Christians in China Feel Full Force of Authorities’ Repression

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 Emily Rauhala reports: Pastor Su Tianfu slides into the back seat and tells the driver to hit it.

He looks over his shoulder: “Is there anybody following us?”

It is days before Christmas, but instead of working on his sermon, Su is giving his tail the slip.

The slight and soft-spoken Protestant preacher is no stranger to surveillance. Su has worked for years in China’s unregistered “house churches,” and he said he has been interrogated more times than he can count.

But even Su is surprised by what has happened in Guiyang this month: a crackdown that has led to the shuttering of the thriving Living Stone Church, the detention of a pastor on charges of “possessing state secrets” and the shadowing of dozens of churchgoers by police.

A local government directive leaked to China Aid, a Texas-based Christian group, and reviewed by The Washington Post advises local Communist Party cadres that shutting down the church is necessary to “maintain social stability”— a catchall phrase often used to justify sweeping clampdowns.

The Dec. 9 raid on the church in a relatively sleepy provincial capital is conspicuous because of the timing — about two weeks before Christmas — and because the government’s tactics were revealed.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

But it also speaks to a broader pattern of religious repression that is playing out beyond China’s mountainous southwest, as the officially atheist Communist Party struggles to control the spread of religion amid a broader push to thwart dissent.

“The overall environment in the past few years has been harsh,” said Yang Fenggang, director of Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society. “There’s a tightened control over civil society in general, including churches.”

Unlike in many parts of the West, Christianity is thriving in China.

In this photo taken July 15, 2014, Pastor Tao Chongyin, left, speaks with church member Fan Liang'an in front of the Wuxi Christian Church with the words "Church of Jesus" in red, in Longwan, Wenzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province. Across Zhejiang province, which hugs China’s rocky southeastern coast, authorities have toppled, or threatened to topple, crosses at more than 130 churches. “I won’t let them take down the cross even if it means they would shoot me dead,” said Fan Liang’an, 73, whose grandfather helped build the church in 1924. (AP Photo/Didi Tang)

In this photo taken July 15, 2014, Pastor Tao Chongyin, left, speaks with church member Fan Liang’an in front of the Wuxi Christian Church with the words “Church of Jesus” in red, in Longwan, Wenzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. Across Zhejiang province, which hugs China’s rocky southeastern coast, authorities have toppled, or threatened to topple, crosses at more than 130 churches. “I won’t let them take down the cross even if it means they would shoot me dead,” said Fan Liang’an, 73, whose grandfather helped build the church in 1924. (AP Photo/Didi Tang)

Because of tight restrictions on religious practices, reliable figures are hard to find, but the Chinese government generally puts the number of Protestants (a group it calls “Christians”) at 23 million and the number of Catholics at more than 5 million.

Foreign scholars estimate that there are 67 million to 100 million Christians in China — compared with 87 million Communist Party cadres. Yang estimates that China will be home to 250 million Christians by 2030. Evangelical Protestants, like Su, are the fastest-growing group.

The Communist Party has a complicated, often contradictory, view of faith: The constitution protects the right to religion, but the state is unwilling to relinquish control.

“The Chinese Communist Party is violently allergic to non-party organizing vehicles, whether they’re nonprofits, libraries or churches,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

That means you can be a Christian, a Tibetan Buddhist or a Muslim, but only on the government’s terms. Christians must limit themselves to “normal religious activity” at a state-backed church, where party dogma trumps religious doctrine and where proselytizing is forbidden. Local officials decide what “normal” means — and what is legal.

That level of discretion gives authorities wide berth to close churchestear down crosses or arrest Christian campaigners as they see fit — a sore point between the United States and China.

This summer, Chinese authorities arrested Zhang Kai, a lawyer fighting the removal of crosses in Zhejiang province, just days before the arrival of the U.S. envoy for international religious freedom, David Saperstein, and weeks before President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States…..(read more)

Source: The Washington Post

Xu Yangjingjing contributed to this report.



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