Since the late 1980s, the degree of freedom for scholars, writers and activists to explore issues related to sexuality has been gradually expanding. However, there have been many backlashes along the way, as official conservatism has led to the shutdown of independent initiatives and the banning of books. The arrival of HIV/AIDS in China in the 1980s and the explosion in rates of infection for sexually transmitted diseases finally forced the central authorities to accept more open reporting on such issues in recent years, and to sanction some programs promoting safe sex practices. But those who advocate strict, traditional morality as a solution for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS have not faced the official suspicion and hostility directed at more liberal-minded activists. Despite its fervent anti-communism and its religious nature, the Unification Church was able to conduct its own style of sex education long before the authorities allowed projects promoting education on safe sex to go ahead, writes Wan Yanhai.
In February 1998, I returned to Beijing from a stint as a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California. I went to my old work unit, the China Health Education Institute, on a number of occasions, as I was trying to appeal against the Institutes 1994 decision to expel me from my post because of my advocacy work for gay men and sex workers on HIV/AIDS and safe sex. I noticed that the Institute had a new section, with a name board that read: International Education Foundation - China Health Education Institute - Joint Training Center.
A colleague from my days there asked whether during my time in the United States I had heard of a Korean pastor called Wen Xianming, who he said had a growing influence there in recent years, particularly since he had been promoting a movement for young people to return to chastity. Using the words of his Western religious friends, this colleague said that people in the United States were now waking up to the price they had paid for sexual freedom, and were now trying to learn from people in the East about how to protect family values, but in China there were still some people who worshipped the sexual liberation of the West. I discovered that this former colleague no longer evinced such hatred of Western people and Westernization, because he and others who shared his views had found in the West not only allies, but also teachers and students.
I had not heard of this Wen Xianming, but I soon found out that the moral conservatives in China had hooked up with the American religious right. I realized that this former colleague was among those moral conservatives who are adamantly opposed to pre-marital or extra marital sex, think of homosexuality as deviant and believe that the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS can only be controlled by strict adherence by all to the ethos of the monogamous nuclear family. They are against sexual liberation and sexual freedom, and advocate restricting the liberty of those who are in favor of such things.
The first activity of the International Education Foundation (IEF) in China that I looked into closely was in November of that year. On November 2, 1998, an article by reporter Li Ling in China Youth Daily, entitled Foreigner lectures on sex education, described the IEFs key activities and objectives in spreading the word in China.
It was somewhat strange to find golden haired, blue eyed foreigners lecturing on sex education in Dunhuang in Gansu Province, Li wrote of an October encounter. Even more impressive was the way they linked education on moral character with the transmission of knowledge about sex, putting forward a theoretical model in which preventing STDs and HIV/AIDS involves strengthening the character of young people. They presented these ideas with lively teaching materials, including text tens of thousands of characters long and close to a hundred slides comprising wonderful photographs and illustrations. This was, in fact, the IEFs 70th set of lectures or conferences held in China, and the targets were editors and reporters from more than 70 media organizations around the country covering family, health and psychology topics. Since 1994, such events had been held in more than 20 of Chinas provinces and municipalities, attended by over 10,000 people, with the majority being involved in education, womens affairs, public health departments and prevention of juvenile delinquency.
Two days after this article appeared, on November 4, China Youth Daily published a second article, entitled Can condoms prevent AIDS? This piece, by Zhang Kejia, cast doubt on the idea of safe sex and vilified homosexuals: For a number of years, some scholars and officials in the country have argued that the degree of sexual freedom in an open China would inevitably increase, and that the only way to halt the spread of HIV was publicly to advocate that people reduce their number of sexual partners and to give extensive promotion to condom use, in other words, use safe sex. And if, 10 years ago, when HIV/AIDS had just invaded China, we had started to provide sex education to 17-year-old middle school students, allowing them to understand all of this before graduating from school, we would not be in our current passive position, and the number of infected people would not be rising so fast. But Professor Zhu Qi, quoted in the article, said firmly, The experience of the United States proves that doing this would just push young people into earlier and more frequent sexual activity. Despite serious research efforts going on around the world, there was still no effective cure for AIDS, and more than 20 new STDs had sprung up, the article continued. And, it claimed, all the reports emphasized that: Humanitys last resort in preventing the spread of AIDS is not condoms, and there will be no cure and no vaccine for this disease.
