American Enterprise Online
December 25, 2005
By Alan W. Dowd
In a country where people of all faiths and no faith at all exchange Christmas gifts and Christmas cards—even amid the so-called “war on Christmas”—we Americans are prone to forget that Christmas isn’t a time of joy for everyone on the planet. There are places where governments are literally at war with Christmas, or at least at war with what it represents. One such place is China.
Thanks in large measure to the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) and its redoubtable founder, Harry Wu, we have a window on how the Chinese government observed Christmas this year:
-Early this month, for instance, PRC paramilitary forces opened fire on peasants protesting land confiscations in Dongzhou. Several peasant protesters were killed; several others have disappeared.
-Beijing is forcibly evicting thousands of peasants from dwellings in order to make way for Olympic venues. A December 2005 report by the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions named “China among the world’s top three housing rights violators for forcibly evicting 400,000 urban and rural residents.”
-As the Advent season approached at the end of November, PRC security forces bulldozed a Catholic church in Shaanxi Province. For good measure, they beat up 16 nuns who pleaded with them to stop the assault. The helpless women suffered eye injuries and broken legs.
-A year ago, on the first day of December, the PRC opened the Christmas season by raiding one of China’s most prominent “house church” organizations and arresting its leader, Zhang Rongliang. In the process, PRC police cordoned off an entire village, exacting the maximum in terror from their power play. They then raided three additional churches in the days after. In the autumn of 2004 alone, PRC enforcers arrested 100 pastors.
-Nor does Beijing confine its anti-religious violence to Christians. Just four weeks ago, the PRC jailed five Tibetan monks for refusing to sign a document denouncing the Dalai Lama.
Some of these religious dissenters end up in China’s network of slave-labor camps known as laogai. Loosely translated, laogai means “reform through labor.” Today, an estimated 4 to 6 million people are rotting away in the camps, serving out varying years and degrees of involuntary penance to the state Mao erected.
According to Wu, who suffered in the laogai for almost two decades, “The government wants to see two different products from the laogai prison camps: a reformed person; and products that can be sold on the international market.” Given the religious reasons for many laogai sentences, it is a sickening irony that some camps produce rosaries, Christmas lights, artificial Christmas trees and toys—all for export to the West.
However, forced labor is not the only way Beijing punishes those who dare challenge its authority. Some are subjected to outright torture. Earlier this month, the normally-agnostic UN weighed in on China’s torture chambers. “The use of torture, though in decline,” according to UN investigator Manfred Nowak, “remains widespread in China.” Nowak complained about government attempts to obstruct his investigation, restrict his movement, keep him under surveillance, block his use of photographic and recording equipment, and intimidate interview subjects. “There was a palpable sense of fear and self-censorship,” he explained.
Of course, that sense of fear only exists as the byproduct of a regime that is capable of exquisite levels of violence and ruthlessness. Indeed, Beijing’s power extends far beyond its torture chambers and labor camps. As the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of the Armed Forces reported just three weeks ago, Beijing’s policy on gender-specific abortions is decimating the country’s female population. “China’s census in the year 2000 revealed that the ratio of newborn girls to boys was 100:119,” the report noted. “The biological norm is 100:103.” The result is what the authors grimly label as “gendercide.”
And that brings us back, in a heartbreaking, dreadful way, to Christmas. An oft-overlooked part of that first Christmas is what a ruthless man named Herod was willing to do to eliminate any threat to his throne. As Matthew’s gospel recalls, “He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” Predictably, Herod’s assault brought “weeping and great mourning” to the people of Bethlehem. The targets and tactics may be different, but the weeping continues in China.
Even as Beijing promises that its subjects can be reformed through labor, the trade uber alles lobby in the West promises that Beijing can be reformed through commerce. Yet after three decades, that promise rings hollow, especially to Wu. “We have to do something with the communist evil in China,” he argues. “The average American needs to tell the media, their congressman and senators, and the president that we have to put human rights and democracy on the table with the Chinese government.”
If we do, perhaps next Christmas will be different.