The drama unfolding in the People’s Republic of China before the watching world is not only setting the stage for a political revolution … it is signaling a spiritual awakening of massive proportions. Influenced by a fast-growing Christian revival, as well as by the Christian ideas of Western democracy, Chinese young people are now questioning Marxist ideology – and they are making it clear to their elders that they are willing to die for their beliefs.
Ever since the Cultural Revolution, youth under age 18 have not been allowed to attend an official church, read the Bible, or be baptized. The combination of a lack of spiritual values, discontent with the tenets and ideas of the Communist Party, and increasing openness to Western ideas, is now driving the youth and workers alike to the streets of Beijing to demonstrate for democracy.
A Beijing missionary who was imprisoned for 10 years in a labor camp for his beliefs said recent events in China are an encouraging sign of increasing openness to Christianity. The missionary, who could not disclose his name, helped start several underground “fellowships” on Beijing campuses. Although the pro-democracy movement is not yet inundated by Christians, he said the youth are “opening up their minds.” Chinese Christians are supportive of the new movement.
The last few months of protest has been considered one of the most extraordinary events to be witnessed in any Communist country, and “the biggest display of defiance in the 40-year history of Communist China,” according to the Washington Post. “This was a major breakthrough in modern Chinese history,” said Roderick Macfarquahar, director of Harvard’s Fairbank Center for East Asian Research. He said it was the first time since 1949 that a demonstration by society against the state was made successfully in the face of a powerful government.
The recent carnage in Beijing left an estimated 3000 people dead and 12,000 wounded, and plunged the nation into massive upheaval. According to latest reports a key army unit was fighting against another unit.
Students told reporters that soldiers stacked the bodies killed in Tiananmen Square into a pile, doused them with gasoline and cremated them, which made it impossible to identify the bodies or keep a tally of the dead.
A price is being paid for demonstrating. After General Secretary Zhao Zinyang indicated his support for the students, he was put under house arrest. He also made a comment on national television about political reform needing to be in step with economic reform. After a week of being under arrest, Zhao was reinstated in his position. Some observers have said that Chairman Deng Xiaoping was using Zhao as a scapegoat. Zhao was reported as saying to a student on a hunger strike, “I came too late, too late. I should be criticized by you.”
The student-led protest forced officials to alter Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s schedule during the historic Sino-Soviet Summit in May, although the students indicated in a letter that they supported Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev didn’t take sides in the hunger strike or the demonstrations, but he told a Chinese reporter that the demonstrations made him “nervous,” and urged officials to negotiate a settlement of the crisis.
In the second massive demonstration, Chinese government staff and workers joined the students for the first time. “With corrupt internal affairs, how can we talk about foreign affairs?” said a banner carried by staff members of the Foreign Ministry. Workers were warned for several weeks not to participate in marches because they could lose their jobs. But the threats did not stop them. “We support the students and are not afraid of being fired,” chanted workers from a Beijing heavy crane factory. They were joined by workers from several hotels and soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army who left their detachment to join the demonstration. “If your sister or brother were in the square, what would you do?” one of the soldiers told the Washington Post.
“Give me Liberty or Give me Death”
The sons and daughters of intellectuals and government officials who are members of the Communist party have started one of the largest movements for democracy in recent Chinese history – a movement which has grown in the last few months from being a nuisance to a catalyst for splits within the Beijing leadership. As an Associated Press reporter wrote, “They are (China’s) future scientists, writers, teachers and diplomats. And they are calling for a new China, one that is democratic, one with a free press and one that respects human rights.”
One of the student movement’s most prominent spokesmen, Wuerkiaxi, said he could be sentenced to jail for 10 years or death. But he says he cannot stop mobilizing opposition to corruption, bureaucracy, and the lack of democracy. His father, a communist cadre who edits and writes for a living, cries for his son everyday and urges him to stop his rebellious activities. Wuerkiaxi’s sentiments regarding the party are a reflection of a new generation of Chinese youth.
Another student, the son of a county official in China’s northwest, says, “This is not the China that I want to be a part of.” Li Quiang grew up with privileges due to his father’s position in the party: “There were big meals, TV sets. We never paid for anything. Last month we got a new video [VCR]; now we have three,” he said. “I didn’t think this was strange until I left home and found out that governments aren’t supposed to work like that.” One of his classmates, the daughter of a doctor, agreed with Li: “I know I don’t understand democracy. But my worry now is not with the future, it’s with the present. We have a system that is rotten.”
While Gorbachev and Deng negotiated at the Sino-Soviet Summit, thousands of students from at least 18 campuses and several other cities jammed into Tiananmen Square for a hunger strike. The demonstration was the climax of protest activity which started in April with over 150,000 students marching on the square, the symbolic center of Beijing, to demand democratic reforms.
