In June 2007 news broke on a number of web sites that about 1,000 children had been kidnapped and sold to black kilns in Shanxi Province as laborers, where they had been abused and ill-treated. The most shocking video of all appeared on the web site YouTube, under the title ‘child slavery’ (or Child Slavery Beneath the Sun). The children ranged in age from the youngest at 8 years to 16 years. They had been abused and ravaged both physically and spiritually by their ruthless ‘slave-masters’. They had to work for 16 hours a day, their food was even worse than pig-feed, and they were watched over and beaten by the bullying guards hired by the owners. Instruments of punishment included leather belts, plastic pipes, and wooden planks; some of them were beaten so severely that they were covered in blood; some were in deep shock; some had been beaten to death; and some had even been buried alive!
More shocking still was the revelation that this scandal in Shanxi had not been uncovered by the police, but exposed by a group of angry fathers who had turned to the Internet for help after the disappearance of their sons. After the debacle was made public, local authorities had put only feeble efforts into rescuing the enslaved children, allowing the abusive owners to get away, and were even calling the whole incident a ‘labor dispute’!
A reporter from ‘Southern Weekend’ was so appalled by the Shanxi slave incident that he wrote an article entitled ‘The Shanxi slave incident is a revolt’. In his opening statement he said,
“The large scale of the use of slave labor in Shanxi and the length of time it has been going on was eye-boggling and appalling! I consider that my own powers of imagination, especially in conjuring up images of darkness and horror, are better than average. But such depth of darkness, such extremes of horror, far exceed even my worst nightmares!”
Why is my conscience numbed?
When I was watching the ‘Children Slave’ video, I nearly broke down in tears and had to keep turning my eyes away from the screen. Yet, when I turned off the computer, my conscience seemed to return to normal and the myriad emotions swirling around in my mind came to a standstill. After about one minute, my conscience had returned to normal.
I was appalled at my own indifference; but I was also aware that growing up in China for twenty-some years, I had become used to hearing terrible news. Is the death or injury of 1,000 people a big news event? No! “It’s only 1,000 people!” Think back to all these movements: ‘anti-right’; ‘cultural revolution’; ‘three years of natural disasters’; what is this compared to those really catastrophic disasters?
Why had I become so numb, so unresponsive? I found the answer in the conclusions of Liu Xiou-bo, who wrote an article reflecting on what had been happening in the black kilns of Shanxi:
“In China, the most populous country in the world, with the greatest number of uneducated people and unnatural deaths, there are so many unimaginable crimes against humanity that the Chinese population have already lost their ability to imagine and can no longer be shocked! Her environmental pollution rates are the highest; the number of executions the greatest; large scale mine disasters most numerous; forced abortion most widespread; to the point that people’s nerves can no longer be stimulated.
Her intellectual property rights violations are the most serious; fake name brands abound; food safety standards are the most dire. And all these have become everyday occurrences.
She has the most farmers, yet the farmers have no unemployment, medical or retirement insurance; and no one seems to care.
She has the largest number of government officials with the most authority, but also the most corrupt; after several thousand years of practice, this has become the norm.
At the same time, China’s people boast that China has stood up, her government operates by human values, all is moving towards harmony as she steps out into a period of the greatest prosperity in her history, as she prepares to host the most successful Olympics in 2008!”
A pang of rebuke strikes at my conscience! I ask myself: “Why am I so indifferent? Why don’t I write something in response, and be more indignant?”
And yet an inner voice reminds me that I lack the talent or ability, and more importantly, the courage! I have a blog on the Sino-wave website; but if I were to publish an article critical of the government, it is certain to be deleted. Under this system, my feeble personal efforts would be fleeting, and ultimately meaningless.!
So, discouraged and depressed, I gave up!
Where is our Christian social conscience?
Meanwhile, another inner voice rebuked me too: is the sole purpose of our faith to find peace and blessings for ourselves? Doesn’t the Bible teach us to be the light and salt of the world? So where does Christian social responsibility lie? And can the image of Christ really be seen in Christians?
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). Where is this noble spirit to be found today?
As a Christian in Mainland China, I grew up in a traditional church system. After living through the 50 years of torture, our souls can become numbed to our surroundings. Numbed souls like ours are no longer capable of noticing the miseries going on right next door, or of asking what our responsibility should be towards the difficult situations others are suffering. Church members became concerned only for ‘my life’, and not about ‘other people’s lives or livelihood’, and we distanced ourselves from instances of social injustice.
Of course it was not all the fault of the church; after all, the prevailing situation had no place for the voice of the church. But the church cannot escape her responsibility. Failing to claim the courage that Christ could give, she saw but did not behold, afraid to fight for the right of exercising a scrap of freedom of speech.
In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul admonished Timothy to have a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. We accepted the discipline but rejected the power. Mixed in with this was an attitude of “Do not take revenge… leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:19),and this evolved over time evolved into a highly sanctimonious way of thinking and a doctrine of ‘do not fight the world, do not care about the world, reject the world’. This attitude also led to us looking down on churches overseas, believing that there was no need to have fellowship with or to learn from the outside.
Should the church in China be doing something about the dark sides of Chinese society? Should these 1,000 children who were almost abused to death, be given an opportunity to hear the message of the gospel ? And looking further, even if saving these children is the government’s responsibility, who should be comforting the one thousand families involved in this tragic situation? Is it the government? The Communist Party?
No! No! There must be a role for Christians to play! God’s love cannot be left out here! Way back, the One who comforted Zion is the God who controls human destiny!
Has the fate of 1,000 child laborers begun to pull at the heart strings of Christians in Shanxi? Or should it not have tugged at the hearts of the thousands upon thousands of Christians in China? Are we choosing to be indifferent by-standers mouthing spiritual phrases: “Let’s pray first”; “Let’s wait for the will of God”; “Let’s commit them to the Lord”; “Let’s not get involved in political issues”? Don’t we all know that God ‘loves compassion, more than burnt offerings”? Don’t we read the Bible and know Jesus teaching to ‘love your neighbor’? Don’t we know that the Bible teaches us to ‘bring justice to the orphaned’?
The weakness of Christians does not imply that God is weak. However, in today’s China, the weakness of Chinese Christians seems to have already smothered ‘God so loved the world’!
This time, may we all accept our Christian responsibility for the thousands of hurting souls affected by the suffering children of Shanxi.
The author came from China and works in the area of theological education and literary ministry. He is studying theology in the USA.