For the last two decades, millions of young people in the United States believed that the most important thing in sexual relations was to ask, Are you using any protection? the article asserted. But it was exactly this kind of strategy for preventing AIDS that had caused the US rate of HIV infection to soar, and in some American states, the infection rate among young people was doubling every year, it claimed.
When the head of the IEF, Dr. Shi Junhao, came to Beijing, he addressed Chinese university students with the utmost sincerity, the article said. He said, Japan has been influenced deeply by both the positive and the negative aspects of the United States, so much so that the trends in the United States appear in Japan 10 years later. On March 25, 1995, a collective wedding ceremony for 165 homosexual couples was held in the San Francisco City Hall, presided over by the mayor. As a result, the rate of HIV infection there went up very quickly. In this city of 700,000 people, in the course of a few years, 10,000 died of AIDS, and in fact more than 100,000 people there are infected with the disease. All of those infected will die within five or 10 years.
In the same month that these articles appeared, I was invited to give a talk at a bar in Beijing where gay culture was the main topic of discussion. The participants and I shared thoughts about how the gay cause had fared in the past and present situation, and about our hopes for the future. I warned everyone at the time that new religious movements, including IEF and the Falungong, would have an impact on the future life of homosexual people in China.
Also in November 1998, participants at a Beijing conference on feminism and reproductive health discussed the chastity movement promoted by IEF. I gave a short presentation at the meeting, in which I mentioned that all I knew about the group was that it was a religious organization and that its leader was called Wen Xianming. The All-China Womens Federation (ACWF) was then raising funds for the IEFs Chastity Foundation, and the conference participants expressed serious concern about this link.
In January 1999, when I submitted a work proposal for studies on human health to the Beijing Institute of Modern Management where I was then employed, one of the research projects I included was on the impact of religious movements on peoples attitudes toward sexuality. The IEF and Falungong were cited as particular examples that should be part of the study.
From such study I have come to understand that the work of the IEF in China has been given the support of many public bodies (including Party and state organs). These include the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Propaganda Department, the Ministries of Education and Health, the ACWF, various universities and middle schools, research institutions and officially established social organizations. Government officials and some state leaders have attended activities staged by this organization. The ACWF distributed a circular encouraging people to contribute to the IEFs Chastity Foundation.
Once I discovered the IEFs link to the Unification Church, and the usual transliteration of the name Wen Xianming - Sun Myung Moon - my research proceeded very quickly. On the Internet I was able to read a great deal of information from both pro- and anti-Unification Church Web sites.
The IEFs public campaign opposing safe sex education and the promotion of condoms perplexes experts on HIV/AIDS. When such experts from the European Union and the Save the Children Fund went to Tibet to carry out training on HIV/AIDS education, this was the first time such training had been conducted there, but the people at the training said to the experts that the IEF had told them that condoms were useless in protecting against STDs and HIV.
Qiu Renzong, an ethicist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote a letter to the government stating his belief that it was inappropriate for an organization based on the transmission of religious beliefs such as the IEF to receive sponsorship from government agencies.
The China office of UNAIDS, the UN agency responsible for coordinating the global fight against the disease, wrote to the Ministry of Health expressing concern about the trend toward promoting chastity education (also known as abstinence-only education) in China at the instigation of IEF. The Ministry never replied to the letter.
In May 1999, I wrote twice to the Ministry myself. I requested that the government halt its support for this religious organization, and maintain a stance of neutrality on these questions of values. I argued that the separation of church and state was a fundamental principle of modern civilization, and that the government should not become a protagonist for any one narrowly focused interest group. Moreover, I pointed out, the Unification Church had long been considered a controversial group, and international organizations studying cults generally regarded it as being a cult organization.
I expressed misgivings about the teachings of the IEF and pointed out the hypocritical nature of many of the positions it advocated. Although it opposed divorce, IEF founder Sun Myung Moon himself had been divorced several times. The Unification Church said it was promoting peace, but was reportedly involved in manufacturing guns. And despite the fact that a fundamental tenet of this organization is opposition to communism, it was cooperating with the CCP Propaganda Department in activities to promote the construction of spiritual civilization among Chinese people. This just made both sides look ridiculous, I said.