Prior to the hunger strike, students led an 11-day campaign which began spontaneously as a 10-mile march from Beijing University to Tiananmen Square. Shouting “Rang kai, rang kai,“ (“Give way! Give way!”) through a barricade of over 100 police and a battalion of soldiers, student delegations from over 30 campuses poured into the square bearing signs trumpeting their demands for more democracy, less corruption, and accurate press coverage.
They were cheered on by crowds of office workers who lined the streets, climbed trees, threw food, and blocked troops from approaching them. Thousands of non-students also joined them despite official warnings. Beijing residents said the army and security forces had made their greatest show of force in recent memory. “We all want political change,” a middle-aged office worker told Newsweek. “We are all fed up with the government’s mistakes.”
The students and workers were responding to a scathing editorial published in The People’s Daily which denounced the movement by saying they were creating a conspiracy to “poison people’s minds, create national turmoil and sabotage the nation’s political stability.” Days before the Beijing march, 10,000 local party leaders gathered in the Great Hall of the People and listened to a tape of Deng’s announcement that, “We must crack down on these students whatever the cost.” He was quoted as saying, “I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to spill blood. But if we have to do so, then we will.”
But the students still nervously rallied. “Without democracy, it would be better to be dead,” said a 26-year-old graduate student of politics. Another student shouted, “We’ve been under a communist system for 40 years, and we’re still living in hell! Why can they have democracy in America, and we can’t have it here?” On an ABC newscast, Chinese students read a line from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”
Revolution and Revival
The ideas which fomented revolution within the hearts of the Chinese students were from various Western writers and civil rights activists. On several banners were emblazoned slogans from Patrick Henry, such as his famous cry , “Give me Liberty or Give me Death!” Considering themselves patriots, the students quoted Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson as well as the Chinese Constitution.
“Certainly there is a generous mix of ingredients fueling Chinese discontent,” said David Hardin, a senior news analyst. “There is the Gorbachev model of political reforms within a communist state – surely the envy of would-be Chinese reformers. There is, in a manner that cannot be calculated, the influence of thousands of Chinese who have studied abroad – some 40,000 are currently attending U.S. colleges – and who have returned with their quotes from Patrick Henry.”
But it is not only political revolution brewing among Chinese youth. A spiritual revival is underway. After Hu Yaobang was ousted, government policy towards church activities became more restrictive. Conservative Maoist forces within the Communist Party campaigned against Western influences and, as a result, several Christians were persecuted.
Despite the repressive measures, such as the state policy which does not allow youth under 18 to attend church activities, some young people have been arrested and beaten for preaching the Christian gospel. Ever-increasing numbers of Chinese are being drawn to Christianity. Not only is the political conscience of the students being awakened, especially by writings from the West, but their curiosity about Christian values is being aroused like never before. The world is now seeing the truth of the words of the Apostle Paul written in the First Century: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17). The great outpouring of the Holy Spirit which has been taking place in China in recent years is now manifesting itself in the political realm.
In many provinces, young Chinese are laying down their lives for the gospel. An example is a 14-year-old girl who was senselessly beaten for preaching. Leona Choy, a missionary, described the scene to Christian Mission: “When she revived, she sensed that her beating had won the sympathy of many onlookers. So she began to preach some more. Her words were few and her voice low, but what she said penetrated hearts. The people began crying out, repenting of their sins, and asking Jesus to save them,” Choy said.
Ten young Christian men and women went to a commune to preach but were dragged and beaten by police with electric shock sticks. “The power of God came forth as they preached with tears streaming down their faces. Passers-by and street vendors, Christians and non-Christians alike, stood and listened. People came under conviction. Even the fortune tellers were moved by the Holy Spirit and burst into sobs. Many forgot their food, their work, or even to return home.”
Choy told Christian Mission, “Even though the young preachers were exhausted, the crowd would not let them quit. As shops closed and factories let out, hundreds of employees joined the crowd. This was too much for the authorities. They laid hands on the preachers, dragged them away one by one, bound them with ropes, and began beating them. They slapped their faces with shoes and knocked them unconscious. But every time the young people came to, they resumed praying, singing and preaching.”
This type of determination and resolve is apparently at the root of the Chinese student uprising. A Beijing missionary said that the student movement is “definitely beneficial for Christians. Religious activity is under state control, but the police are too busy dealing with political demonstrations to exercise church control.” Since the Communists came to power in China, Christianity has grown exponentially. “There are 30 to 50 times more Christians,” said one Beijing source. “There are 30 to 50 million Christians, and we’re definitely seeing a revival among the underground churches.”
What will be the final outcome? It is most likely that within a few more years the repressive communist system in China will be quietly swallowed up by the growing Christian movement. A new generation of young Chinese leaders, motivated by new-found ideas of Christian liberty and individual freedom, will then begin to construct a new society built on Christian principles.