但我获得了更多是比较正面的回应和鼓励，特别是来自学术界和公共媒体，觉得这本书很有意义，填补了一个空白，值得关注，反而让我很意外（in a good way），当这本书出来以后，很多过去被认为不适合公共讨论所谓“敏感”的议题，现在大家不觉得不能公开讨论一些事件了，特别是处在社会边缘群体的女性的关注，这是非常重要而有意义的。
四季书评：最近在很多微信群里传播的一篇署名G. K. Deng的批判，题为“学术外衣下的危言耸听”，好像很尖锐。你怎样看？
马丽： 首先，这是一个假名字，更不是学者，没有任何的学术声誉和对话的可能。对于我书中第一章已经澄清的伦理原则（public domain里出现的人用实名，其他人有匿名的选择），他或他们表示不满。对于一个不熟悉学术规范、拒绝被说服的人，我也没办法说服他。
不过，也许我应该感谢他行文的“危言耸听”（sensationalism），让很多本来没兴趣的人，也想去买一本看看，到底马丽写了啥，让别人这么慷慨激昂地反驳，还只能通过私下进行传播。有一句老话，所有的公开讨论都是好的公开讨论（All publicity is good publicity）.
四季书评：类似你这本新书的研究，需要遵循Protection of Human Subjects （IRB保护研究对象）的要求吗？
马丽：回答这个问题的确需要一些学术界的常识。我的书是在美国出版的。近年，联邦政府特别将历史学术研究、口述历史和新闻类研究，从Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects《联邦政府对保护研究对象的政策》条款中删除。后者是自1991年施行的旧规范，多针对科学界用人作为研究对象的，如自然科学、医学、临床心理学、实验经济学等。
实际上，很多历史研究、口述史著作都是用实名的，最著名的系列包括牛津大学出版社（Oxford University Press）和帕尔格雷福出版社（Palgrave MacMillan）的口述史系列（我的另一本关于中国女性的书今年年底会在这个系列出版）。认为口述历史一定要匿名处理的，是没搞懂这个领域的规范和常识。
Women Should Raise Their Voices Without Fear: Interview with Li Ma (2)
Religious Entrepreneurism in China’s Urban House Churches: The Rise and Fall of Early Rain Reformed Presbyterian Church (Routledge Studies in Religion, 2019)
Q: Your new book seems to have caused quite a stir. Are there any surprising reactions?
Ma: I was expecting negative responses, because although the book is a historical scholarship based on eleven years of archival research and oral history interviews, some organizations and individuals I mention in the book have been controversial ones. What I point out in the book, including the marginalization and alleged sexual abuses of women are not what some people hope to know. So recently, there has been all kinds of conspiracy theories, verbal attacks, online mobs, big names being pulled along, these are a continuation of what I call a phase of radicalization. So I was not surprised at all. Most ironically, however, is that they criticize me for lacking ethics while totally ignoring the suffering of vulnerable women.
But there have been positive responses saying that this book is very meaningful and it fills a gap which is worth noticing. These surprised me in a good way. Since the book’s release, some sensitive topics that people did not consider as fit for public discussions are now viewed as themes that they must talk about in public.
Q: There is a critical review article titled “Sensationalism Disguised as Scholarship” by G. K. Deng that has been widely circulated in many WeChat groups. His tone seems very harsh. What do you think?
Ma: First, this is not a real name. Nor is he/she a scholar. He/she seems very dissatisfied and unpersuaded by what I have clearly laid out as ethical principles (public domain, anonymity as an option for vulnerable groups who are not in the public domain) in the first chapter of the book. I cannot persuade someone who is unfamiliar with academic ethical standards and who refuses to be persuaded.
Secondly, Deng’s text reveals more information that he/she (or they) is an insider. He/she accuses me for selectively using some church documents, while neglecting some internal documents he/she/they considered as good. This reveals that he/she/they have seen the internal documents, and they hope that I can use their officially approved documents. But as I explained in the first chapter of the book, I only use documents that have been circulated publicly, not internal documents. They seem to be preoccupied with the details pertaining to the “church court trial of Wang Huasheng” that they are totally oblivious to the nature of this event—a farce caused by a Facebook comment. They seem to be living in a religious world constructed by their own power narratives. This is highly absurd because, it is as if that we are discussing about whether cannibalism is good, and they defend themselves by saying that they used knives and forks instead of their hands.
Furthermore, they continue to defend for a male-dominated power and call it their ancient creed. They know nothing about civilized public discourse, but rather use some rigid jargon to criticize this book. They lack the basic abilities of public discourse.
Most ridiculously, they accuse me for only interviewing the victims of alleged sexual abuses (even though these victims provided credible evidence and documentation, plus third-party witnesses). They blame me for not having interviewed the perpetrators, who often show up in the public domain speaking words of high morality.
Hidden behind this article are a few anachronist minds, who dare not show themselves in day light, but beguile some people in their own circles by using a fake name. Any text is imperfect. This article gave readers a clumsy denial resulting in self-exposure.
Because of this dysfunctional article, some people were led to believe that I, the author, have indeed done unethical scholarship. Without buying and reading the book, they left cursing remarks on Amazon (you can see them for yourselves). Some accused me for “exposing” the names of certain people and did not project these research subjects, etc. These comments themselves show how utterly incompetent they are for civilized public discussion.
