Religion & History III – The Chinese government doesn’t tolerate dissent very well

Note from November 2007: This was originally posted on a blog of mine that was hosted on Blogger. I’ve since imported that blog over here to C Good’s Things on WordPress. is a Reuters story about a standoff between about 50 Catholic priests & nuns and the Chinese police in the northern town of Tianjin.

There’s lots to be sad about in this story. China actually has two Roman Catholic churches, the officially approved one with officially approved bishops and priests, and the unofficial one with bishops and priests actually appointed by the Vatican. I’ve seen a number of new stories over the years about Christians being persecuted in China, especially those that don’t follow the officially-approved priests.

This news story also mentions a Protestant pastor who was charged with illegally printing and distributing copies of the Bible -– and sentenced to three years in jail for it.

What is interesting about this news story is that the priests & nuns who are protesting are part of the officially-approved Roman Catholic Church in China – and they are still defying the authorities. The story mentions two separate instances of groups of priests and nuns being attacked and beaten by mobs. In this most recent case,

. . . when a Catholic group from Shanxi went to the building, they were attacked by about 30 men with iron rods, clubs and bricks, said a statement issued by the group.

Four priests and a female parishioner were injured. Police broke up the attack, but then refused to take the injured to hospital, instead holding them in a police station for questioning, the group said.

Also from the article:

Chinese police regularly harass members of the underground Roman Catholic Church, but generally leave services and activities of the official church alone.

Beijing has had no ties with the Vatican since 1951 and insists relations cannot be resumed unless the Holy See severs links with self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as a breakaway province.

Land disputes are becoming increasingly common in China. Residents often take to the streets in protest at buildings being grabbed by governments or developers without proper compensation.

Since China restored officially controlled religion in the 1980s, it has selectively returned confiscated land to Catholic churches. But in many places land remains in dispute.

An argument over land appropriated for a wind farm in southern China erupted into violence this month, and the government has admitted three protesters were shot dead by police.

Also related to religion in China is this story from Reuters, dated December 29: I had seen an earlier news article about the number two official in Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama, giving an interview to the Xinhua news agency saying that everything was peachy-keen in Tibet and the Chinese government was doing a wonderful job. That earlier news article had also mentioned that this Panchen Lama, the 11th, only became Panchen Lama after the Chinese government removed the previous Panchen Lama for not being friendly enough with the Chinese government. Also, the current Panchen Lama is a teenage living with his parents under the supervision of the Chinese government.

But I’m sure all that official government control has nothing to do with the Panchen Lama’s statement. As a side note, I also think it is interesting that he and his parents both live under state supervision. In historical times, traitors and rebels in China ran the risk of both them and their families being persecuted. I have seen news stories that say today in North Korea (different country, but strongly influenced by China historically and has a long Confucian history, like China) when someone defects from North Korea, their family is persecuted and hounded going back two generations. The official rationale is that if someone is not a threat to the state, then that behavior had to come from somewhere and it is best to eradicate the ground the bad seed came from. But the real result is that anyone who wants to rebel against the government is automatically blackmailed with the well-being of their spouse, sibling, parents and even grand-parents. What a horrible system.

Anyway, back to this news story -– after seeing the news about Panchen Lama’s statements, I was curious to see what the Dalai Lama’s reaction would be. And, as I expected, the Dalai Lama said that the Panchen Lama’s statements were not accurate, torture & human rights abuses still occur in Tibet on a regular basis.

I also thought this part was darned decent of him to say:

The Dalai Lama, the head of Tibetan Buddhism and its political struggle, said he was saddened by reports monks had been killed and tortured by Chinese authorities for refusing to denounce him as a “separator” bent on damaging China.

“I had stressed if they have to denounce me then please denounce me — no problem,” he said firmly in his palace beneath snow-tipped Himalayan peaks in northern India.

“Their safety is more important. Just please denounce me,” he said, wearing traditional Buddhist purple robes.

But, given human nature, this will probably just spur his monks to be even more dogged in their refusal to denounce him.

It was also sad to read about the younger Tibetan generation, who believes that violent struggle is the answer. While violence may one day become necessary, it is not glamorous or a sure-fire bet or something to be desired. The circumstances in Northern Ireland, much of Africa, Burma, Chechnya, and the Middle East all show that when violence is introduced, it is local people who just want to get on with their lives who are hurt the most.

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