Arrest for Smuggling Religious Material Worries Bay Area Chinese

An arrest in China has rocked Hong Kong adding to the many difficulties the Special Administrative Region (SAR) has been experiencing since Hong Kong reverted to China.

Chinese authorities in Fujian province, China arrested Hong Kong citizen Li Guangqiang -- in Cantonese, a Chinese dialect commonly used in Hong Kong, the name is written as Lai Kuang-cheung -- for having smuggled into China 6000 unauthorized Bibles and 30,000 pamphlets. Religious and human rights organizations in Hong Kong are worried that the Chinese court could impose a death sentence.

In its January 9 issue, the Sing Tao Daily (STD) carried the story on its front page, but in its lower half the headlines summed up the STD's concerns about the event. The main headline gave the facts: "Hong-Konger arrested for transporting Bibles into China, thereby bringing about friction between China and America." The sub-headlines underscores STD's worries: "Bush is concerned but Beijing warns him not to get involved."

Further facts about the case are that Li was a member of a new Christian group founded in 1962 by a Chinese minister in California. They were called the Shouters movement because at any moment they shout out in a loud voice "Lord," "Amen" and "Hallelujah." In Hong Kong Li was just another small businessman working the restaurant scene. He had a wife in China who, under Hong Kong law, is not allowed to join him in Hong Kong.

Fujian Province just across the Straits opposite Taiwan has a history of religious diversity going back for a millennium and a half. Christianity spread widely over the last 100 years and it is the only Chinese dialect that has a Bible written in Roman letters rather than Chinese characters as is the case for all other Chinese Bibles translations.

According to the STD the Shouters now have churches in 21 provinces and 61 special districts. The Chinese authorities say that Li was not arrested because he brought in Bibles. The government says Christian Bibles are widely sold all over China. But while Li brought in Bibles he also tried to distribute 30,000 copies of a pamphlet that he had not cleared with the authorities called "Salvation through the New Testament." But the Chinese authorities also claim that the Bibles are different from those authorized.

China is undergoing spiritual and religious revivals of many different forms. It is quite common to see all over the country new religious structures of all major religions built with state subsidies. But there also are many "home" churches, temples, mosques and other meeting places. It's the latter that worry and anger the authorities.

A recent meeting of Communist Party officials in Beijing concluded that religions come in two main forms. Either they contribute to social and political stability or they undermine stability. The latter are called evil, a word that in Chinese denotes something that provokes disease in people and societies.