Category - China

A Dissident Comes to Notre Dame
Religious Repression is China’s Answer to Vatican’s Outstretched Hand
Beneath Hong Kong’s Umbrellas: Religion
More on Hong Kong
On The Events in Hong Kong

A Dissident Comes to Notre Dame

In fall 2003, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame hosted a talk by Norwegian scholar and peace activist Johan Galtung.  Famous for founding the discipline of peace studies, Galtung has coined enduring concepts like “structural violence,” the distinction between “positive” and “negative” peace, and other notions that, for the last several decades, have undergirded activism against war and against, well, The System.  Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Galtung looked the part as he addressed his large Notre Dame audience, giving them a tour of violence around the world.

Doubtless, though, some in the audience were surprised when Galtung identified the greatest episode of violence in the world.  Was it U.S. imperialism in the Middle East?  No.  Colonialist exploitation of one kind or another?  No.  Galtung fingered sex selection abortion, carried out by the Chinese government through its “one-child policy,” as the world’s top form of violence.

Galtung is on my mind as I contemplate what I believe will prove a historic moment in Notre Dame’s witness for social justice, namely its hosting of the world’s greatest human rights dissident, China’s Chen Guangcheng, which will take place today, Tuesday, April 7.  Chen has stood for many causes in China, including women’s rights and land reform, but his most famous advocacy is against the one-child policy.

Not only is Galtung on my mind as I anticipate Chen’s address, but so is the recently deceased great president of Notre Dame, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, who did so much to establish Notre Dame’s witness for social justice.  It was under Hesburgh’s leadership, for instance, that President Jimmy Carter gave a famous address on human rights at Notre Dame in 1977, establishing human rights as a major theme of his presidency that would endure long after his tenure in office.  Because of Hesburgh, Notre Dame continues to draw upon its Catholic roots in advocating human rights passionately.  (See my earlier post on Fr. Hesburgh’s civil rights legacy written just after Hesburgh’s death on February 26, 2015.)  Such a legacy finds a fitting exemplar in Chen Guangcheng.

Blind from childhood, known as the “barefoot lawyer,” Chen cinematically escaped house arrest in April 2012, climbing over the wall of his house, swimming across a river, and reaching the U.S. embassy, where he found refuge. In May 2012, the Chinese government allowed him to leave for New York University to take up a visiting scholar position. More recently, he has held positions at the Witherspoon Institute and The Catholic University of America. Now he gives lectures, has recently finished his autobiography, The Barefoot Lawyer, and continues to speak against the one-child policy.

First enacted in 1980, the policy has resulted in over 400 million abortions, according to the Chinese government. Many, if not most, of these abortions are forced or at least performed under heavy state pressure. Horrific stories abound of women brutally coerced into giving up their babies, even in the late term of their pregnancies. True, the policy is enforced unevenly, contains many exceptions, and was relaxed in 2013 to allow more births to take place. Still, the scale has been gargantuan.

One of the policy’s worst perversities is the one that Galtung identified: “sex-selection” abortion, in which parents abort girls far more often than boys, who are culturally preferred. In addition to taking the lives of girls en masse, the policy has created sex ratios that leave tens of millions of men in China without mates, resulting in an enormous market for sex trafficking, mail-order brides, and prostitution.

For those who hold, as I do, that the unborn child is a complete person with full dignity from the time he or she is conceived, the one-child policy deserves to be ranked among the genocides of the past century. Opposition to the one-child policy is also a cause around which diverse advocates can coalesce. Among harsh critics of the policy are Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen and journalist Mara Hvistendahl, a pro-choice feminist whose book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, is an excellent account of sex-selection abortion around the world. The brutal coercion of women combined with sex selection make the one-child policy a quintessential women’s issue.

Accompanying Chen in his visit will be another heroic human rights advocate, a rare activist who devotes herself almost solely to the one-child policy, Reggie Littlejohn, who will be showing her film, It’s a Girl, earlier on the day that Chen will speak.

All of this comes to Notre Dame thanks to the visionary leadership of the Institute for Church Life and its Director, John Cavadini.  Let us hope that as a result of Chen’s and Littejohn’s witness, more will join the ranks of those who oppose a human rights violation which, as Galtung rightly argued, has no parallel.

Updated: Tuesday, April 7

Religious Repression is China’s Answer to Vatican’s Outstretched Hand

It is a wintry season for religious freedom in China.

Freedom in general is suffering in China, as this article in the New York Times explained vividly at the beginning of the year.  The Maoists are back, apparently.  Religious freedom, whether for Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhist, Falun Gong, or Christians, is worsening distinctly.  China already holds a position in the most repressive tier of the world’s violators, as attested by the the rigorous rankings of the Pew Forum.  It seems little interested in moving upwards.

