China’s Protests: The Blank Sheets of Paper Say It All

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Protesters in China hold up blank sheets of paper

Protests in China have caught the attention of the world, but not much action in support of the protesters. The Biden administration has offered little more than a statement of support for people’s right to peacefully protest. There are no expectations that an administration determined to work with China to fight climate change and a global recession and corporations determined to profit from its great population will be inspired to offer firmer support. Given China’s history of cracking down brutally on protests, it may be that most politicians and businesspeople figure that these protests will go nowhere, anyway, so why commit to a losing cause? Cynicism reigns.

It’s generally conceded that the initial trigger for the protests were the frustration of the Chinese people over China’s COVID policies, which give new meaning to the term “draconian.” The Chinese people have been locked down for three years now. Entire neighborhoods, along with their businesses, can be shut down if even only one case of COVID is found, and not re-opened until everyone in the area tests negative. Citizens are required to be vaccinated in order to go grocery shopping, use public transportation, and engage in other activities necessary for ordinary life. China actually locks people into their apartments to prevent them from coming out and roaming the streets like normal people do. This led to tragic consequences recently when a fire broke out in an apartment building in Urumqi. Fire fighters wasted valuable time getting through the barriers put in place by the COVID lockdowns, so much so that 10 people died in the fire before it could be put out. This inspired rage over social media, which progressed to protests in the streets.

What is unique about these protests, however, is that they are not demanding only reforms in the COVID policies. They are demanding the resignation of China’s president Xi Jinping and the takedown of the Chinese Communist Party. China is far and away the most brutal regime on the planet. It is a surveillance state where the government controls nearly every aspect of citizens’ lives. People are holding up blank sheets of paper representing the things they would like to say but can’t for fear of being arrested, tortured, or even killed. Those fears are real. China has a long, ignoble history of human rights abuses, including imprisoning and executing political dissidents, enslaving millions, religious persecution, forced abortions, and convicting innocents then killing them for their organs in order to profit from the black market on human organs. Thousands were killed in response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. There is no reason to think that the CCP’s response to these protests will be any different. Except, in 1989, there weren’t cell phones in each person’s hands recording every action taken by the police and military. What happened in 1989 happened almost entirely in secret. The CCP will have more difficulty keeping secrets this time around.

How will the world response when the crackdown comes? After the crackdown at Tiananmen Square, things pretty quickly returned to normal. Americans were ready to do business again with China to make their profits. Even today, the abuses of the CCP are widely known, yet few seem concerned about them in the effort to keep the world’s second-largest economy happy. The United States is very dependent on China. Many of our drugs are manufactured there and, as we learned during the pandemic, much of our medical supplies and personal protective equipment. The NBA and the entertainment industry certainly don’t seem concerned about China’s human rights abuses. They continue to play basketball and show their films there. Many young Americans are enamored of communism and socialism, in spite of the history of every communist and socialist state. My guess is that little will change in the U.S.’s relationship with China.

As for the Vatican, Pope Francis announced that, shortly after the renewal of the provisional agreement on the selection and installation of bishops in China, the Chinese government violated the terms of the agreement with the installation of Bishop John Peng Weizhao as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi. The Vatican does not recognize Jiangxi as a diocese and the installation of Weizhao did not occur according to the dictates of the agreement. Still, Francis says he is committed to continued dialogue with China. “Dialogue is the way of the best diplomacy,” Francis said. “With China I have opted for the way of dialogue. It is slow, it has its failures, it has its successes, but I cannot find another way.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen and five others were found guilty of failing to register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund they founded to help pay for the legal fees and medical treatments of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. Cardinal Zen and the others were each fined HK $4000 (US $500). The judge in the case ruled that the fund was founded for political purposes, and not only humanitarian purposes. The ruling has significant repercussions on the freedom of assembly in Hong Kong, as the CCP in mainland China continues to exert its control over the former British colony.

The protests in China have inspired protests of support across Europe, in London, Paris and other locations. I’m not sure what we can do here except to pray for the protesters and the people of China. We can also pray for and contact our political representatives and ask that they do more than simply mouth the standard “we support the right to protest…” line. Words without actions mean nothing. When the crackdown comes, and it will, will the U. S. have the courage to do the right thing?

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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