The first in a series of three articles about an incident used by CCP propaganda to justify its persecution of The Church of Almighty God.
By Li Bei
Manufacturing rumors, creating fake news, and engaging in violent suppression have become the normal way in which the CCP “maintains social stability.” In the wake of the global wave of anti-CCP sentiment due to the violent suppression of Uyghurs and Hong Kong protesters, the CCP has created another hole-ridden fake news story to smear a religious group. Bitter Winter was the first media outlet to debunk the story, on October 23.
On October 17, The Beijing News, owned by the Beijing municipal Party Committee, and Southern Weekly, a well-known newspaper owned by the Guangdong provincial Party Committee, simultaneously published an article, repackaging and sensationalizing an already-sensational story about the deaths of a family of four that occurred five months ago, placing the blame on The Church of Almighty God (CAG). Afterward, this fake news story was widely reported by the official media, trying to create a new public opinion campaign against the CAG.
Bitter Winter reporters in China have conducted multiple interviews and investigations regarding the case. Several lines of evidence indicate that this is just another fake news story, which the CCP has fabricated against the CAG.
According to the Chinese media reports, in July 2018, 41-year-old Qian Limei took four family members – her father Qian Xude, her mother Huangfu Hongying, her sister-in-law Li Lanzhen, and her daughter Miao Keyan – on an “outing.” On May 12, 2019, Qian Limei committed suicide by jumping off a building in Shangqiu city in the central province of Henan. The following day, her daughter Miao Keyan and her boyfriend unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Subsequently, the bodies of Qian Xude, Huangfu Hongying, and Li Lanzhen were found hidden in a freezer in a rental property in Shenzhen city in the southern province of Guangdong. Qian Xude was confirmed to have died a natural death due to illness, and it was presumed that the other two starved themselves to death.
Fake news with countless holes
As for the reason for the family’s unusual deaths and the strange hiding of their bodies, the police didn’t offer any conclusions. But Southern Weekly still unconvincingly blamed the case, which was never filed or tried in court, on The Church of Almighty God.
In fact, the case was reported on as early as June. At the time, the media focused their investigation on the fact that the persons involved once participated in a multi-level marketing (MLM) organization called “Mingmingshang” (according to reports, Mingmingshang often organizes trips), as well as on the Qian family’s intense financial and emotional disputes. The only evidence (a suicide note) provided by the persons involved points toward Qian Xude’s son Qian Liyong. The suicide note, which was affixed with the fingerprints of three of the deceased persons, stated: “If Qian Limei, Huangfu Hongying and Li Lanzhen have all died, then we were killed by Qian Liyong. After the three of us die, all of our assets will go to the state.”
Curiously, in October, China’s state media suddenly made a collective change in direction. They didn’t mention any of the aforesaid reasons for the suicides, and concentrated their firepower on attacking The Church of Almighty God.
“The Qian family experienced discord over the issues of housing, finances, and children, and they often quarreled. I never heard about any connection to religion,” a villager told Bitter Winter.
However, the articles published in October by China’s official media blamed the CAG for all of the family’s conflicts. As for the inside story, there is no way of knowing it exactly. Bitter Winter learned that Qian Liyong has been placed under secret surveillance by the police. Apart from official CCP media, other media outlets have no way to gain further understanding about the situation.
Southern Weekly and other media made, however, one fatal mistake. They devoted much of their articles to portraying the abnormal behavior of Qian Xude and his family, which actually confirmed that the deceased were not CAG believers. In particular, much of the articles focused on the confused religious status of the central figure Qian Xude, who once joined the Efficacious Spirit Teachings Movement (靈靈教 Lingling jiao), the Oriental Everlasting Covenant (OEC, 東方永約, Dongfang Yongyue), and other religious groups. In the local area, he was well known for healing and driving out demons. As for Qian Limei, she once believed that the reason for her illness was that she was possessed. She said that she saw the face of her deceased aunt while looking in the mirror. She also took part in seances with Spiritualist mediums.
Local CAG believers confirmed to Bitter Winter that CAG’s evangelical efforts do not target those who heal and drive out demons, or who are “possessed.” In addition, the CAG doesn’t interfere with its members’ wishes to seek medical treatment, nor does it advocate or condone Spiritualist or occult practices. And of course, as a Christian group, the CAG opposes suicide and murder.
Bitter Winter has also learned that CAG leaders in mainland China stated that none of the five persons involved in this case ever were CAG members. We doubt that the CCP media investigated the matter of the alleged CAG connections of the family in-depth, as any responsible media should have done.
In addition, the Party media claimed that the CAG punishes apostates, and falsely stated that the successive decisions to commit suicide made by members of the Qian family “were very likely related to enforcement of the CAG’s religious rules.” However, the results of the police investigation show that Qian Xude died naturally due to illness, and wasn’t murdered. If he was killed as punishment for being an apostate, why didn’t the police look for the murderers? Why did the others commit suicide? And why did Miao Keyan’s non-believer boyfriend attempt to commit suicide, too? Apart from deliberately creating a strange atmosphere, the vague and contradictory article didn’t provide any supportable conclusions.
Bitter Winter interviewed CAG believers in the United States about the arguments made by China’s official media. The believers stated that there are requirements for joining the CAG, but there are no restrictions on leaving the Church. Information about the Church’s administrative rules is published on the CAG’s official website and freely available.
“This is actually a self-contradictory lie,” said a CAG believer in the United States. “As the CAG grows rapidly, some people have left the Church out of fear of being persecuted by the CCP or for other reasons. If all of these people had to be punished, many people in mainland China and overseas would already have been punished. Why doesn’t the CCP hold a public hearing and announce the results? Besides, Qian Xude wasn’t a CAG believer, so how could he ‘apostatize’? I hope that the next time the Party media fabricate a rumor, they first learn about the CAG’s doctrine, to avoid having a story filled with so many holes and shooting themselves in the foot.”
Paving the road for a new round of suppression
It is worth noting that the CCP’s fake news story once again mentioned the McDonald’s Murder of 2014 – a case that international human rights organizations and experts long ago proved was deliberately fabricated by the CCP, falsely blaming on the CAG a crime committed by a different religious group.
The Church of Almighty God is the largest Chinese Christian new religious movement. Due to its rapid growth and large membership, it has been regarded as a threat to the CCP and subjected to brutal suppression. The McDonald’s murder of 2014 is just one of several fake cases the CCP fabricated to suppress the CAG. Just three days after the murder occurred, the CCP used its media mouthpieces to blame the CAG. Shortly thereafter, the CCP launched a one-hundred-day battle in which thousands of CAG believers were arrested, and half a million had to flee their homes.
According to documents obtained by Bitter Winter, since last year, the CCP has used a variety of methods (such as investigating the religious status of people at various work units, forcing students to report their parents, and encouraging the entire populace to report believers) to track and investigate CAG believers. This year, the CCP has renewed its propaganda offensive against the CAG. As usual, fake news are fabricated to pave the road for massive suppression.