Take the case of Beijing’s treatment of the Catholic Church.  Over many months, Pope Francis has been signaling interest in rapprochement, even declining to meet with the Dalai Lama in the Vatican late last year so as not to offend the Chinese government.  But this regime is not returning the affection.

For the Catholic Church, religious freedom is in one sense a more demanding claim than for other religions: it involves respect for its transnational communion of bishops, centered on the Bishop of Rome, the successor to Peter. Dating back to the 1950s, the Government of China has strongly managed, regulated, and constricted the Catholic Church through the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which rejects the authority of the Pope over the Church by requiring bishops to be ordained under its own authority.

In this manner, China’s regime violates the freedom of the Catholic Church with respect to its essential structure. The Church’s authority to ordain its own bishops is the prerogative that it has insisted upon most vigorously against the encroachments of kings, emperors, and dictators, dating from the Investiture Conflict of the 11th century, to Henry VIII’s seizure of the Church in England in the 16th century, to the French Revolution, to modern Communist dictatorships.

Admittedly, complexity has entered the relationship between the Vatican and China in the past three decades or so as the Vatican has come to recognize the authority of many bishops ordained under the CPCA. Still, the fundamental denial of the Church’s freedom by the CPCA arrangement persists. Over the past half-decade, the Chinese government has become more entrenched in its hostility to the Church’s hierarchy by ordaining several bishops against the wishes of Rome.  A news story of today reveals that China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs intends to continue this practice.  In addition, the government has imprisoned a bishop who refused to join the CPCA soon after his ordination and persists in holding Chinese Christians in jail for worshipping contrary to government regulations.

Accompanying these stories are the reports that have surfaced over the past year of the Chinese government destroying churches and removing crosses, especially in Zhejiang Province.  One news story reports that that “2014 saw the worst persecution of Chinese Christians in a generation.”  During this year, 60 churches were destroyed in Zhejiang province.

Still another recent story in the Financial Times documents the general climate of increasing religious repression in China.

Updated, February 2, 2015.  See this story on China’s crackdown on western textbooks.


Beneath Hong Kong’s Umbrellas: Religion

Key to the leadership of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution is religion.  This should not be surprising.  In the long wave of democracy movements beginning around 1974, religion has played a major role.  My colleagues Monica Toft, Tim Shah, and I found that among 78 democracy movements that we studied, religion played a prominent role in 48.

John Lindblom, a doctoral student in the World Religions World Church program in the theology department here at Notre Dame, notices what many others have not: religion’s role in the Hong Kong protests. He has been involved in China-related teaching, research, and work since 1997.  Here’s John:

 The pro-democracy protests unfolding in Hong Kong during the past week, appear to have reached a decision point as of Sunday, with student leaders and government officials agreeing for the second time to hold negotiations after the first round of talks were canceled by protestors. At issue is the Beijing government’s announcement that the pool of candidates for the 2017 election to Hong Kong’s top office, the Chief Executive, would be pre-selected by the Communist Party, while protesters demand genuine democracy with universal suffrage and free and open elections. The first planned talks were canceled after protesters were violently attacked on Friday by counter-protesters who students claim were gang members (who spoke Mandarin, indicating they are from mainland China, not Hong Kong) sent in by officials to disrupt the peaceful demonstrations.

Tens of thousands of protesters, mostly students, have taken to the streets in a movement called “Occupy Central” (Hong Kong’s administrative district) since last weekend, and tensions have escalated step by step during the past week, after police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters, who responded with greater numbers and firmer resolve, carrying umbrellas and wearing face masks and goggles. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying rejected their demands that he step down, while stating that students would be treated “with the greatest tolerance.” By Saturday, however, there were warnings that if students did not disperse and allow civil servants back to work Monday morning, that a “tragedy” may ensue. On Sunday, government and university officials urged students to disperse, stating that they had effectively made their voices heard. Even Hong Kong’s retired archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has joined students the streets and strongly supported them in this movement, urged them in a Facebook post Sunday “not to sacrifice a single one” in this cause. As of Sunday night, most protest sites had only a fraction of their earlier numbers, and sites near government buildings showed walkways cleared so that government workers could reach their offices on Monday. Whether or not large numbers return to the streets remains to be seen.

In addition to Cardinal Zen, many among the students leading and participating in the demonstrations are Christians. As quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Cheng, a political-science professor at City University of Hong Kong and a supporter of the protesters said, “Christians, by definition, don’t trust the communists. The communists suppress Christians wherever they are.”

