As expected, an outdoor meeting by the Shouwang Church in Beijing today has been broken up by the PSB, and around 30 worshippers arrested and taken to different paichusuo. Pastor Jin Tianming 金天明, who’s under house-arrest, had already made it clear, after previous run-ins with the authorities over outdoor services, that he saw the Bible as commanding Christians to worship en masse, and that since Shouwang were unable to meet in a restaurant they’d been renting and hadn’t been allowed to move into a premises they’d paid some ¥27m for, their outdoor prayer meetings would be the prominently visible “city on a hill” which the Bible calls for. If worshippers are arrested, it is, Jin says, a price they are happy to pay.
But the Communist Party, which is of course constitutionally atheist and very wary both of alternative sources of authority (i.e. God) and, in light of what’s happening in the Middle East, of large public gatherings, is not too keen on Chinese Christians meeting in public to set others an example of tacit “disobedience”.
There are estimated to be 15m Protestant Chinese in officially recognized churches, and another 5m Catholics, but these appear by some estimates to be dwarfed by the 50m Christians in unregistered churches. The Protestant Shouwang Church (shouwang 守望 is Chinese for “lookout” or “keep watch”) was founded in 1993 and is one of Beijing’s largest “underground” churches, that is to say, its applications to be officially recognized have been refused because its leaders will not follow the Communist Party’s line on what they can and can’t teach. I don’t blame them: nobody in China was ever asked if they wanted to be ruled by the Communist Party, which seized power at gunpoint in 1949, against the run of play, as it were, and has held on to it by crushing any opposition ever since then. The PRC’s Constitution “guarantees” freedom of religion, but that mealymouthed guarantee is made meaningless by the Party’s fear that allowing dissent in this sphere will be the thin end of the wedge and ultimately undermine their rule.
On a lighter note, I found a Chinese (ostensibly Christian!) website this morning with a bizarre explanation of what Easter means, aimed at a domestic audience. I’ve translated it in full to see if anybody can throw light onto the whole Ba’al thing...
“Easter is the second-biggest Christian festival [?!]. According to the Gospels, after Jesus’ Passion he was resurrected “on the first day of the week”. Because of this, Christians called this “the Lord’s Day” to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection, and gradually the phrase “the Lord’s Day” came to replace the term “Day of Rest”. Activities were held on it, and later it developed into today’s “day of worship”. In the UK, most holidays have their origin in religion. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox, and originally commemorated the birth of Astarte, half-sister and lover of of Ba’al, a god of West Asian heterodox religious tradition. But today, for most people, Easter is just a commonplace festival when people enjoy the beautiful spring sunshine.”