are doing them a kindness if we point them toward a loving God who really interested in their concerns, who wants to reveal himself to them, and who is mighty to save. So the role of missionaries as belief changers can be just as important and just as life changing as the work they do in ministering to practical needs.

For example, it was the missionaries who put an end to the cruel practice of foot binding. This required changing the people's beliefs about women, about children, about people in general and about God and the purpose for which he has created us, and it is my firm belief that the missionaries were ideally suited for this task, because effective missionaries are nothing if not belief changers.

So if you believe that changing people's beliefs is always bad, then I can understand why you would not like missionaries. But if there are times when the best thing you can do for people is to change their beliefs, then missionaries surely have a roll to play in the development of civilized society.

Did anything good come out of the Boxer rebellion? Yes. After the eight powers liberated the foreign community, the Chinese government was required to pay a huge indemnity to those eight countries. Each country took their portion as payment for the damage done by the Boxers. Except the Americans. There was feeling in America, that the amount was excessive. In fact, it exceeded what the Americans had demanded. So, with the permission of TR, who thought it was a good idea, a very large portion of the American indemnity was returned to China, on the condition that it be used to provide scholarships for Chinese students to study in the United States. Part of this process involved the establishment of a prepratory school called "Tsinghua College" for the purpose of preparing students to go to America.

The China Inland Mission was offered indemnity payment for the great losses they had suffered, but they refused to accept it.


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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys 

Storming of the Legislative Council on July 2nd

This video (below) is a very good overview of what has been going on this summer in Hong Kong. If you are unclear about the history of this problem, you might want to listen to the podcast I did in June which explains the events that have led up to the current crisis.

But if you are basically familiar with the history, you can probably forego that. So let me just outline some of the key issues that seem to define this conflict this summer.

One thing I have mentioned as a frustration for me personally is the level of contempt for the police on the part of these privileged (read spoiled) young people. Now, if there is police brutality, that is an issue. For example, in 2014 there was actually a video of police beating a guy after he had been handcuffed. Clearly that is abuse. But in the current demonstrations, I have seen headlines like "Police use tear gas on crowds." This sort of thing baffles me. When crowds are becoming unruly, tear gas is certainly better than shooting real bullets. It clears the area. So a headline like "Police use tear gas" is essentially the same as "Police act appropriately and with compassion toward demonstrators." Can tear gas ever be used inappropriately? Sure. But you have to show that. A headline like "Police use tear gas on crowds" is bewildering, because it does not indicate anything inappropriate.

Rubber bullets are a little stronger. A rubber bullet can blind you if you get hit in the eye. But rubber bullets are certainly appropriate if crowds are charging the police. I saw protesters throwing umbrellas at the police. I did not personally see them throwing bricks, but I did hear about some of that, and I did see protesters digging up bricks from the street. Rubber bullets are very important when you have that level of aggressiveness. So when I hear that rubber bullets are being used, I look to see if there has been any agressiveness on the part of the demonstrators that justifies this. Throwing any kind of projectile at police is an open invitation for them to use rubber bullets, and I would fully support the use of rubber bullets in such a situation.

Basically, I see a divide in the current situation. Before June 15th, the demonstrations were mostly peaceful and very impressive. On July 15th, the bill was suspended, which meant it was basically dead. At that point, the demonstrators should have declared victory and gone home. But they didn't. They had a huge march the next day (June 16th). Even that did not bother me, because it was peaceful. I just think it should have been a victory celebration. But the demonstrators were not satisfied to have the bill dead. They had further demands. They wanted the chief executive to resign, and they wanted the bill to be officially withdrawn. They also wanted all arrests of demonstrators to be nullified.

They were being completely unreasonable. The purpose of demonstrations is to communicate the feelings of the people to the government, not to replace the government. But the demonstrators essentially wanted the powers that be to relinquish their positions of authority and allow the demonstrators to run Hong Kong. They became aggressive and violent. On July 2nd, they stormed and vandalized the legislative counsel. That's when I completely lost sympathy for them. As Margaret Thatcher said back in 1981. when and IRA terrorist Bobby Sands went on a hunger strike in an attempt to be given political prisoner status, "Crime is crime is crime." You see, Bobby Sands was not a political prisoner. He was not arrested merely for stating his political views. I guess you could call a bomb a type of statement, but it is also an instrument of terror. By the same token, vandalizing the Legislative Counsel could be considered a type of statement. But it is also a crime. Such destruction of property cannot be tolerated in civil society. Bobby Sands was demanding things that might have been considered appropriate for someone who was imprisoned merely for his political views, but not appropriate for someone who blows things up.