In its terms, the Unification Church has achieved much in its work in China. Sun Myung Moons organization has carried out detailed research on Chinas history and culture, as well as on its current situation. This has directed its strategy for developing its work in China. It has put forward its message under the banner of Chinas ancient Confucian culture, thus making it easy for Chinese people to understand and accept, and has also linked this to the current official slogan of constructing spiritual civilization, and has thus been able to get recognition from the leading authorities. Of course, the Church has also clearly seen that in todays China nothing can be achieved without money. Thus, using the name of the IEF, it has employed this very effective strategy in successfully and speedily launching a large-scale lecture program under the topics of family and ethics and chastity and love and a wave of activities on loving couples and purity of youth. For a while, it seemed as if the IEF was involved in every program of thought or moral education for Chinese people. Its involvement was so deep that Mr. Bai, the head of the China Health Education Institute, once said: Listening to their reports is much better than attending lectures about the Three Stresses! [The Three Stresses is a political campaign launched by Jiang Zemin in late 1998 aimed at getting CCP officials to study theory, increase political consciousness and cultivate healthy trends.] The headquarters of the Unification Church in China was based in this Institute.
At the beginning of the 1990s, on a number of occasions in his teachings Sun Myung Moon requested that the financial resources of the Church be concentrated on work in the former Soviet Union and China. In 1998, the Unification Church invested $2 million in various programs to spread its message in China.
In June 1999, official organizations in China began an investigation of the IEF. Sources say that some departments circulated documents requesting that all agencies be cautious about having cooperative relations with the IEF. But, at the same time, IEFs activities appeared to be expanding in scope, as a selection of articles from the official press make clear.
According to a November 11, 1999, article in China Youth Daily by Su Min, In a lecture today at China Peoples University, IEF expert Mr. Tom Phillips said: science and technology cannot solve all of societys problems, society needs education on moral character. The report continued: Phillips was one of the experts giving a lecture on education on moral character at a conference, Large scale reporting meeting for Science and Peace Week, organized by the Gao Shiqi Foundation Committee of the China Science and Technology Development Foundation and the China Science Associations Division for Science Popularization. The topic of his talk was Morality in love is the foundation stone for world peace.
On June 26, 1999, reporter Chen Zujia wrote in Peoples Daily: On June 24, on the eve of World Anti-Drugs Day, the first Conference on Scientific Methods for Popular Education on Banning and Suppressing Drugs was held in the Great Hall of the People.... Vice Chairperson of the National Peoples Congress Standing Committee, Wu Jieping, gave a speech at the conference.... This conference was organized by various units, including the Gao Shiqi Foundation Committee of the China Science and Technology Development Foundation, the China Science Popularization Research Institute, the China Science Popularization Writers Association, the China National Situation Research Institute and the International Education Foundation.
In the last few days, three organizations launched the Beijing Municipal Middle School Student Educational Activity Series on Moral Knowledge, Physical Beauty and the Popularization of Science, said a June 8, 1999, article by Wang Junchao in the Peoples Daily Overseas Edition. The Gao Shiqi Foundation Committee of the China Science and Technology Development Foundation, the China Science Popularization Research Institute and the IEF formally kicked off the series in accord with the Ministry of Educations policy of moving from exam-based education to quality education.... As part of this project, the organizations have already issued 400 middle schools in the city with 10,000 wall charts and 400,000 handbooks on popular science; and they have organized an event attended by 600 people entitled Conference on 21st Century Spiritual Civilization, Healthy Families and Quality Education. These activities are promoting an overall program of quality education on moral character, moral knowledge, physical beauty and science popularization. Various experts and professors have been invited to give talks and lectures on the popularization of science and on education.
And on December 22, 1999, China Womens News, the organ of the ACWF, carried an article by Xi Shujun entitled, Hua Fuzhou speaks about the importance of the construction of family morality. It read: On December 18 and 19, the China Family Culture Research Institute, the Shandong Womens Federation and the IEF together organized a 1999 lecture and discussion activity on family morality and spiritual civilization. This followed on from a successful similar activity held in our capital, Beijing, in 1998. Hua Fuzhou, vice chairperson of the ACWF and executive deputy head of the China Family Culture Research Institute, came specially to attend the opening ceremony and contributed calligraphy for the event.
As well as all these activities, in the year 2000, a two-volume book entitled Family Ethics and Education on Moral Character was published by the China Social Science Press. This book is essentially a collection of papers from an April 1999 international academic conference organized jointly by the IEF and the Womens Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on the subject of family ethics and spiritual civilization. At the meeting, according to IEFs Web site, there was wide-ranging exchange and discussion on topics including quality education on moral character, marriage and family education and education on purity and health for young people. Former deputy head of the CCP Propaganda Department Xu Weicheng contributed an epigram for the book.
