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YouTube screen grab/Radio Free Asia

Angela Gui testifies before the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (YouTube screen grab/Radio Free Asia)

Daughters of dissidents

For children of disappeared Chinese dissidents, advocating for their fathers’ plight comes with an emotional toll.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump arrived in Beijing for a “state visit–plus,” an upgraded experience including private talks with President Xi Jinping, a military honor guard, a formal banquet, and “special arrangements,” according to Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Yet while Xi puts the full array of Chinese opulence on display, under the glimmering veneer is the ugly reality of human rights activists disappeared, imprisoned, or monitored, as well as the grief and worry experienced by their spouses, parents, and children. Currently two young women, 23-year-old Angela Gui and 24-year-old Grace Geng, are each still waiting for the Chinese government to free their fathers, who had both been imprisoned for criticizing the Communist Party.

Chinese authorities said they freed Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai on Oct. 17 after holding him for two years in prison. Yet a week later the government’s claim, Gui’s daughter Angela said in a press release that she hadn’t heard from her father and “it is still very unclear where he is.” A few days later, Bei Ling, a friend of Gui’s, said Gui was “half-free,” was currently staying in the city of Ningbo, and had met with his wife and mother.

Like other Chinese dissidents before him, Gui, though out of prison, is likely still under the constant surveillance of security agents. Chinese authorities kidnapped Gui from his apartment in Thailand in October 2015, whisking him off to the mainland along with four co-workers from his book publishing company. Gui made a televised, apparently forced confession of his involvement in a 2003 hit-and-run incident, and received a two-year prison sentence. The real reason for his incarceration: Gui was working on a gossipy book about President Xi’s love life.

The disappearance prompted Angela to become an advocate for her father’s release. She has testified before the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the British House of Commons. As a result, Angela believes she’s being monitored: In 2016, two Chinese men approached her in Frankfurt, Germany, and took her photo with a large camera, according to the Taiwan Sentinel. “Even if I don’t constantly worry about my safety, the fear is always there subconsciously,” she told the Sentinel. “I avoid being alone in unfamiliar places, and have regular contact with friends and family when traveling.”

Last month at a London panel on China’s human rights abuses, Angela met another young woman who understood her situation: Grace Geng, the daughter of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was tortured and imprisoned in China for several years. In August, two fellow human rights activists snuck Gao out of the home where he was being held under house arrest. Gao had no teeth left and could not eat due to the pain and bleeding, a result of beatings and malnutrition. After 23 days, government officials found Gao, placing him back in secretive detention.

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Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

The English Bulldog Jay enjoys a sculpture by artist Dana Sherwood at dOGUMENTA. (Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Dog days of fall

A canine art gallery, a heartbreaking collection, and other big city happenings

A New York moment:

By the piers in swanky Battery Park City, curators set up a very serious outdoor sculpture show. The intended audience: dogs. Yes, this was an art show specifically for dogs, and because of the high demand, owners had to reserve time slots for their dogs to experience the art. “What was your favorite art, Harry?” a staffer asked an unresponsive poodle. The assembled gallery visitors were mostly childless, and the “exhibits” seemed designed for Instagram purposes.

One couple vainly spent about 10 minutes trying to put their dog in a tiny pink armchair for a photo. One sculpture formed a triangular shallow pool, and an owner was attempting to drag the ambivalent dog into the pool. Sculptures were surrounded in astroturf for when the dogs inevitably followed the call of nature, sometimes on the “art” itself. Staffers canvassed the “gallery” with a hose to clean up.

This fits the overall trend of New Yorkers treating their dogs with more precious attention than children. One time I witnessed a dog owner in Riverside Park become indignant when a woman asked if she could pet the dog. “You [the human] might get my dog sick,” the owner said.

Worth your time:  

The New York Public Library has a new digital collection of the “Green Book,” a travel guide for black families in the Jim Crow era. An African-American mailman created the series when he was traveling to visit family, and it was so popular he expanded it to cover the country. Paging through the guides to hotels and restaurants that will help African-Americans avoid “difficulties and embarrassments” is heartbreaking. It reminds me of the excellent book that documents the perils of Jim Crow-era travel, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

This week I learned:

Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States are suicides and most of those deaths are white men.

A court case you might not know about:

A federal district judge in Wisconsin recently ruled that the parsonage allowance, a tax break for clergy, violates the Establishment Clause. This is the result of yet another lawsuit from the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation. Becket Law is appealing the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which previously threw out a similar lawsuit on standing grounds.

