Bush meets with three Chinese house church leaders

WASHINGTON, D.C. — George W. Bush, in a first for a sitting U.S. president, has met a group of Chinese house church intellectuals at his private residence in the White House.

According to the China Aid Association, Bush, along with Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Josh Bolton, the White House chief of staff and the president's senior Adviser Michael Gerson, as well as the White House press secretary Tony Snow, were briefed from an insider's perspective on the latest development of religious freedom in China.

The international guests were Yu Jie, a best-seller author and elder of Beijing Ark House Church; Wang Yi, a religious freedom defender and professor of law at Chengdu University, Sichuan province and Dr. Li Baiguang, a "Person of the Year" in Asia for his "brave civil education work for the rule of law among the farmers and religious minority groups," CAA officials said in a news release.

According to the association the Chinese delegates "expressed their thanks with the president on his personal commitment to promote religious freedom and human rights in China and share their vision for a peaceful transition of China towards freedom and democratization, their love for their country and hopes for good relations between the U.S. and China and the central role that religious freedom in China in such relations."

In describing the environment in their home country, the Chinese intellectuals cited the work of an influential American leader.

"(They) expressed their belief that Chinese Christians should follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King to pray for their government leaders and volunteer their service to meet the growing social needs in China and denounce violent uprisings in all forms," the release said.

The three Chinese individuals shared their personal testimonies with the president, who shared how his faith helps him in his life. The meeting lasted for an hour—30 minutes longer than scheduled. The meeting ended with Bush's praying for the Chinese guests and the Chinese people.


A pattern of censorship
All three leaders, CAA said, have experienced censorship in their work with house churches and religious freedom.

Yi, the law professor who writes from a pro-democracy perspective, had his Web log shut down by the government last fall and in 2003, he was banned by the Chinese government from teaching for 18 months, and then reinstated in March 2005 because, he believes, the Chinese government "…can control you better if you remain in the system." Even so, his essays are banned from publication in China.

"(Yi) constantly battles the Internet filters the government uses to block access to his Web log on Chinese sites and struggles to find international Internet spaces that will allow his log to exist," the CAA said. "First created to display a full collection of his work, his Web log gradually developed into a 'microphone' in which he voices his opinions on current events through critical, eloquent essays and commentaries."

As a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Yi lends his legal expertise to the defense of Chinese Christians experiencing persecution.

"Of course it matters that the microphone has been taken away," Yi said. "But vocal chords are part of one's body. And the right to speak is an inalienable one; one which is laid down in black and white in China's constitution."

His peer, Yu is the author of several works in Chinese, including "Fire and Ice," a collection of essays which first launched him into the spotlight in 1998, sold over one million copies by 2000, and garnered high acclaim from Chinese intellectuals. Since then, he has earned international renown as a bold voice openly criticizing the Chinese government and fearlessly raising controversial issues.

Like Yi, Yu's books have been banned from publication in China and his most recent work, "A Son of Tiananmen Square," was published last year in Hong Kong.

"From this moment on, the one who lives in fear will not be me—it will be those fellows who hide in the dark corners. From this moment on, I will live out in the sunlight. I will live a fuller and happier life."

As for Dr. Li, the former university professor, freelance writer, legal professional, peasants' right advocate and legal scholar, has been imprisoned three times and intimidated on numerous occasions. The most recent instance of wrongful imprisonment occurred in late 2005 when Dr. Li was arrested and imprisoned for 37 days in Fu'an for providing farmers with legal advice in their battle against illicit land seizures carried out by the government.

For more information, visit ChinaAid.org.