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The Vatican’s canonization of 120 Chinese martyrs on October 1, 2000 provoked a bitter denunciation from the Chinese government. Analyzing the context of this event, this article argues that the official Chinese reaction is a sign of government weakness and insecurity in the face of growing and evolving forms of unofficial religious life in particular and social life in general. The weakness is both structural and symbolic. Structurally, the state lacks sufficient resources to coerce most religious communities into compliance and it is unable to provide incentives that could coopt such communities. Symbolically, the state lacks the capacity to represent the richness of national identities in a changing, pluralist society. The government is failing to develop forms of soft power sufficient to bring order and stability to a rapidly evolving realm of unofficial social relations.