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THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

July 2021

The Communist Party celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Throughout the past few decades, the number of Christians in China has continued to increase. However, the advent of President Xi Jingping has ushered in a newly dictatorial period, hearkening back to the time of Mao Zedong.

Open Doors’ World Watch List (WWL) collates data and analysis that includes statistical information on world religions, Christian denominations and people groups prepared by the World Christian Database (WCD). The definition of persecution used in the WWL analysis is: “Any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. It can include hostile attitude, words and actions toward Christians.” This includes restrictions, pressure, discrimination, opposition, disinformation, infringement, violation, ostracism, harassment, abuse, violence, ethnic cleansing, and more.

Since 2018, the Chinese Communist Party has been strongly enforcing a policy of “Sinicizing” or “Chinafication” of Chinese cultural identity to stay in power. The policy includes restrictions on Internet, social media, NGOs, and other religious activities. Commonly, the churches will be seen as a threat if the size grows too large or is deemed to be too political. Practitioners of other religions like Islam or Tibetan Buddhism would also face threats or face physical harm when discovered by the community and family.

Christian churches have been affected the most since Xi Jinping became the President in 2013. One of the most prominent cases reported in 2021 was Pastor Wang Yi from the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan, who was arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019.

President Xi Jinping assumed office in 2013 and has actively renewed emphasis on Communist ideology and rhetoric. President Xi’s policy also focuses on limiting the space in which churches can operate. The Chinese Communist Party increasingly uses Communist and Maoist rhetoric in order to keep citizens in line. The primary method is through the promotion of ideological propaganda. In the situation where Christian leaders are arrested, the government is not likely to record the incidents.

President Xi has restored the connection between Communism and nationalism in China through pervasive use of the media, universities, college education, and ideological education along Party lines called “red culture education.” As a Communist country, China stands officially against all religions since Marxist teaching holds that “religion is the opium of the people.” Therefore, according to its Constitution, China is an atheist nation. However, traditional Chinese culture in general and Confucianism are praised as being genuinely Chinese.


As in all Communist countries, the government finds that people tend to be religious; thus, China is sending the message: “If one needs to have a faith, it should be Confucian.” Confucianism is more a philosophy than a “religion.” Its ideology can “serve as an ethical resource for the state constitution, as well as a resource for social governance.” In other words, the goal of the Party is to co-opt religion into Communist society.

The Chinese government has also strengthened its power through the Internet and other online security. The Internet censorship apparatus, also known as the “Great Firewall,” hosts the most sophisticated censorship system worldwide. Citizens need to use tools like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to access websites beyond the reach of censors. However, purchasing VPNs will also raise the attention of the government. In 2014, the government introduced the “Social Credit System” and “Social Credit Score.” It is a set of databases that monitor and assess the obedience of individuals, companies, and government entities. The databases are managed by China’s economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and the country’s court system. The data are collected from resources such as financial, criminal, and government records. The Chinese government also collects data via video surveillance and real-time data transfers. According to the official “Guidelines of Social Credit System Construction (2014-2020)”, the system will assign social credit scores to each induvial based on their behaviour, which is translated into various rewards and punishments. The social credit system is expected to be fully in effect by 2020; however, the Covid-19 pandemic has postponed it.

Although China allows some church activities, there are still restrictions to prevent anti-Party activity in the future.  For instance, restrictive “guidance” can be seen in Shandong Province(and increasingly elsewhere) where churches are being forced to display government posters. There are limitations on the use of posters with Bible verses. The government posters often illustrate some core principles of Socialism such as prosperity, democracy, civility, freedom, equality, and more. Evidence shows that the government has changed the ending of some Biblical stories to make them fit better into the teaching of the Communist Party. In the Communist version of John, chapter 8, Jesus does not protect and forgive the adulteress: instead, he waits for the Pharisees to leave and then stones her himself. Jesus also says, “I too am a sinner, but if men could only execute the law without blemish, the law would be dead.”

