China Power

Xi Jinping’s Time as a Countryside Laborer

Plus, a judicial controversy, and Chinese Christians past and present. Friday China links.

Xi Jinping’s Time as a Countryside Laborer
Credit: Screenshot from Xi’s 1994 Interview

Your weekly China links round-up:

Xi Jinping is once again differentiating himself from his predecessor, Hu Jintao. Hu’s past was carefully controlled, kept mostly a blank slate by careful Party watchdogs. Xi, however, has been much more open about his past, including the seven years he spent as a “sent-down youth” during the Cultural Revolution. This week, South China Morning Post reports that a ten-year old video of Xi talking about his time as a laborer in Liangjiahe village in Shaanxi province has gone viral. In it, Xi describes the harsh adjustment to the difficult work of the countryside and the bond he formed with the Shaanxi villagers. Those interested in viewing the original video (in Chinese, with Chinese subtitles) can watch it here. Xi’s interview begins at the 1:58 mark.

The New York Times reports on the controversy that erupted in China this week when the Supreme People’s Court overturned the death sentences of two men convicted for raping an 11-year old girl before forcing her into prostitution. The case gained notoriety in China both for the heinous nature of the crime and for the vocal efforts of the victim’s mother, Tang Hui, who protested vehemently against what she saw as overly lax punishments. Tang as even sent to a “reeducation through labor” camp for a few days, though widespread public outrage quickly brought about her release. China’s highest court overturned the two death sentences, ruling that the men’s crime were not severe enough to warrant death.

China’s courts are often accused of being mere facades for justice, but the legal system’s openness to external pressures cuts both ways. Recent cases where extreme public anger led to criminals being sentences to death have created worries that China’s judicial system is at risk of becoming a tool of vigilante justice, where online discussion shapes verdicts and sentences.

Finally, another Wenzhou church has been targeted by local authorities in the campaign to reduce the visual presence of the religion. This time, The Telegraph reports, protestors clashed with security guards in an effort to prevent the guards from removing the church’s cross. The campaign against large churches has now spread from Wenzhou to other cities in Zhejiang province, including Ningbo. There is a growing sense that China is beginning an anti-Christian campaign.

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However, as ChinaFile reminds us, Christianity and the Chinese government have been clashing for hundreds of year. Sheila Melvin paints a picture of little-known Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell’s time in China. Schall became influential at the Ming court thanks to his gift for astronomy (and cannon-making). Schall witnessed the downfall of the Ming dynasty but remained in Beijing and eventually established himself at the Qing court as well. However, anti-foreign sentiments created problems for Schall later in his life and he was eventually arrested and sentenced to death (though the sentence was commuted).