On July 15-19, 2000, the IEF sponsored a meeting in Beijing attended by close to 1,000 university students and educators on the theme of Everlasting love: education and practice, global perspectives on education on moral character and family education facing the 21st century. But when a similar activity was staged in Russia on July 27-31, the State Education Commission stopped a delegation of students from China attending the Unification Church conference in Russia. The US-based organizers of the activity said in a notice about it that the everlasting love conference was based on sacred instructions from Sun Myung Moon, and that the sponsoring organizations were the World Peace and United Family Association, the League for Chaste Love, the Research on University Fundamentals Association and the World Association of Universities. The notice did not mention IEF. However, the events in Beijing were clearly listed as being sponsored by IEF.
In the middle of August 2000, the Ministry of Health ordered the China Health Education Institute to end its cooperation with the IEF. The reason cited was that the founder of IEF had an anti-communist background.
Sources say that the CCP United Front Department, the Ministry of Public Security and the State Council recently issued a document ordering that political controls over South Korean Christian groups - including the Unification Church - be stepped up.
There are a number of possible reasons why IEF lost its official support. Firstly, its critics said that the idea of chastity or abstinence education it was preaching in China was not based on scientific principles, but on narrow religious teaching, and the Chinese government should adopt educational projects based on science, not on religion. They also said that the IEFs abstinence education was hampering efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS. Secondly, in July 2000, I and several other people published a research report entitled, The fallen shepherd, which demonstrated clearly that IEFs programs were entirely based on teachings of the Unification Church, and argued that there should be a separation between church and state in China.
Thirdly, the Churchs anti-communist past gave those inside the government who opposed the approach of the IEF a convenient reason to argue for a ban on the group. In addition, the Unification Church is widely known to have cult-like characteristics, and this put the Chinese government in an awkward position. It would look a bit ridiculous if, at the same time the authorities are throwing Falungong practitioners into jail, people from the Unification Church are sitting in government offices.
But the key issue in the change of attitude is that the activities of the Unification Church crossed the line of what the Chinese authorities consider acceptable. The IEF organized a close-to-200-strong delegation of Chinese university students and educators from around the country to attend the Everlasting love: conference on education in moral character in Connecticut from May 28 to June 6 this year. The delegates were students, faculty and some well-known personages from around 20 institutions including Beijing University, Qinghua University, Peoples University, the China Youth College of Politics, Xiehe Medical School, the East China Normal University and Fudan University. People familiar with this matter are now asking, could the Unification Church become another Falungong?
However, so far the IEF has not ceased its activities in China. IEF and the Beijing Flying Wind Culture and Art Center were reportedly issuing invitations to an Academic conference on international science and peace, to be held in Beijing on November 6 to 9. This was part of a series of activities, which included, on November 7, a special foreign teacher invited by IEF who would report on international morality and ethics. The papers from this conference were also to be published, and, at the November 11, 2001, 13th International Science and Peace Week, were to be presented at a publication and distribution conference in Beijing, where the leadership of the IEF would present the authors of the most outstanding papers with prizes. The Beijing Flying Wind Culture and Art Center is a cultural organization set up by an individual.
If a comparison is made between the activities IEF has conducted for International Science and Peace Week in 1999 and 2000, the change in its status is very clear. The Gao Shiqi Foundation Committee of the China Science and Technology Development Foundation and the China Science Association Science Popularization Department are both officially established NGOs, but the Beijing Flying Wind Culture and Art Center is a private, unofficial group. So does the fact that this religious group no longer receives official endorsement mean that the Chinese government has adopted a more enlightened policy of separating church and state, has the IEF just lost favor, or does the government have some scruples?
The fact that the IEF is still able to gain the support of certain unofficial organizations, despite the regulations the Chinese government has recently enacted restricting foreigners from proselytizing in China and the talk about the political controls imposed on South Korean Christian groups (particularly the Unification Church), points to two different possibilities. The first is that Chinese society has become a stronger force, so that ideas and groups do not necessarily lose their influence just because the government imposes some restrictions on them. The second is that the Chinese government has developed a more tolerant attitude toward pluralism in unofficial circles, and that it wants to listen to their voices and pay attention to their actions.
The IEF had the strong support of certain Party and government agencies, and now, due to the objections of some scholars, that has had to come to an end. At the least, official bodies will not longer openly support the IEF, but the organizations shadow can be seen behind many activities still being conducted on a broad scale.
Wan Yanhai is an activist on gay rights and HIV/AIDS education who divides his time between Beijing and Los Angeles. This article was translated by Sophia Woodman.