Any activity related to Christianity can be risky. Christian radio, TV, or material on the Internet are not allowed. It could be dangerous for Christians to display Christian images or symbols.  For example, there are some reports that indicate that authorities have entered homes and destroyed Christian paintings and torn down Bible verses. Christians are also not allowed to speak about their faith with others, especially youth. Children are pressured into attending anti-Christian schools or other educational institutions.

China has used different ways to pressure Christians as against other religious groups in the nation. Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists face the greatest pressure under Communism. The Communist Party has intensified its propaganda on citizens in Xinjiang. The result shows it has successfully kept Muslim countries from speaking out or taking action for their fellow believers inside China. In Tibet, native Buddhists make up a large part of the population on the Indian- Chinese border. The Communist Party often sees this to be a threat since India gave the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, refuge when he fled in 1959. The government has started re-education camps in Xinjiang. Under the party’s policy, people are “encouraged” to report someone who might be practicing Muslim in some communities.

The Chinese government’s attitude toward various religions could be summed up: “No matter what kind of religion you believe in, the Communist Party is superior. Therefore, for Christians, the Communist Party must still be God and for Muslims, the Communist Party is Allah.”

IIRF-V Fellows are working on current research into religious freedom in the People's Republic of China.

For more information from our sources, see Open Doors World Watch List's entry on China.

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CHURCH IN XINJIANG FACES RISK OF DEMOLITION

The ShengXin church (聖心堂) or the Church of the Sacred Heart in the city of Yining, Xinjiang Province, is to be removed soon, according to some local news. This church is only one of many churches facing the possibility of demolition due to President Xi's policy.

 

Xinjiang (known among natives by its former name of East Turkestan) is a frontier territory of China that has been the ancestral homeland of Turkish-speaking people. The government of China has sought to transform Xinjian through a policy of Sinicization.  The purpose of Sinicization is for non-Chinese society to be more “welcomed” in Han Chinese culture elsewhere in China familiarizing and inculcating Han Chinese language, social norms, and ethnic identity. However, the pursuit of this policy has become more political under the rule of President Xi.

 

Xi called for the "Sinicization of religion," and he noted that, given the rise of religion among the Chinese people, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must "guide the adaptation of religions to socialist society." Under Xi, Sinicization has led to severe persecution, repression, discrimination and loss of the cultural heritage of indigenous Muslims. The Religious Affairs Office seeks Sinicization in order to reshape the religious sphere. 

 

The ShengXin church was built in 2000 under the authority of the local government. Due to a government ruling in Xinjiang, the Catholic Church is facing the risk of being destroyed. On February 19, 2021, the provincial government warned Catholics that they would need to evacuate the church as soon as possible. Asia News states that "From next week this Catholic church on the western border of China will disappear into dust." As of March 2021, the church had not yet been demolished, but Catholics cannot use it. The believers have been told to remove most of the furnishings and decorations. The building cannot be used because the government has cut off water, electricity, and other services. One of the church members told the news, “We thank God and thank you [Asia News] too: the article you publish put some pressure on the local authorities; so, they stopped and have not destroyed it.”

 

There are about 2,000 Catholics in Ghulja, also known as Yining (伊寧). In 1993, these people received permission to build the church. In 2000, there was an official inauguration where some local governors attended. Although the provincial government did not officially disclose why it was removing the church, the government likely wants to exploit the land for commercial operations. The church building would garner too much attention in the commercial zone. The current location of the church was first chosen in 1993 by the provincial government. It was away from the community so that it wouldn't attract too many believers. As the city expanded, the location became one of the main streets that leads to the airport.

 

Since 2013, the situation has worsened. The church has been "fixed" many times already. The height of the church was changed, and symbols or statues related to Catholicism have all been removed. The locals had also repainted the church because the building was too colourful, and it draws too much attention. The ShengXin church is not the first and would not be the last to face the fate of demolition. Studies show that at least four churches have been destroyed in Xinjiang in recent years. Most churches had permits but they were still demolished, and no compensation was paid. It also estimated that at least 16,000 mosques have been destroyed or damaged.

 

This situation raises the profile of freedom of religion in China. Yet, there is little reason to believe that much can be done to rescue the church. Some senior Vatican personalities affirm that it is better to remain silent regarding violence against religious freedom in China because there is a risk of making the situation worse.