Beijing’s has used familiar rhetoric in its statements, writing that cadres and the masses “resolutely oppose” the protests, that these protests are an instance of unrest being instigated by a small number of troublemakers, and that this matter is China’s “internal affair” with which foreign entities must not “interfere.” A commentary on the English website of the People’s Daily, China’s largest state-run newspaper, quoted numerous non-Chinese experts to express opposition to the Occupy Central movement. One Catholic news source, Asia News, wrote in late August that Beijing fears that a “germ of democracy” could be implanted in the former British colony and from there “infect” mainland China. The People’s Daily, for its part, commented on the front page of the Chinese edition on Saturday, “As for the ideas of a very small minority of people to use Hong Kong to create a ‘color revolution’ in mainland China, that is even more of a daydream.”

To those who remember the pro-democracy movement of 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, these events and words bear a sadly familiar and ominous tone. We hope and pray that the violent Tiananmen Square massacre (which is remembered by thousands every year in Hong Kong, and to which there is a permanent memorial sculpture at the University of Hong Kong) will never be repeated. In fact, Beijing’s words and actions before, during, and since the Tiananmen movement are the same. Almost always, the CCP blames the unrest on a few lawless instigators, claims that force is needed to regain or maintain stability, and tells outside actors not to interfere with China’s internal affairs. This is the most important test to date for China’s promise to maintain a “high degree of autonomy” as promised for Hong Kong. Students and many others see Beijing’s actions in recent years as incremental encroachments on their previous way of life, which, shaped by 150 years of British colonial rule, is completely different from that in mainland China. Simple gestures such as students continuing to do their homework while sitting in the streets, and cleaning up after themselves at protest sites, indicate that their intentions and commitment to non-violence are genuine, yet their frustrations and fears are real. As recent history has shown, a peaceful resolution to conflict is rare when confronting the Chinese government, but in this case we must still hope and pray that the planned talks will move forward, an agreement will be reached, and a tragedy, which could have enormous repercussions for Hong Kong, China, and the rest of the world, will still be avoided.

More on Hong Kong

The latest from Victoria Hui (see earlier posts below):

Tensions in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution were diffused at the eleventh hour last night (Oct. 2, HK time), but could rekindle any time unless protestors find a third alternative between escalating and retreating. Tensions were building up last evening as Hong Kong protestors surrounded the Chief Executive’s office  and threatened to occupy other government office buildings if CY Leung would not step down by midnight. In response, the police were seen to stockpile tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and even bullets for AR-15 at the Chief Executive’s office. Observers could finally take a deep breath when CY Leung announced that he would appoint the Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to open negotiations with students. However, few people are optimistic that the negotiations would amount to anything. Not only that Mr. Leung refused to resign as demanded by protestors, Beijing has also stepped up its hardline position that it will not change the arrangements to vet candidates for the CE election in 2017 — which caused the protests in the first place. Protestors will thus continue to feel that they have to escalate to more disruptive actions or the movement would lose momentum and die out. But protestors have a third alternative. Scholars have argued that methods of dispersal — such as consumer boycotts and nonpayment of taxes — could be as effective as methods of concentration — such as the massive demonstrations that are on display now. If targeted boycotts hurt the interest of business tycoons whose support CY relies on and if nonpayment of taxes make bureaucrats unable to administer Hong Kong, then protestors would have a higher chance of compelling concessions and avoiding direct clashes with the police. And the movement will be sustainable in the long-term even when people have to go back to school or to work.



On The Events in Hong Kong

Victoria Hui, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, has worked in the democracy movement in Hong Kong and now serves on the Academic Advisors Committee of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. She  discuss protests in Hong Kong and the Communist Party’s crackdown on social media as Beijing tries to prevent the democratic protest from spreading to the mainland.

Hui says… 
International media have reported on how hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong protesters have maintained nonviolent discipline and order. International observers see images common to nonviolent movements around the world: strength in numbers, determined faces in front of riot police, slogans, songs, and more. Beneath such broad strokes of similarities, Hong Kong is unlike other cases given the constitutional structure of “one country, two systems” agreed to between Beijing and London. While Hong Kong has only semi-democracy, people are free to protest. While the police sometimes make arbitrary arrests, the independent judiciary inherited from the colonial era routinely releases activists. This constitutional structure presents a very open political space unseen in the rest of China and yet makes it difficult for activists to mobilize the largely contented population. Against this backdrop, the unprecedented use of riot police and the firing of tear gas seemed to have galvanized popular support for the protesters fighting for genuine democracy and increased sympathy for nonviolent actions.
More from Hui in this Notre Dame news story.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.