Nanjing, Pastor Yin

 

Mr. Yin is the pastor at the Christianity Jiangsu Road Church.

 

He tells us that, though not in large scale, this church already has a history of over 60 years. It started in 1941 by some local Christians and changed its locations for three times from 1947 to 1999. During the period of Cultural Revolution (1966-1981) it was closed and occupied by the government for other uses. In 1999 it moved to the current location.

 

Mr. Yin was born in a small city in Jilin, a province in the northeastern part of China. He has been in Nanjing for 15 years and now has become a local here. He entered the Nanjing Union Seminary in 1996 and continued his graduate study to get his master’s degree in 2003. Asked why he came to such a faraway city to study theology, he explained that in China only the seminaries in Nanjing are recognized throughout the nation. According to him, seminaries in China can be classified into three levels, namely the national, provincial and municipal level. Comparatively, the nationwide seminaries enjoy more abundant teaching resources and more authoritative status.

 

Since priesthood is still a rare job in China, we are curious why he decided to study theology and chose it as his lifelong career. He tells us it was decided by his family and his experience of understanding Christianity. Because his parents are both pastors, he was exposed to religious culture at young age. During his teens, he felt that his life has been elevated by his belief and therefore he confirmed his willingness to believe in God. At the decisive crossroad of life where he had to choose his future career, he heard Jesus’ calling from inside and was determined to dedicate his life to God.

 

Last year, after being a preacher for six years, he was promoted to pastor. His main duties include preaching, giving services, dealing with the everyday affairs of the church, teaching religious knowledge to pastors of other churches and acting as the host of weddings and funerals. In the past, he says, some people taking part in the Christian funerals would mind abandoning the Chinese traditions like the burning of paper money. However, with more and more people beginning to respect the Christian rituals, these conflicts do not exist any longer.

 

Mr. Yin is also responsible for hosting the annual baptism ceremony. Usually, there is only one big open ceremony in July. For people with special needs, such as the elderly and the disabled, they go their homes for the baptism. Next to all these tasks, Mr. Yin acts as a consultant in the church. People come to him for various reasons. Some of them come to relieve their confusion in belief before deciding to become a Christian or convert to Christianity. Others come to solve their questions in reading and understanding the Bible. There are also people who come to ease their mental stresses caused by family, social relations or work. “It is estimated that in China 60% to 70% of the population have psychological problems to different extents,” he tells us, “so it is important for us to be their listeners and help them to live with love, hope and belief.

 

 

Talking of his family, the pastor shows a wide smile on his face. He got married in Nanjing and now has two daughters. The older is 7 years old, while the younger is a baby born in May 2012. They live a typical Christian life, praying before dinners and reading the bible before sleeping. “I am happy,” he says, “ to see my children grow in the blessing of the Lord.”

 

Mr. Yin is also excited to tell us about the development of Christianity in Nanjing. Twenty years ago, there were only 2,000 to 3,000 Christians in Nanjing, whereas the number has increased to 150,000 today. Most Christians here are protestant. He gives us two reasons to explain why the development of Christianity is going so fast in the past 20 years. The first is that everyone has a need for belief. In the Chinese society where dramatic reforms and changes are taking place, numerous values spring up. When exposed to the voices advocating individuality, profits, efficiency or any other values, many people gradually lose the sense of belonging. In such cases, they need a spiritual support, a voice that can firmly tell them what is the truth. The second reason is that the development towards a more liberal society in China allows for the existence of religions. In the Cultural Revolution period, religion was regarded as superstition and strictly forbidden. People had craving for belief, but where deprived of the right to exercise their belief. However, now the society begins to recognize religions and to respect people’s freedom of choosing a religion.

 

Mr. Yin denies the thought that the Chinese churches are simulating the traditional Western churches. Though Christianity originated from, and has had a two thousand years of history in, the Western countries, the values it has been advocating transcend the boundary of nations. The mission of Chinese churches is to practice and spread these values in the most acceptable and effective ways. He highlights that they do not rigidly exercise the rituals of Christianity, but focus on the essence. “We often play anthems with erhu and guzheng, build churches in Chinese traditional style and preach with Chinese examples, and so forth”, he says. “Chinese elements can be found almost everywhere in our churches; such as music, poems, books, rituals and buildings.”

 

In the end, Mr. Yin discusses with us the relationship between Chinese churches and the Chinese government. First, there is not an official organization that leads all the churches, nor a leader like a cardinal or a bishop. Churches of different types disperse all around the country, including some family-run ones and even illegal ones. Second, Chinese churches do not have to pay any tax to the government. Third, the attitude of Chinese government toward Christianity has changed from inhibition to respect and support. One example is that the Nanjing government is investing in building a large church which can accommodate 5000 people in a suburban area (near the Olympic Sports Center). According to Mr. Yin, churches need the support of the government, because the government is able to provide sufficient financial security to help them.

 

 

Beijing, Mrs. Li

 

We see a middle aged lady walking in a fast pace, yet almost unnoticeable in the crowd, discreetly putting small stickers randomly on lampposts, walls and other objects in the street.