Many years ago, I worked in the prison system in Oregon. Every prisoner has a way to figure out how his particular crime was somehow justified, or not that bad. If we let criminals decide which punishment is appropriate for them, there will be nothing left of society.

As I said in my podcast, I fully sympathize with concerns about the extradition bill. But the young people have become the bad guys. Why do I say this? Let's take a look. Which of the following activities are things good guys do and which are things bad guys do?

  1. Carrying protest signs.
  2. Chanting protest slogans in unison.
  3. Marching together with other throngs of protestors.
  4. Scaling fences and tearing down barricades.
  5. Breaking and entering.
  6. Spray painting graffiti on the walls of the Legilative chamber.
  7. Throwing umbrellas, bricks, water bottles, metal balls or liquid drain cleaner at cops.
  8. Blocking roads and shutting down traffic so that people can't go to work.
  9. Tying up a journalist and tormenting him.
  10. Fighting with police and taking their batons away.
  11. Shutting down the airport so that all flights are cancelled.
  12. Charging the police en masse so that they have to draw their firearms.
  13. Demanding that they (the demonstrators, not the people via democratic elections) be allowed to unseat elected officials.
  14. Demanding that they and they alone be exempt from punishment for breaking the law.
  15. Proclaiming their belief in the rule of law while they are systematically breaking it.
I would list the first three as things that good guys do. I am and have always been a strong believer in the value and power of peaceful demonstration. But the rest are things that bad guys do.

One positive note: The summer is almost over. I predict that when the new semester starts, many of these privileged young people will go back to school and the protests will slowly dissipate. We'll see.



Friday, August 02, 2019

Undercover in Xinjiang 

Isobel Yeung, journalist for VICE News (Click photo for bio)

The other day I read a couple reports about the situation in Xinjiang, both of which indicated that the government may be close to closing the concentration camps housing thousands and thousands of Uyghurs and Kazakhs. One of the articles seemed to indicate that this may come soon and may already be happening. The other had more of a "some day if everything works out" feel to it. I'm not holding my breath, but I am going to be watching this very closely. Today I read another report saying that families were demanding proof that their missing relatives were actually free. So I am getting mixed messages. It may be a little time before the dust settles and we find out what changes (if any) have actually taken place.

I have mentioned the Magna Carta before. This is the thirteenth century document that outlines the basic human rights standard re: deprivation of liberty. I previously referred to Article 38, but the English version linked from the Wikipedia article identifies the same paragraph as Article 39. To avoid any confusion I will quote it here:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
So do the concentration camps in Xinjiang constitute a violation of this principle? I think there is no question about it. But is America right to criticize China for the construction of these camps? No. America is completely hypocritical. Yes, the camps in Xinjiang constitute a violation of this provision from the Magna Carta. But so did Guantanamo. Bush Jr. openly admitted that he had located the camp in Cuba to avoid having to be bound by American rules of due process (which, of course, were based on the Magna Carta). You see, this is what is to frustrating about this whole issue. Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone..."

The problem in today's world is that when countries like China, which do not operate according to accepted standards of human rights, commit massive human rights abuses such as the incarceration of thousands of innocent Chinese citizens in concentration camps, it is getting harder and harder to find a country or countries to confront China that are not in some way guilty themselves.

But there are bright spots. The video below shows the exploits of two young ladies who went to Xinjiang to document the problem with hidden cameras. They went in, got the information they needed and got out. And then, incredibly, they went back in. Watch this. It is as entertaining as it is informative. Pray for the people of Xinjiang. Let us all pray that these dreaded concentration camps will soon be closed down so that these innocent people, who have never been charged with a crime and are decent law-abiding citizens, can return to their homes and families.

This video is important for a couple reasons: First, it is very useful, because it features scenes that an official journalist guided by government "minders" would never see. But it is perhaps more important because it shows that sometimes when we see man's inhumanity to man, we tend to throw up our hands and say "There is nothing I can do." But these two young ladies did something. They did not have political power, but they had the power of information, and in sharing this dark story with the outside world, they have made it harder for the powers that be to continue the injustice.


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