CHINA IS PUTTING UP A GREAT WALL TO PREVENT CHRISTIANS FROM STUDYING MORE BIBLICAL PASSAGES ONLINE AND IN PERSON

Religion is increasingly under attack in President Xi’s China. Any expression related to beliefs could be more dangerous than people around the world presently imagine. China is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the freedom of religion. The communist regime gives the outside world an illusion about protecting freedom of religious belief. The official document of China's Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief (2018) states that "Every citizen enjoys the freedom to choose whether to believe in a religion, change from a non-believer to a believer and vice versa. [Every citizen] enjoys the same political, economic, social and cultural rights and must not be treated differently because of a difference in belief." In the document, the Chinese Communist Party shows the positive attitude of respecting different religious beliefs to preserve peace in the nation; however, their policies and actions demonstrate the opposite.

There is a new wave of media attacks on Christianity. The media is at once one of the easiest ways to spread news and the Christian gospel. The Communist Party is tightening its censorship online by taking down multiple Bible and Christian WeChat public accounts. The party has released more restrictions on Christian material, for instance, the sales of Bibles, social media posts, and teaching at churches.

 

Father Francis Liu from the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness said in a tweet that some Christian webchat accounts, including “Gospel League” and “Life Quarterly,” were no longer available online. In the pictures below, they show that the accounts are removed. The messages show, “(We) received reports that this account violates the ‘Internet User Public Account Information Services Management Provisions,’ and its account has been blocked and suspended.”

The Bible apps and public accounts have been removed from the App Store in China. There are also some resources showing that a hard copy of the Bible is no longer available for sale online. In a Christian bookstore in Guangzhou, the owners are required to sell Communist books.

There are books printed with Communist party leaders on the cover and Communist-related material on the bookshelves in the above picture.

 

In February, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs released new regulation. Under chapter III, the regulations’ Article 16 states that Catholic bishops must be approved and ordained by the State-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Bishop’s Conference. Article 27 also states that senior religious leaders will remain in their position for a term of three to five years, after which the individual must again submit their personal information to the authorities. Some experts explain that it could be used to punish religious leaders since the Party may refuse their application to re-register.

 

Studies show that China also changed Biblical messages to fit into the ideology of the Party. Xi Lian, a professor at Duke University Divinity School, notes that the CCP party is going to “create a new version of Christianity shorn of its transcendent visions of values.” In recent years, Christianity has become a unique threat to the CCP party. The religion is the fastest-growing community in the country. A complete Communist translation of the Bible has not yet been released to the public.

 

The news of one chapter’s government-approved revision went public in 2020, and many people are outraged about it. The government-run University of Electronic Science and Technology Press published a textbook to teach “professional ethics and law” in vocational schools. The textbook quotes the Bible’s book of John, chapter eight. In this passage, an adulterous woman is brought to Jesus, and people asked Jesus if she should be killed by stoning for her sins. In the authentically translated version of scripture, Jesus responds, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The crowd begins to walk away at a time, and Jesus tells the woman alone, “Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin” (NIV). However, the Chinese Communist Party’s version has a different ending to the story. The textbook claims that Jesus stoned the woman to death after the crowd left and said, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.”

 

These incidents display severe tensions between religious leaders and Party leaders. In an interview with a Catholic priest, he argues that such disrespect goes against professional ethics in teaching different messages from the authentic version. He states, “It is a sad social phenomenon in mainland China.” Others also have noticed that the same pattern has been repeated in China every year. Still, the persecution only gets worse, and the Church has been unable to fight back or receive the respect and apology it deserves.

Those are just few of many examples of discrimination toward Chinese. churches and Christians in recent years. As the government’s restrictions are growing tighter, more believers’ lives are in danger. This is an issue that the rest of the world to speak for the believers in mainland China.

THE TENSION BETWEEN FALUN GONG AND THE COMMUNIST PARTY HAS INCREASED SINCE THE RELIGION WAS LABELED A “CULT” IN MAINLAND CHINA IN 1999.