 

We are curious and decide to catch up on her and have a chat. When we approach her she introduces herself as Mrs. Li and she tells us that she is a follower of the, in China forbidden, movement of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong). She is happy to talk with us and we can publish the interview with photos of her under the condition that it will not be published in the Chinese language.

 

In 1996, Mrs. Li was suffering from cancer. A friend introduced her to the book Zhuan Falun. That’s when she started to get interested in Falun Dafa.

 

According to Mrs. Li, she was at the lowest end of her life at that time; she suffered from her illness and in the same period she had broken up with her boyfriend. The introduction into Falun Dafa turned around her life. “It was my destiny”, she says.

 

Mrs. Li started to follow Falun Dafa by reading the Zhuan Falun and meditating, in which she tried to maintain peacefulness and kindness no matter what difficulty or disappointment she was confronted with. She followed the guidelines by performing a set of exercises that is needed to better understand the concept of the philosophy.

 

Mrs. Li tells that she gradually recovered from cancer has never been ill again since. “I’m 59 now, do you believe that?” We agree that she does look healthy, energetic and younger than her age.

 

In 1999 an intense nationwide campaign was started against the Falun Dafa in China. At that time, every school was propagating how wrong and mad the Falun Dafa is and the news came with terrifying stories every day; such as a story about a mother who immolated herself together with her young daughter.

 

Mrs. Li said that during that time she once came to petition against the crackdown together with many other Falun Dafa followers. However, they were all taken to the police station and asked to leave their personal information. In 2001, they were sent to a special class, which they felt was more like a “brain-wash class”, for all it was about was to change their mind and make them believe that Falun Dafa is evil.

 

Finally, Mrs. Li felt tired of the pressure and signed a guarantee that she would never follow Falun Dafa again after which she was allowed to leave the class and go home. However, after a while she felt guilty for lying and started to exercise and meditate according to the Zhuan Falun again.

 

Mrs. Li tells that there were a hundred million followers of Falun Dafa in China. Though some people stopped following Falun Dafa after the campaign against them, still a significant number of followers discreetly stick to their belief.

 

“Few followers died during that campaign”, says Mrs. Li, “they were tortured to death”.

 

Falun Dafa is not a religion, according to Mrs. Li, for it doesn’t restrict people with any external rules. You don’t need to pray every day or respect the God in a specific way. As long as you are sincere, kind and patient, you are already one of them.

 

How come that guiding individuals to be good and keeping them healthy is considered to harm people? Mrs. Li said that Falun Dafa has never been a political belief, and they didn’t aim to fight against the government. She reckons that the government is afraid of Falun Dafa because the government is built on fake principles, malice and revenge; which is the opposite of what Falun Dafa followers believe.

 

According to Mrs. Li, all the terrifying news about Falun Dafa reported by the government is a made-up story. Wei Huo (“False fire”), a forbidden documentary, shows all the evidence and analyzes those “made-up” footages.

 

Mrs. Li also told us that Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Dafa, used to be “the most powerful guy” in China. Many people were attracted by his faith of being kind, more than members of the Communist Party in China. “Even Jiang Zemin’s (*) relatives were followers”, says Mrs. Li, ”and so were many other officials”.

(*) In the official Falun Dafa communication, former president Jiang Zemin, is held personally responsible for the crackdown on Falun Dafa followers.

 

 

She insists this is the reason why the government attempted to destroy Falun Dafa. In her words, the Chinese government first had police infiltrate into their group, trying to find something wrong, and finally made up stories to crack down on them.

 

Mrs. Li has been on the list of the police since the very beginning of the campaign. When she hears that we have been following her for a while before contacting her, she realizes that she did not notice that and that she has to be more careful in the future. If they catch her putting up stickers, they will put her in jail. Then she again says we should publish her story as long as it is not in Chinese and starts posing for a photo while holding up a text that reads: “FaLun DaFa is good! Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance is good!”

 

Despite not being able to openly exercise her believes, Mrs. Li wants to stay in China. Not only because the majority of followers are still here, but also because it’s better to practice and meditate in the most complicated environment. The more difficulties and suffering you have to deal with, the better achievement you will make.

 

Besides putting up stickers, Mrs. Li does her Falun Dafa exercises and studies Zhuan Falun every day. She claims that she has read it for a hundreds of times. Although “Falun Dafa” is a sensitive word online, which you will absolutely not be able to find and use on the Internet in China due to censorship, there are still articles to be found that share feelings about the experience of studying Falun Dafa. “You won’t find any words about it through the article, yet you know what it is about if you are a follower” said Mrs. Li.

 

Mrs. Li used to be a teacher and also a businesswoman with a little bit of success. According to her, she has always been in the forefront of new developments. Mrs. Li says that these have corrupted society into a filthy world with the lowest moral standard, where almost everyone is pursuing money. Thus, it’s important to continue promoting Falun Dafa to purify the world.

 

She also believes that Li Hongzhi, their master, as well as all the other followers abroad, will come back to China one day, when it has become a better place.

