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Public Transcripts and Official Agendas

Last month, the China Christian Council / Three Self Patriotic Movement Committee (CCC/TSPM) issued a document titled “Outline of the Five-year Working Plan for Promoting the Sinicization of Christianity in our Country (2018-2022)” You can read the full text in Chinese here.

The independent Catholic news service UCANEWS published a full English translation of the document last week.  Be warned, however; it is thick with jargon. If you are not familiar with Chinese political discourse, reading it may induce drowsiness.

Here is how the document spells out its aims:

To deepen the establishment of theological thought in the new era, promote harmonious and healthy development of the church, exert a positive role for Christianity and practice core values of socialism. Further, to continuously improve the width and depth of adaptation to the socialist society.

Deepen. . .

New era. . .

Promote. . .

Harmonious and healthy development. . .

Exert. . .

Core values of socialism. . .

Continuously improve. . .

Adaptation to the socialist society.

It’s a veritable “buzzword bingo” of contemporary Chinese political vernacular.

As it happens I am in the middle of reading Dr. Carsten Vala’s book, The Politics of Protestant Churches and the Party-State in China. (Routledge, 2017), and as I read the English translation of the Five-Year Plan, I realized that he provides context for understanding this document.

One of the things that Vala writes about is the importance of what he calls the “public transcript”—public displays of conformity to the official agenda that are required in authoritarian states. Once an official agenda has been announced (in this case Sinicization), all sectors within society must publicly display that they are “following the line.” Their public transcripts must conform to the official agenda.

Anyone who has lived in China for a time recognizes this. The Party-state lays out its vision and within days the language from the directive (speeches and/or reports) makes its way into public discourse and is adopted by all segments of society. When former President Hu Jintao declared his aim of building a harmonious society, everyone rushed issue plans on how they were going to achieve it. So much so, that it didn’t take people long for people to tire of hearing the word “harmony.” I still wince when I hear it.

This Five-Year plan, then, should be read as a public transcript produced by the CCC/TSPM to demonstrate that they are on board with the official Party-state agenda of 中国化 (Zhonguo hua – Sinicization). It’s a signal that they have heard the message loud and clear.

“You want Sinicization? We can do Sinicization!”

How far it will go, and how successful it will be remains to be seen. The Theological Reconstruction campaign of the 1990s was launched in a similar fashion and was met with a great deal of resistance among grassroots believers. That may (or may not) happen with this initiative.

At this point, however, the association officials (in my opinion) are not primarily concerned with the scope or success of this plan (yet); their top concern is the dutiful production of a good public transcript.

Mission accomplished.

Image credit: Joann Pittman, via Flickr.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio

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