Tiananmen dissident quits church over extramarital sex; denies raping activist Chai Ling

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 March, 2015, 10:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 March, 2015, 5:59pm

A Tiananmen Square dissident who became a prominent voice in the global Chinese Christian community has resigned from his US ministry and begged forgiveness after being accused of raping fellow 1989 activist and Christian convert Chai Ling.

Yuan Zhiming - who admits “extramarital sexual iniquity” with Chai but denies raping her - quit all religious duties with the China Soul For Christ Foundation on the weekend amid intense pressure over Chai’s allegation, which dates back to 1990 when both were at Princeton University under a programme for June 4 dissidents.

Chai says Yuan raped her in her New Jersey apartment after inviting himself over and showing her a pornographic film.

The accusations have roiled the Chinese Christian community in North America since last month, when a group of 18 ethnic Chinese pastors published a lengthy investigation of Yuan’s behaviour. The pastors also raised new accusations of sexual misconduct by Yuan in their February 23 report.

“I do admit that I am a sinner, and it was by the grace of God that I am what I am,” Yuan said in a statement issued in English on Tuesday, hours after The South China Morning Post approached China Soul for an interview with Yuan.

“For the extramarital sexual iniquity that I once committed in 1990 before I became a born-again Christian, I once again confess my sins to God and seek His forgiveness, and offer my apologies to the party that [was] involved in that relationship. I am also deeply sorrowed by all the harms and troubles that [have been] caused among the brothers and sisters at God’s church. I beg for their forgiveness.”

But Yuan reiterated his denial of raping Chai. His statement is therefore unlikely to satisfy Chai or her supporters who have been seeking an admission of rape under what they call a process of reconciliation of sin. Chai has not sought to have Yuan prosecuted.

“To God and to the public, although I could quietly endure the false accusations, I, however, could not and would not admit those sins which I have not committed,” Yuan said in his statement. “I deny all of the defamatory accusations involving ‘rape’, ‘attempted seduction’ and ‘sexual assault’.”

Yuan said he was resigning from all pastoral duties and ministries “so as to retreat in the Lord and seek renewal”. His decision to quit had been announced by China Soul’s president, Xie Wen-jai, on Saturday.

Chai began pursuing an apology from Yuan after she converted to Christianity in 2009.

In a statement issued last November, Chai said she approached Yuan in 2011 to tell him she had forgiven him for having raped her. His insistence that he had not outraged Chai and eventually resulted in her submitting to a polygraph test last year which she and her supporters say she passed.

In a description of the alleged rape that Chai said she emailed to Yuan, she said he tried to get her to watch a pornographic video. She wrote: “I asked you to leave, but you grabbed me and physically pushed me to the carpet. You raped me right there and you covered my eyes with the jackets that fell during my struggle.

“Even until this day, the reason I have such a difficult time writing this letter is because I cannot forget the deathly shining light from the ceiling light bulb. My heart was in pain and I hated you for raping me.”

In a February 18 open letter to China Soul’s board, Chai’s supporters - including her husband Bob Maginn and religious leaders - called on Yuan to take a lie-detector test too. The results of such tests are inadmissible in most courts around the world, but they are used by organisations including the FBI and CIA.

Five days later, the 18 Chinese pastors issued the results of their inquiry, whose findings could not be independently confirmed. In addition to recounting Chai’s accusations and Yuan’s rebuttal, the pastors detailed three other supposed incidents involving Yuan, focussing on Yuan’s behaviour with a China Soul intern on a ministry trip to Paris in 2013.

He is alleged to have invited her into his hotel room, asked her to watch the Korean sex comedy Horny Family on his computer, embraced her for two or three minutes, and asked her to sleep with him. She refused, said the report - which included video stills of the hotel room where the incident is said to have occurred- and reported the incident.

China Soul responded to the fresh allegations by posting a “legal notice” on its website on Saturday, hoping to quell what it called “a deluge of rumors and malicious speculations” about Yuan. It said it conducted a “cautious investigation” of his behaviour on the 2013 trip on the same day that he returned to the US. It said he denied the intern’s accusations.

Chai Ling did not immediately respond to a request for an interview, lodged via the pastors who conducted the inquiry.


Activists bound together by June 4 and claims of rape

Chai Ling and Yuan Zhiming were bound together by the June 4 crackdown. But Chai’s rape accusation against Yuan now overshadows that joint history.

Chai was a 23-year-old postgraduate student at Beijing Normal University when the Tiananmen Square demonstrations broke out. She became one of the most high-profile activists as the “commander-in-chief” of the Defend Tiananmen Headquarters, which was created about 10 days before the crackdown, to lend a greater sense of organisation among the protesters.

In the aftermath of the crackdown, she was listed as No 4 on Beijing’s “most wanted” list. She fled to Hong Kong, then France - where she divorced fellow activist Feng Congde in 1990 - before moving to the United States.

She was baptised in 2009, and the next year founded All Girls Allowed, a Christian activist group dedicated to exposing abuses committed in the name of China’s one-child policy.

Yuan was one of the scriptwriters for River Elegy, the extensive 1988 documentary series about the failings of Chinese civilisation that was hailed by many as a rallying cry for political reform. Beijing sought his arrest for inciting unrest.

After fleeing China for the United States in 1989 and converting to Christianity in 1992, he emerged as one of the most prominent voices in the Chinese Christian diaspora. He founded the China Soul for Christ Foundation in 1999 and is the author of 11 books.

Yuan is also the producer of numerous documentaries focussing on Christianity in the mainland.