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At China’s annual legislative meeting this week, the 3,000-member National People’s Congress applauded fervently as Secretary-General Wang Chen read aloud a constitutional amendment to scrap the two-term limit for the presidency. It’s near certain the parliament will rubber-stamp the amendment during the two-week “Two Sessions” meeting, ensuring President Xi Jinping will stay in power indefinitely.
Chinese citizens, though, are much less excited about the prospect of a new emperor—on Chinese social media, a poem titled “I Object” (translated into English here) went viral before censors scrubbed it. Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu’s Early Rain Reformed Church also posted his own critique of the amendment on WeChat Monday. Although he posted the text as a photo, censors used optical character recognition technology to block it four times—even with the photo turned sideways.
“Writing the name of a living person into the constitution is not amending the constitution but destroying it.” —Wang Yi
“Writing the name of a living person into the constitution is not amending the constitution but destroying it,” wrote Wang, a former constitutional law professor, referring to the addition of “Xi Jinping Thought” to the Chinese Constitution. “For this reason, by getting rid of the term limits for a head of state, he is no longer a head of state, but a tyrant.”
Wang went on to note that by “religionizing politics” and creating a cult of personality, Xi is forcing the country to worship a man-made idol, thus “causing the entire country to fall into sin, provoking the wrath and judgment of Jehovah.” He asked for a sign from God: that just one delegate in the National People’s Congress would reject the amendment to prove that conscience and courage still exists.
Wang, who provided a copy of his statement to WORLD, has long spoken about the government. He has thus far escaped punishment outside of temporary detainment. Some say that’s because he’s so well-known, and say that if he were imprisoned, there’d be an outcry among the international human rights community and Western media. Wang said he expects persecution to come and has made arrangements for what his church and family should do if he is arrested.
In ChinaAid founder Bob Fu’s autobiography, God’s Double Agent, Fu mentioned one reason why Wang may have remained untouched. In 2006, three Christian dissidents visited President George W. Bush: Wang, author Yu Jie, and human rights lawyer Li Baiguang. Fu wrote that a senior Bush official informed him “the president sent a back channel message to the Chinese government: ‘I, President Bush, am personally invested in the welfare of these three dissidents, and if anything happens to them, then this would cause a severe disruption in U.S.-China relations.’”
Twelve years later, the protection of a former U.S. president doesn’t seem to mean as much. Authorities arrested Yu in 2010, tortured him, and closely monitored him and his family for a year. He now lives in exile in the United States, unable to return home. Authorities pronounced Li Baiguang dead from liver failure last week after he entered a military hospital in Nanjing for a minor stomachache, although he was seen healthy weeks earlier. Authorities quickly cremated Li’s body despite calls for investigation into the cause of death.
That leaves Wang, the last of the three dissidents still speaking out and working in China. Last week, he posted a poem he had written in remembrance of his friend Li and the other “knights of this era” as their “souls rise from Nanjing to heaven.” Wang’s sermons and nonpolitical essays are still accessible on Chinese social media, and he still preaches the Bible to hundreds of church congregants each Sunday morning.