But maybe in the end, I should rather thank this G. K. Deng for his review. Because of its “sensationalism,” many people who were uninterested decided to buy the book and read it for themselves about what is it that Li Ma wrote which can anger someone to respond with such enthusiasm. As an old saying goes, all publicity is good publicity.
Q: For a book like yours, do you have to follow the requirements of Protection of Human Subjects?
Ma: This question does take some common sense when it comes to scholarly works. My book is published in the U.S. , in recent years, the federal government of the United States issued its final rule govering Institutional Review Board, which “explicitly removes” historical research (including oral history interviews) and journalism from the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, which originated in 1991. The historical scholarly community have long argued that scholarly history projects should not be subject to standard IRB procedures since the latter were designed for research practices of the sciences, such as natural sciences, medical research, clinical psychology and experimental economic research.
This federal policy acknowledges that historical research more generally depends on the identification of individual actions in history, including “the collection and use of information that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected.” Since this policy, the historical research community and oral history association have only recommended Best Practices, but not as rigid requirements.
In fact, many historical research and oral history projects used people’s real names. The most famous series are Oxford University Press and Palgrave MacMillan. Those who think that any oral history works need to anonymize the subjects, they did not know the academic norms of this subfield.
I have stated in an earlier interview. This book took more than ten years to come out. The publisher had the right to decide when it is released. About the public figure who is currently awaiting trial, I personally hope that he could be treated openly and fairly. But because he is a public figure, there should naturally be public monitoring. This book, rather than evading the suppressive climate, it documents how the political climate tightened up.
Q: Can you explain one more time about the use of real names in this book?
Ma: I want to restate what was clearly explained in my first chapter. There are two categories of people who I use real names in my book: (1) individuals whose names already exist in the public domain or public records, including conferences, personnel of organizations, websites; (2) individuals whose names appeared in this church’s bulletins or played major roles in its public affairs, and (3) oral history interview respondents who are willing to use their real names.
I can understand why my use of real names may offend some well-known leaders of certain organizations. But I hope that they can be logically consistent—you cannot expect to gain fame in the public domain and not expecting public monitoring; you cannot expect to enjoy the spotlight and not letting people notice the fact that you are in fact barefoot. If these individuals and organizations publicize about themselves on various websites, media and conferences, why does it become a threat once they appear in my book? This logic is consistent to the regular reader, I think. It is easy to understand.
Another point. Maybe these individuals and organizations should step out in the open and explain their relationship with the Early Rain, the Western China Presbytery. They should be responsible to people who have suffered losses and damage in Early Rain. These include members who were abused, women who were fired during pregnancy, and women victims of alleged sexual abuses. Should these individuals and organizations apologize to these people and compensate for the harm they suffered? These can be further discussed in the public realm.
I am not concerned about how their sensational charge that this book revealed their secrets and harmed their safety. This is a book about facts and historical happenings. Maybe they can use specific examples to support their counter-arguments. I do expect these discussions to happen in the public, especially when it comes to how they should compensate the victims.
Q: Why are there sharp ethical criticisms towards this book?
Ma: I think it is because my main arguments (in my previous interview) created a cognitive gap for many people who have held unto a stereotype. Some people got defensive and tried to preserve what they consider as “truth”. Mobilizing a cyber mob to click on negative reviews on Amazon actually support my argument in the book about radicalization.
If there were any moral presuppositions and assumptions in my research, I have to say that it is from the perspective of a female social historian. I hope to bring the voices of the vulnerable and women to the public. It has also been my consistent style of doing scholarship. I used to do scholarly that brings attention to the most marginalized groups of this society, including migrant workers, migrant children, and sexually abused women. I think this is a most needed perspective for all Chinese society. So I have to say, my perspective in support of women’s rights and freedom has also made many dissatisfied because they have long been entrenched in a male-dominated narrative.
Q: Do you have any other expectations for readers in the public sphere?
Ma: This book now is controversial because it documented a controversial celebrity church, not because of my writing. Before the book came out, this church has enjoyed much fame and spotlight internationally. Later it had many more controversial public events. My job is only to collect these public events and put them into a larger story. If I had chosen to study a more secretive church, there would be more ethical challenges. I guess I would not have written a book. But this very church has the most public face, and they claimed publicness as their mission.
Controversies bring out an array of voices, and that is what I desire to show: the complexity of things. My arguments in the book target against some stereotypical depiction of Chinese Christianity, including the images of secretive underground churches, or justification by persecution. These are very flattened depictions. I consider them as lacking truthfulness.
I have no more words to those who refuse to read the book and verbally attack me. But their actions have demonstrated their own bias and consistent verbal violence. In all, I have not more expectations. I only did what a female scholar should have done. I think in all areas of the Chinese society, there should be female voices speaking up. What happened to me recently, including how some scholars attempt to use nonacademic means to slander me and incite mob cyber violence against me, these shows the reality—if even I, as a woman scholar who published a scholarly book through a globally well-known publisher, have to face so much resistance when speaking up, how much more difficult does it take for the voices of vulnerable women in this system to be heard? How much more costs do they have to pay?
The public debates caused by the release of this book is in itself a public event responding to the voice of a woman. I want to show by my actions that when women experience injustice and abuses, although we face much more resistance and pressure, we still need to raise up our voices determinedly without fear. I am not speaking for other women. On the contrary, I think in the present time, every woman need to raise their voice without fear. They should strive to preserve their dignity and gain their rights. This applies to women across ethnicity, status, religious belief, classes, ect. And I am only one of them.