The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound effects on the functions of nearly every religion or belief group in every country in the world over the past two years. While many have now emerged from lockdowns and measures imposed to curb the spread of the virus are being lifted in most countries, arguably some of the strictest restrictions remain in the country where the virus was first detected: China.
Since December 2021, China has been wrestling with the spread of the omicron variant, with many cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Xi’an, having been placed under lockdowns at various points over the past six months. Even as lockdowns have been lifted in some places, they remain in effect in others, and there is no telling from one week to the next whether more severe measures will be enforced in any one place.
Meanwhile, for religious groups in these and other cities remaining restrictions designed to limit the spread of the virus have combined with new regulations on online religious activities to make everything from online meetings to day-to-day communication extremely difficult.
Continue reading “‘I fear they will normalise this’ – Restrictions combine to make life even more difficult for religion and belief groups in China”
Netflix’s hit dystopian drama – with deadly playground games, anonymous masked henchmen and a giant murderous doll – is far-fetched to say the least. And yet, arguably, one storyline underplays the grim reality.
In just four weeks, Squid Game, the Korean production where contestants play children’s games and the losing players are killed, became Netflix’s most popular series ever and number one in 90 countries.
In one storyline, guards take the bodies of losing contestants and operate on them, removing vital organs while the subjects are still alive. These organs are then rushed to be sold to Chinese traders.
Continue reading “Far-fetched and fantastical? One aspect of Squid Game could be all too real”
Under China’s current religious regulations, only government-approved faith leaders can carry out government-approved religious activities in government-approved sites. As a result, there are many situations in which a religious leader can find themselves on the wrong side of the law in China, even facing charges that have no apparent connection to religion but can carry lengthy sentences.
The widely-reported cases of Pastor Wang Yi and Pastor Yang Hua highlight how the Chinese authorities prosecute leaders of unregistered Protestant churches with flagrantly baseless criminal charges: ‘inciting to subvert state power’ and ‘illegal business operations’ for Wang and ‘divulging state secrets’ for Yang. Alarmingly, fraud charges seem to have become one of the most damaging tools that the authorities use against pastors, for persecution as well as defamation.
Elder Zhang Chunlei
On 1 May 2021, the day the new administrative measures on religious clergy came into effect, Love Reformed Church received a notice saying their leader Zhang Chunlei had been officially arrested ‘on suspicion of fraud’. To this, the unregistered church in Guiyang in Guizhou province expressed incredulity in a prayer update issued on the same day.
Continue reading “Pastors or fraudsters? Neither registered nor unregistered religious leaders are safe from the Chinese Communist Party’s false allegations”
In China, June is a sombre month for those who remember the mass pro-democracy protests across the country and the military’s bloody crackdown in 1989. Remembrance itself is an act of defiance against the suppression and manipulation of history by the Chinese authorities. Each year, events are held worldwide to pay tributes to the victims and their families.
What is less widely reported however, is how survivors’ lives have been changed by the tragic events of ‘June 4th’, as the events are known in China.
One of the protesters on Tiananmen Square was Xu Na, then a student at Beijing Broadcasting Institute (BBI). She was holding a banner with her fellow friends that read “Freedom of the Press; Freedom of Speech” while marching through the Beijing streets. Thirty-two years later, Xu Na is in another place in Beijing: Dongcheng District Detention Centre, where she has been criminally detained for the past 11 months.
Continue reading “From one crackdown to another: The life of Xu Na”
“We should seek the truth and seek it at all costs. Truth has always been the most expensive thing in the world. It is our life.”
These are the words of the brave Chinese citizen journalist and former lawyer Zhang Zhan. For her, seeking the truth meant travelling to China’s Wuhan in February 2020, right at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. There, she published videos and articles reporting on the crisis to both Twitter and YouTube, both of which are blocked in China.
Zhang’s reporting, and particularly her questioning of whether the Chinese authorities’ response to the pandemic had infringed on human rights unsurprisingly provoked the ire of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). On 14 May 2020, a year ago today, she was seized by Shanghai police in her hotel room in Wuhan and taken to a detention centre in Shanghai.
She subsequently spent seven months in detention, during which time concerns were repeatedly raised over her health and wellbeing – particularly as she remained on hunger strike in protest of her treatment.
Continue reading “Seek the truth at all costs: A call for the release of Zhang Zhan on the first anniversary of her detention”