Cablegate: Sw China Christians: Religion and Charitable Work In

DE RUEHCN #0022/01 0281224
O 281224Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) 09 Chengdu 289; B) Chengdu 16

CHENGDU 00000022 001.2 OF 004

1. (U) This cable contains sensitive but unclassified
information - not for distribution on the internet.

2. (SBU) Summary: Pastor Richard Cai, the founder of Huamei, a
faith-based organization in Sichuan, recently provided an
overview of Protestant church groups and faith-based work in
Sichuan. Christian "meeting points" and house churches have
enjoyed strong growth, while approval to build new churches has
been difficult to obtain. With an emphasis on being "legal and
open," Huamei seeks primarily to be a social-services
organization that supports the government's social stability
goals, citing this approach as the most effective. He
characterized Chinese Christians in Sichuan as
disproportionately elderly, poor, uneducated, sick, and/or
female. In urban areas, young professionals tend to congregate
in unofficial "house churches," instead of formal churches and
meetings points. Sichuan Theological Seminary struggles to keep
pace with the growing demand for pastors in southwest China.
End Summary.

Explosive Growth of Meetings Points and House Churches

As Government Slows Recognition of Formal Churches

--------------------------------------------- ---------

3. (SBU) In a January 5 meeting with Consul General, Richard
Cai, a second generation Chinese pastor who is also Vice
Chairman of the Sichuan Christian Council, discussed his
faith-based organization Huamei and broader religious issues in
China. After studying English at the University of Southern
Mississippi, Cai completed his master's degree at McMaster
Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, and spent another year in
Canada as a pastor for the Windsor Chinese Alliance Church.
Upon returning to China in 2002, Cai went on to establish Huamei
in 2005, and also helped support the establishment of the
Chengdu Thanksgiving Church in 2007.

4. (SBU) Cai divided the structure of Chinese Protestant
congregations into three types:

A) Formal Churches:

Registered under the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) and approved
at the provincial level, these represent the largest and best
organized of Chinese congregations in Sichuan. Obtaining
approval, however, is no easy task. Churches must demonstrate
that they have a proper building, land, and an approved leader;
the Sichuan government has been reluctant to approve new
churches. Protestant groups applied for eight churches to
replace earthquake-damaged churches, and three entirely new
churches. The RAB approved the eight replacement churches, but
rejected the three new churches. Many of the approved "new"
churches are, in reality, old churches that had been closed
during the Cultural Revolution.

B) Registered Meeting Points:

Cai clarified the legal status of religious venues [zongjiao
huodong suo] "meeting points" or "meeting places," which are
legally recognized at the prefectural level, and distinct from
illegal house churches (Ref A). These meetings points must be
affiliated with a local church congregation that is already
approved by the RAB. Since approval does not require a building
or land, growth of meeting points has been rapid. As of
year-end 2009, there were over 500 meetings points in Sichuan
alone, almost double the number of five years ago. Growth in
numbers of official churches has been slower. In 2009, Cai
reported that Sichuan had about 140 official churches, up from
about 100 five years earlier.

C) Unregistered House Churches:

CHENGDU 00000022 002.2 OF 004

House churches are small, unregistered, and illegal gatherings
of Christians that are tolerated or not depending upon their
membership size and locality. Pastors of local churches are
involved with some house churches, and they often become
registered (and therefore legal) meeting points when they grow
too large. There are also large networks of house churches that
have sprung up which are not affiliated with any pastor or
registered entity. Using English, Cai described some house
churches are "cults." He mentioned "Eastern Lightning," a large
movement in the Sichuanese countryside led by a woman who claims
to be the second coming of Christ.

5. (SBU) Cai said there are no consistent criteria regarding the
size of house churches in Sichuan. Typically in Sichuan, if a
group reaches about 50 members, the government will try to force
the group to formalize as a meeting point. Alternatively, the
government might try to force them to split into smaller, more
manageable groups. This number, however, depends heavily on the
conditions of the locale, attitudes of local government leaders,
the local RAB, etc.

Huamei's "Legal and Open" Approach to Social Welfare

--------------------------------------------- -------

6. (SBU) Huamei is jointly registered as a "Non-Profit
Organization" (NPO) under both the Labor and Civil Affairs
Bureaus. "Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)" have an
uncertain legal status and are hard to register, so many
organizations like Huamei register as NPOs or as businesses.
Cai firmly believes that, through cooperation with the
government, Christianity will spread more effectively in China.
Huamei seeks to be a "Christian organization that is not a
church," and ties its success to two factors:

A) Emphasis on being "Legal and Open":

During our meeting, Cai repeatedly referred to Huamei's emphasis
on "operating within Chinese law." In line with this
philosophy, Huamei seeks to formalize as many house churches as
possible. Drawing on Cai's reputation and strong relationship
with the China Christian Council, Huamei remains one of a few
faith-based organizations allowed to operate in the aftermath of
the Sichuan earthquake. (Note: In addition to Huamei, some
other FBOs we know of that are active in post-quake recovery
efforts include Amity, and the Taiwan-based Buddhist
organization Tzu Chi. These organizations tend to de-emphasize
their religious nature, instead focusing on the earthquake
relief effort, allowing them to operate with minimal government
interference. End Note.)

