China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2003/Jun
The Shouters in China
In April and May 2000, Li Quangqiang, a resident of Hong Kong, tried to smuggle 33,000 Bibles into China’s Fujian Province. These Bibles were intended for the Shouters, a bizarre Christian sect and an offshoot of another Christian sect, the Little Flock. Li made his first trip with 16,000 bibles without any problem whatsoever, but he failed miserably in his second attempt to deliver the remaining 17,000.
Li faces the death penalty
Li was arrested and soon found himself facing a possible death penalty for his “crime”. According to the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Li’s crime was “using an evil cult to damage a law-based society.”
Smuggling Bibles into China
Why was bringing Bibles into China such a horrendous crime, when bibles are well stocked in China’s bookstores, and millions of copies have already been sold with government approval? The answer is simple. The version that Li was smuggling was not one approved by Chinese authorities. It did not have the imprimatur or the approval of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, nor that of the Three-self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Li’s particular edition bore certain characteristics which were neither Chinese not Christian. It was the Recovery Version New Testament published by the Living Stream Ministry. The Bibles served as a cover to import literature for the Shouters’ cult into China. China, of course, bowing to international pressure, eventually dropped the idea of executing Li Quangqiang, and instead sentenced him to two years in prison.
Who are the Shouters?
Who are the Shouters for whom Li risked his life? They are a group of Christians, also referred to as the Yellers, whose origins are somewhat unclear. Some maintain that they were imported from Korea into Henan Province in the 1960s.
According to Bridge, a magazine formerly published by the Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion and Culture in Hong Kong, two men arrived in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, in the summer of 1978. A certain Li Changshou, who had broken away from The Little Flock, had sent them. Li had founded churches in Taiwan and even one in the USA. His aim now was to infiltrate China with his weird religious ideas. He directed his two envoys to make contacts with a number of Christians. The two brought a tape recorder and tapes containing Li Changshou’s religious doctrines. They soon gathered a following that went out two by two preaching this new doctrine, and in the process, they set themselves up against the established Protestant Church that followed the TSPM.
The sect’s distinguishing characteristic
As early as 1967, Li initiated “yelling” as an essential part of the group’s religious service. The yelling, or mantra-like shouting, was to be interpreted as a sign of sorrow for sin and a public confession of sinfulness.
Fast growing sect on collision course
By 1983 the Yellers or Shouters had made spectacular inroads into several provinces: Zhejiang, Fujian, Henan and Guangdong, and gained a good number of adherents. Currently they boast a membership of some 500,000, making them one of the fastest growing underground Protestant churches in China.
The sect’s strange ecclesiology has managed not only to arouse the fear and anger of the Communist government, but it has set the sect on a direct collision course with the mainstream Protestant churches that follow the established Protestant traditions, support orthodox Christian beliefs, the TSPM and the religious policies of the government.
According to the government-approved Protestant Church, abiding by the Three-Self principles of autonomy, self-support and self-propagation, fulfills the long-standing dream of church workers and Christians in China.
The Shouters denounced as an “evil cult”
In 1982 the Shouters caused much trouble, especially in Zhejiang Province. The Public Security Bureau declared it illegal and “counter revolutionary”. Some followers were arrested, but later released. In 1983 the Religious Affairs Bureau notified all churches to resist them and in 1995, the government again banned the Shouters and pronounced them “an evil cult and an aberrant religious organisation”.
The founder of the Shouters
Li Changshou, is the Shouters’ acknowledged “founder”. No ordinary guru, his followers have elevated him to a kind of divine status, one that even seems to surpass that of Jesus. His influence has been nothing short of total. His death in California in 2002 has only intensified the ardour of the adherents.
Without Chinese or Christian characteristics
What makes the Shouters so controversial are their outlandish notions of the world and of other religions. The footnotes in the smuggled bibles claim that Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Judaism are all organizations used by the devil as tools against God. The Shouters strongly condemn all religions except their own. Some members give up working altogether since they believe that the coming of the Lord is imminent. Some consider everything to be evil except prayers and worship services. They yell out a condensed original version of the Lord’s Prayer.
According to Li, since the era of the Word is past, it is now the age of the Spirit. The Spirit will be released into the world by shouting out the name of the Lord. The members of the sect resist anything that they see as the “world” and shun “human relationships”. They break bread together in a form of communion and women always cover their heads when they attend their meetings. Yellers have developed doctrines different from those of all other Christians. They do not pray in the name of Jesus, nor do they believe that Jesus was the Son of God until after his Resurrection. Li’s books are considered to be completely heretical.
Shouting at the top of their lungs, they launch personal attacks against ordinary Protestants. They disrupt regular Christian activities and upset public order. They have been the cause of violent attacks on other Christian churches, while threatening to bring them down by their shouting, seeing themselves as Joshua in the Battle of Jericho.
Freedom of religious expression
The world as a whole is well acquainted with the Falun Gong movement that has garnered a great deal of publicity in recent years, but few are well acquainted with the Shouters. Yet in them, China seems to have a much more problematic group than Falun Gong.
Perhaps the Falun Gong incurred the wrath of Chinese authorities because of their surprise mass gathering in Beijing on grounds near the government compound one day without the knowledge of the Public Security Bureau.
Does that justify labeling them “an evil cult”? Should cults like the Shouters be given any freedom of expression? In free societies this is not an issue. But as long as these cults do not fall within the list of the five approved religions, they will be driven underground where it will be harder for China to keep a watchful eye on them and their activities.
The rise of the underground
China fears the rise of religion in general. The government is exceptionally wary of any group they do not have directly under their total control. Yet, underground groups of all kinds are flourishing all over China. Someone exclaimed, “These groups are the government’s worst nightmare, since they operate beyond the arm of the government.” Once discovered, however, the long arm of the Public Security Bureau has ways of reaching out to the groups’ adherents. That arm can go a long way towards helping people break away from cults, and persuade them to obey the State law.