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Sometimes meetings take place at the White House that are hardly reported on at the time but that, in retrospect, turn out to have great historical significance. One such barely noticed meeting may have occurred last May, when President Bush welcomed three Chinese Christians to what is known as "the Yellow Oval Office," a reception room in the private quarters of the White House. The writer Yu Jie and two Christian lawyers, Wang Yi of Chengdu University and Li Baiguang, the director of a Beijing research center that seeks to protect the legal rights of Chinese farmers, were in Washington for a Hudson Institute–sponsored conference on religious freedom in China.

President Bush has done more publicly to promote religious freedom in China than any other President or, for that matter, most other senior American political leaders in recent years. In early 2002, during an official visit to China, he made a speech to students at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, extolling the benefits to any society of religious freedom. He has twice welcomed China's exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, to private meetings at the White House. During his November 2005 China trip, he worshiped publicly in an official Beijing Protestant church, an event which, though barely reported in China's official press, was the talk of the town for days.

What was different about the May White House meeting was not only the public identification of America's head of state with representatives of China's house churches, the unregistered Christian gatherings whose members are often sorely persecuted in various parts of China. It also signaled the changing makeup of China's house church leaders. Yu Jie, for example, a writer who sold a million ...

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August 2006

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