B) Aligning Government Goals and Huamei's Social Welfare Work:

Much of Huamei's work focuses on poverty alleviation,
educational programs, and public health in the poorest
prefectures of Sichuan. Cai believes that the Chinese
government understands that faith-based organizations can
promote social stability, and is becoming more accepting of
religion. While acknowledging that working with the government
can be difficult, he was generally optimistic about his strategy
of cooperation and working within the framework of Chinese law.

7. (SBU) Comment: While other church groups agree that
faith-based and other NPOs have been effective in providing
social services, not all share Cai's optimistic outlook on the
prospects for cooperation between the government and faith-based
groups in providing social services. In a meeting with Beijing
Poloff, Dr. Chan Kim-Kwong of the Hong Kong Christian Council
stated that the current strategy of "contracting" out social
services to NPOs will face pressure from the government in the
long-run. Chan argued that under the current system, less
effective government departments will be obviated by NPOs,
threatening the government's own credibility and weakening its
control. For now, the government seems content with its current
strategy of outsourcing social services to non-government
groups. However, how this will play out in the long-run is

CHENGDU 00000022 003.2 OF 004

uncertain. End Comment.

8. (SBU) Huamei's emphasis is on serving poor prefectures
through educational and medical projects. Huamei currently
provides tuition assistance of about 50,000 RMB per student per
year to 10 students in Sichuan. These scholarships are only
available to non-Christian students who demonstrate financial
need. As a stipulation, students must participate in volunteer
projects and receive their scholarship money through
participating local churches. "While there is no expectation
the students will become Christians, many have since become
believers," he said. (Comment: In the PRC, proselytizing
outside churches/religious venues is highly restricted. It
appears Huamei is using these scholarships to double as a
recruitment tool for the local churches. End Comment.) In
Yunhe prefecture, Huamei has an ongoing project with a primary
school there to provide book bags and computers to its students.
Throughout Sichuan, Huamei also stresses improving literacy
among the elderly so they can pass on their reading skills to
their grandchildren.

9. (SBU) In terms of medical projects, Huamei has established a
series of clinics in Sichuan's poorest areas. In Wuzhou,
Dazhou, and Yinong prefectures, Huamei has already successfully
established full clinics, and provides medical professionals to
staff them. They are currently establishing a clinic in
Bazhong, Sichuan's poorest prefecture, with plans to open new
clinics elsewhere. Huamei also supports smaller churches which
establish "medicine rooms" for sick members of their community.

Christian Demographics: Largely Still Poor, Elderly, and Female

--------------------------------------------- ------------------

10. (SBU) Cai said that most Christians in Sichuan and China at
large are disproportionately poor, elderly, sick, uneducated,
and/or female. In urban areas, there is a stronger presence of
young professionals, but they tend to congregate in unofficial
and unregistered house churches. Many young professionals first
start practicing religion in informal groups in college; some
become members of churches after graduation. Many formal
churches have started holding special evening ceremonies for
young professionals in an effort to attract more members. Party
members are still discouraged from having any religion; however
many quietly pursue their beliefs. Cai gave the example of a
judge from an outlying prefecture in Sichuan who drove several
hours to Chengdu to be baptized, presumably to avoid members of
her community from knowing her Christian identity.

Sichuan Theological Seminary Struggling to Keep Pace with Demand

--------------------------------------------- -------------------

11. (SBU) The Sichuan Theological Seminary (STS) was reopened in
1984 after having been closed during the Cultural Revolution.
According to Cai, with the end of the Cultural Revolution,
interest in religion revived and demand for theological training
for pastors and lay leaders surged throughout southwest China.
STS currently offers two and four-year degrees, with a total
enrollment of 75 students. The seminary plans to expand since
its enrollment is now limited by classroom space. The STS, a
regional seminary, serves Protestants in Sichuan, Chongqing,
Yunnan, and Guizhou. Yunnan and Guizhou also have their own
provincial-level seminaries, and Chongqing has a training
center, but not yet a seminary. The STS supports these
provincial level institutions through resource and training
support. In Yunnan especially, there is a high demand for lay
leader training. About 20 such lay leader training centers have
been established in Yunnan, compared with only two in Sichuan.

Future of Huamei


CHENGDU 00000022 004.2 OF 004

12. (SBU) Despite interest from other provinces to establish
branches of Huamei, Cai aims to keep his focus on Sichuan, where
he has established relationships with the Christian community.
He has declined invitations to establish branches of Huamei in
Guangxi, Zhejiang, and Guizhou. He hopes like-minded
individuals in those provinces will establish organizations
similar to Huamei in their own provinces. He hopes to split
Huamei into two organizations, one as the existing NPO, and the
other as a "public donations foundation" (gongmu jijin), which
would have important tax benefits. Under the current NPO rules,
Huamei is charged a three percent tax on all revenue in their
operations. While he is hopeful for such a change, the 4
million RMB capital requirement for such a structure is a
formidable challenge.

© Scoop Media

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