 

Mrs. Li has some friends who are also followers and has hardly any contact with anybody else.  When asked about her family, she refuses to tell anything about it.

 

 

 

Beijing, Li Qiang’s Studio

 

Name: Li Qiang. “Qiang” is not the name my parents gave me. I wanted a name that is unique and I changed it when I was studying at university. I had it officially registered as my new name.  Qiāng, spoken in the 1st tone in Mandarin and in the 4th tone in my dialect, means gun and I associate the pronunciation with a strong smell of gun powder; very intense. These days the name comes in handy on the Internet; there is nobody else with this name (in Chinese characters).

 

Age:48

Chinese zodiac sign: Horse

 

Education: I graduated from the Jiangsu Academy of Education, Nanjing. I would say the general education environment in the whole country, not only in Nanjing, is not very good. In my college, for instance, and in many other colleges, the teachers point out to the students that they are trained to be qualified teachers of arts rather than splendid artists. Even in those top universities of art studies like the Central Academy of Fine Arts, students are not trained to be fine artists.

 

Profession: Independent Artist

 

 

When you are at home, what is your favorite activity? What do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy reading and thinking, discovering something meaningful, and experiencing something special.

My life is based around my studio. I am not very fond of social activities. In my studio, I spend a lot of time reading. As early as in the 1980s, I was already reading books about the most up to date thoughts on arts and culture from the West. These books include books on philosophy, religion and other areas. I have always been keeping the habit of thinking and following trends of thoughts. Currently I am reading the book “The Crowd”, written by a well-known French social psychologist (La psychologie des foules, Gustave Le Bon, 1895).

 

Name three of your daily routine activities:

Cooking, cleaning, and constantly changing the environment in my studio

 

What is your favorite food?

Seafood

 

How much money do you spend on food per day?

Around 30 RMB

 

Where is your hometown? (if not Beijing: do you miss your hometown? if so, what do you miss most?)

My hometown is Donghai county in Jiangsu Province. Yes, I do miss it. I miss my son.

There were at least several thousand of people in my village. I have four brothers and I’m the third child of the family. But none of my brothers does something that has anything to do with art. They do business or work in a court. Every year when I visited home for the Chinese New Year I found that even though I have brothers, we really had nothing to say to each other. It was the same when I was in the village. No one from the locals understood what I was doing. In 2006 a professor of anthropology from New York University came to make a documentary about me. Her name is Angela. She spent three years, from 2006 to 2008, shooting my life. She said it was really strange that I became an artist out of this village, with nobody from my family, or from where I lived, understanding me.

 

What is your most precious childhood memory?

 

To go outside to see the “ghost fire” in the evening (ghost fire is a phenomenon caused by chemical reactions, for instance on cemeteries where methane gas from decomposing bodies can create a lightning glow).

Ghost fire was actually not what we liked most to play with in childhood, but it is the most impressive thing that we remember from our childhood. We saw something glowing from afar, from some remote and desolate place, which was not necessarily ghost fire. But when we were small it was easy for us to have inexplicable fear for the glowing from the back of the house or just from darkness. The adults, especially our parents, always frightened us with stories about where in the village people died and where in the village horrible things used to happen. We kept these stories in mind, so whenever we passed by those places we felt terribly scared. You know the tassels of the corn, right? I used to be scared by those when I was small. My mom told me that when I was about two or three, I started crying at seeing those tassels because I believed those were beards.

 

What are the three most important things in life for you?

Love, Faith, and “to be alive”

Love means my love for my family, for my friends, for my life, for myself, and for life itself. I think love is the most basic. Faith is also very crucial in one’s life. Here I’m not referring to religious beliefs, not the God nor the Buddha. Instead I am referring to an ideal, something that is loftier than life, a pursuit of higher values including the invisible values. The third one is “to live”. Actually it should be placed at the top. Life is the most important, everything else – states, democracy, all kinds of “–isms”, fame as well as money – becomes valuable only on the basis of life, or else it is all empty.

 

What are, according to you, the values that one needs to live up to in life?

The biggest power that God endows us is the power to become ourselves.

 

Would you say you are a) happy b) somewhat happy c) somewhat unhappy d) unhappy

Somewhat happy

 

What do you expect will the future bring for you?

I feel that I am in a very comfortable position at the moment, so I hope my future would be an extension of my current status. I believe my art creation in the coming four or five years would be more unrestrained. I will try to break through all the boundaries that I created for myself before – like I can do this or I cannot do that. I will try to make something bette r, something which is closer to my inner world

For me, my art creation has to come from my inner world. It is only in this way that I can make my work my own and distinguish it from artworks of other artists. My works are not limited; I do everything – performing art, print, sculpture and documentary. I can’t say what else I will be doing in the future; it’s hard to predict.

 

What is your religion?

I don’t have religious beliefs. I believe in freedom.

 

 

 

Video of the 360 degree panoramic photo
(click full screen icon for best view)
the below video is on Vimeo; banned in China