China’s Government Attacks on Christianity
Most Americans don’t know much about the People’s Republic of China’s Christian population. It would not be unreasonable to think that there are no Christians in China, as anyone familiar with communism understands its ideological opposition to organized religion that doesn’t benefit the state. The North Koreans are a good example, where the people’s “god” is their Supreme Leader. While China hasn’t taken that great of a leap away from religion, their hostility to it is certainly not concealed very well.
Christianity isn’t the first religion most would think of in relation to pre-Communist China. Indeed, despite its firm status in culture beginning in the 16th century, Chinese Christians numbered only four million before Mao and his party took power in 1949. Following the Chinese Civil War, many foreign missionaries either retreated to Taiwan (controlled by the Chinese Nationalist remnants) or left China altogether. Although the Chinese Communist Party was not fond of the Christians remaining behind, they allowed most movements to survive as long as they were loyal to the state. This led to the birth of new religious movements in China like the Three-Self Protestant movement and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church, which accommodated Maoist politics by effectively making them part of doctrine. In the Catholic case, ties with the Vatican— seen as subversive and western— were denounced. There followed several decades of unrest during the failed Cultural Revolution, when attempts to replace Chinese heritage with communist values essentially left China trapped in cultural ritualism, observing old customs without much of a reason.
Many Christians were harassed, arrested, and abused in numerous ways by the Chinese government until recent years when restrictions were relaxed somewhat to allow a more free exercise of religion. However, the government still keeps a close watch; only state-approved denominations are permitted, with churches subject to registration, the party leading the selection of ministers and regulating tithes, and strict censorship of doctrine. As reported by BBC, such churches preach that Chinese Christians are subject to the Chinese Communist Party first, and to God second. One pastor interviewed even claimed that, if Jesus were alive today, he would likely be a member of the Chinese Communist Party. In other words, Christianity in China— unlike in other countries, where religion would be the guiding force in one’s life— is a supplement to Maoist ideology.
There are some underground Christian groups often called “home churches” where Chinese Christians meet in small and secretive groups to sing hymns, study the Bible, and discuss real Christian ideals rather than communist propaganda. Despite the Party’s more relaxed attitude, many home churches live in constant fear of discovery, as it is not unheard of for unregistered congregations to meet the same fate as their forerunners in the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, though persecution may be less frequent or intense, the Chinese government has renewed attempts to secularize their populace. In some cases, tithes and offerings are being confiscated or denied; some churches have been forced to remove crosses, and some have been demolished altogether. The government justifies it with the explanation that Christianity interferes with the “path to socialism.” It may very well be that we are seeing a second Cultural Revolution underway now that Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been granted a lifetime term.
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