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  • » 06/08/2012, 00.00


    Tiananmen, a "watershed" for China's conversion to Christianity

    A Chinese scholar who closely followed events in 1989 sees a major shift in the country's outlook following the crackdown against the pro-democracy movement. Communism's betrayal, the gap between the regime and the people and the need for spirituality "led many of us to Christianity, which alone can respond to these needs."

    New York (AsiaNews) - Monday, 4 June, marked the 23rd anniversary of China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Prof Fenggang Yang of Purdue University closely observed that day. Now he says that many of dissidents who led that movement have become Christians. In fact, he says 1989 was a watershed year for conversions, for it led to "a quiet spiritual revolution," among many Chinese, who have come to equate Christianity with modernity. Yang spoke to Here & Now from which the interview is taken.

    Mao had always associated Christianity with western imperialism. How did it come to symbolize modernity?

    In 1989, people [found] the Communist belief system could not really provide the things that they want[ed] and they began to look for alternatives and Christianity is the alternative to many young people.

    Why weren't more traditional faiths satisfying these spiritual needs?

    There are people who have gone into Buddhism. Buddhism remained the largest religion in China. But what's interesting to me is the intellectuals. Since 1989, many of them have turned to Christianity instead of Buddhism. And especially for those who strive for democracy, who strive for modern society, they see Christianity [as] the foundation for their individual life and perhaps for the kind of social institutions they desire.

    You converted to Christianity after you moved to the U.S. in 1989 to become a visiting professor at Catholic University. Why did you convert?

    I'm from an atheist background. My father was a Communist revolutionary who joined the Communists during the Second World War.

    For me, it took a long way to reach the point to become a believer. I was looking for something. In college, I studied politics and education, but I found them not that interesting. So I turned myself to poetry and the literature, but then I didn't find the satisfaction, so I then turned to philosophy. And when I studied western philosophy, I realized that so many western philosophers talked about God. I had no idea that philosophers could believe in God.

    That really led me to religion, I began to study religion. But really after [Tiananmen], I suddenly felt that I was a homeless person in terms of spirituality. That was a very painful period for me. I want[ed] a spiritual home. When I looked for the different religious traditions, Christianity made the best sense to me, so I converted.

    You study other believers, and you recently looked at a group of young Christians, many participated in Tiananmen, and they meet at McDonald's for Bible study. Why McDonald's?

    The significance of McDonald's is not the restaurant itself, it's really more of a symbolism, a connection with the global world. It also symbolizes a rational, efficient modern type of business.

    Several of [the young believers] told me the story that they even had a Bible study at a McDonald's for a long time. [But] according to the Chinese policy, doing anything religious outside of the church would be considered illegal.

    One day the local police rounded up [those participating in Bible study] and asked them to pledge [to] never do that again. The leaders of the Bible study wrote down on a form, "We promise we will never do this again at this McDonald's." But there are plenty of other McDonald's.

    Are Christians in China involved in politics?

    Overall in the U.S., the Chinese American Christians are evangelical, they are apolitical. In China, the vast majority of them are evangelical and they have very little interest in politics. But when their rights of worship [are] violated, they hold onto their rights and fight back now.

    There is a rise of civil rights lawyers, human rights lawyers. Interestingly, a significant portion of them are Christian. And these Christian lawyers fight for the rights of those marginalized people in China. Would you call this political? They may say, we are really not political, but we just want to have our basic rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution.

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    See also

    01/06/2012 CHINA
    Tiananmen massacre cautiously marked in China
    For the first time since 1989, small demonstrations are held to mark the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong invite mainlanders to their great march in remembrance of the victims. New Hong Kong museum attracts tourists from the mainland.

    04/06/2012 CHINA
    Hundreds of activists arrested across China to prevent Tiananmen commemoration
    In every city, police is ordered to arrest anyone who tries to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. In Ghuizhou, police take away a group of senior citizens who organised a sit-in to mark the event. In Hong Kong, a museum shows young Chinese the truth about what happened in 1989.

    04/05/2010 CHINA
    Chai Ling, former Tiananmen leader, has become a Christian
    Her conversion born of her inability to change China and the pain of forced abortions that take place in his country with the one-child law "a hundred times more violent than the Tiananmen massacre." The invitation to Chinese leaders to repent and discover the forgiveness of God.

    13/05/2009 CHINA
    Zhou Yongjun, who was in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989, is arrested
    After fleeing to the United States the student leader tried to re-enter China last year but was caught by police. Now after months of secret detention he is charged with fraud. Dui Hua Foundation says at least 30 people are still in prison for their presence in Tiananmen Square on that fateful night.

    05/11/2007 CHINA
    Police cordons off Tiananmen dissident Bao Zunxin’s funeral
    Police arrests, harasses and interrogates activists, lawyers and human rights advocates to prevent them from attending the funeral of a great hero of democracy.

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