Post Mortems

LA Times

The Sunday L.A. Times, by Vic, courtesy of FLICKR

The L.A. Times has dutifully sent a reporter to Wenzhou. So has the BBC. Both have come up with on-the-scene articles. Julie Makinen  of the Times’ Beijing bureau publishing Sunday, front page; Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, with her commentary on Saturday.

Maikinen’s piece appears to be the result of an assignment to find out what the local people think of the situation regarding the destruction of the Wenzhou church. But like Gracie, Makinen, with the help of two Chinese assistants (often called fixers), has compiled a set of first-hand interviews and written a story that backtracks from the prevailing narrative advanced by American evangelicals, Chinese faithful and The Telegraph. She also reports that five, not three local officials will suffer consequences for the debacle.

In my first posts about this I compared the brewing conflict to Masada. One person quoted by Makinen compared the church to the World Trade Center. Big is better.

Some selections from Makinen’s piece:

“Sensitivities are likely to last longer. Five local bureaucrats have been singled out for punishment, charged with failing to stop construction of a church they knew was to be much larger than building permits allowed.


The government was very reasonable,” said a woman at the Chang Ao village market, near Three Rivers, who said she wasn’t a Christian. “There were too many people there — thousands! They were staying there all night, chanting and singing. If they had just listened to the government earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.


Three Rivers leaders could not be reached for comment. A Christian resident of Chang Ao, though, said church members balked at certain demands from the government, particularly that they remove the cross from its spire.


…another prominent Wenzhou Christian, a businessman surnamed Cai who runs a shoe materials company, was skeptical of the notion that the government was singling out Christians.


 They had a thousand or more people at that church, and the believers there, they handled things really poorly.


Gracie’s blog post explains Wenzhou as a city of  “private entrepreneurs…comfortable to compete in the marketplace, they take the same spirit to church-building, each congregation challenging its neighbour to build bigger and better. It is this exuberance which has brought them into conflict with the communist authorities.

She also debunks another element of the narrative, that it is a full-throttle struggle against oppression and between titanic forces that are either black or white.

Some government officials even encouraged them to proselytize, observing that Wenzhou Christians make good citizens because they abide by the law and pay their taxes.

Gracie, observing what is so evident at all levels and in all areas of life in China: the unevenness of and disparate development of governance.

The root of their misfortune, they believe, is a disconnect between local and provincial government.

She also picks up on a new theory, being advanced by locals:

Interestingly, the Wenzhou Christians saw another rivalry at play. They said that despite being nominally atheist, the official who had ordered the destruction of their church was actually a Buddhist, and envious of Christian success.  When I wondered how that might square with his atheism, one said: “The more senior officials are, the more superstitious they become.

Bill Marcus, Boston