Culture I am consuming:

Roman J. Israel, Esq., a film from Denzel Washington and Dan Gilroy, the writer/director of last year’s Nightcrawlers. I did a group interview with Washington and Gilroy; Washington, an outspoken Christian, used the time to read a Scripture passage to reporters. A review of the film, set for a Thanksgiving wide release, is forthcoming!




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Made for intimacy

Reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye while dating at age 30

I was 16 when I first saw the cover of I Kissed Dating Goodbye—that picture of a man looking down, his hand tilting a brown fedora and obscuring his facial features, that dark background adding shades of allure to an already-enigmatic man. That’s real good marketing, I remember thinking. Every girl likes a man with some mystery shrouding him, and boys probably look at that suave, dapper man and want to be him. What’s more, that mysterious picture captured for me the whole concept of dating: a bizarre, bewitching forest, thick with untapped emotions and coiled with unmarked trails. 

But then, what did I know, what did I care? I had found that book on my brother’s desk—my younger brother who at age 14 had already been on more dates and had his heart broken more times than my solid count of zero. I refused to read that book: I was a self-proclaimed feminist who had no time for boys pretending to be men (or so I harrumphed then), though if you had asked me what a real man is I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Everyone who knew me knew that Sophia Lee doesn’t want to get married—nope, nuh-uh, never ever. I had my sights on something more secure and controllable: To attend my first-choice university and be a butt-kicking, world-traveling journalist with no husband or kids to hold me back. I didn’t need to kiss dating goodbye—I never let dating be an option in the first place, and I was proud of that fact. 

So it’s with great humility and interest now that at age 30, as I’m in my first ever dating relationship, I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye for the first time. The book, written by the then-21-year-old homeschool celebrity Joshua Harris, urges readers to ditch dating and enter courtship with the intention for marriage. Then I read Boy Meets Girl, also written by Harris, this time about how he courted his now-wife. Next I read Thomas Umstattd’s pro-dating dissent Courtship in Crisis, and I also read Marshall Segal’s Not Yet Married, a new book that encourages not-yet-married readers to first find satisfaction in God. So many books about Christian dating, yet the Bible seems to say little about it, so whose advice do we trust?

At first, I was prompted to read these books because I’m currently working on a story about the ripple effects of I Kissed Dating Goodbye on Christians who grew up riding the waves of the 1990s purity movement. It’s been 20 years since that book was published—so what’s happened to that generation’s dating culture since? 

But as I study the various ideas on what “Christ-honoring” intimacy looks like and what pursuing “true love” means, as I interview marriageable Christians about their dating (or non-dating) experiences, I keep turning the questions toward myself: Why are romantic relationships so hard? Why are the emotions that come with it so powerful and uncontrollable and scary? I had never cried so much in my life as I did for this relationship. Yet why, oh why, do I want this still, want this so badly that I’m willing to cry a thousand tears more? What is it about a man-woman relationship that makes me both so selfless and selfish at the same time, that I’m capable of giving more than I thought I could give, yet demand more than what any man can give me?

I go to a big church in Hollywood, whose members are creative types in their late-20s to mid-30s who wear “distressed” skinny jeans and highlights in their tousled hair. What most of us don’t wear are wedding rings, and a pastor once told me that the biggest complaints he gets are from women who say men don’t ask them out, and from men who say women keep rejecting them. I know guys who pray with godly brothers for months before asking a girl out, and guys who tell girls they like them but want to be “intentional” about building a friendship first. I know women who for years have prayed and prepared themselves as Proverbs 31 wives for their future, so-far invisible husbands, and they’re still waiting for them. I know men who look for houses in good school districts with a future family in mind, but don’t even have a girlfriend.

Before I started dating, I used to roll my eyes and wonder what’s wrong with people, why we over-dramatize and over-complicate everything. Then I met a man. And then I cried when I read that last chapter in Boy Meets Girl, in which the author writes with such gushing sincerity about his wedding day—his face is sore from smiling, his heart is racing, his body is quivering ... and there stands his bride, and he writes, “Oh, Lord, she’s beautiful.” And I recognized that desire—to be the object of another’s gaze and gasp, to love and be loved—a desire that I, this proud, stubborn, insecure woman, share with so many others because we were made for intimacy, for love.

I used to feel shame for that desire, so I stuffed it away. I still feel uncomfortable with it, and wrestle with it every day because I spot times when it overtakes my desire for God. That’s the part that no book on Christian dating can help me— that moment-to-moment thoughts and emotions of fear, uncertainty, and wonder that I’m trying to honor yet surrender before God. Man, it’s hard, it’s messy. But oh God, it seems worth it.

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