A casual search for information on Falun Gong, conjures up articles that praise and deride it. Some articles talk about the “dangerous teaching of Falun Gong” while other articles present the gruesome news that “forced organ harvesting is happening to Falun Gong believers in the mainland”. This religion is very interesting and controversial. Why does China “hate” Falun Gong so much?

 

Falun Gong is also known as Falun Dafa. It is a Chinese religious practice that combines meditation and Qigong exercises with a moral philosophy centred on truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance (Wells, 2017). It is a controversial Chinese spiritual movement found by Li Hongzhi. According to Facts and Details.com, the leader lived in Gongzhi Ling, an industrial town in Northeastern Jilin province, in 1951. Li first introduced Falun Gong to the public in Changchun, Jilin province, in 1992. Before Li became the leader of Falun Gong, he was a watchman in a grain company, and he worked at an army stud farm. He spent his free time studying Buddhism and Taoism. During the 1980s, there was a movement of studying Qigong in mainland China which Li studied. Qigong is a traditional exercise practice designed to promote a healthy lifestyle by stimulating the flow of “Qi,” which means life force and vital breath in the human body. Often in Asian culture, Qigong is also referred to as a way of “cultivation” or “self-cultivation” and forms an integral part of classical Chinese culture. The practice of Qigong does not require much equipment; thus, people started trying this method in the streets. 

Li Hongzhi published a book called “Zhuan Falun”. It provides a compilation of his lectures, and it became the main text of his methodology. The book becomes the main text that members required to read. According to Falun Gong’s official website, Mr. Li stated that its beliefs are rooted in Buddhist tradition. It consists of two main components: self- improvement through the study of teaching, and gentle exercise and meditations. Li also added a supernatural part that makes Falun Gong different from other religions: Falun Gong would prepare people to return home to heavenly kingdoms where they had once dwelled, and even teach practitioners to levitate and see through walls.

           

Due to the convenience of Falun Gong exercise and joining the group, many Chinese decided to participate in Falun Gong. In the early 1990s, the population of Falun Gong practitioners was growing fast. The Communist Party saw it as a threat and later branded Falun Gong as a “heretical cult." (Penny, B., 2012) In April 1999, thousands of Falun Gong believers protested in Beijing against criticism of the movement in the Chinese media. The party feared that there would be a rebellious government formed out of Falun Gong; thus, party leader Jiang Zemin issued a warrant for the founder Li’s arrest. According to Falun Gong’s official website, Li claimed that he had completed his teachings in China. He began to travel extensively, making guest appearances at that conference in support of his techniques. Later, Li became a U.S. citizen and moved to New York, New York, in 1997. Although Li called for dialogue with the Chinese government and tried to reconcile after moving to the U.S., there were no callbacks from the party. Li’s influence is maintained in mainland China through books, audiotapes, or newspapers, even though he is no longer in China. 

 

The Epoch Times was founded in 2000 by John Tang, an Atlanta- based follower of Falun Gong. It maintains it is not owned or operated by Falun Gong, but former worker, Ben Hurley, says it is in every sense a Falun Gong outlet. “Everyone who works there is a Falun Gong practitioner.” The paper was a small, low-budget newspaper with right-wing opinions handed out free on the street for many years until 2016, when the paper emerged as one of the most potent digital publishers in the United States. One of the reasons that the Epoch Times draws more readers is its editorial position regarding former President Trump. It explicitly supports Mr. Trump and criticizes his opponents.

However, whatever politicization Falun Gong has undergone does not revoke its practitioners’ right to freedom of speech and religion. Some news reports show that the Communist Party of China has captured members of the Falun Gong and later harvested their organs for transplant. The Chinese government denied the action, and the truth requires more thorough investigation. Some films like “The Bleeding Edge” and “Human Harvest” show the shocking reality of forced organ harvesting in China. Many Falun Gong believers have reported that while they were in forced camps in China, they are treated poorly by the party. 

 

There is no doubt that Falun Gong members have suffered injustice and persecution since the Communist Party banned the group in 1999, fearing its growing popularity and power. It is up to one individual to judge whether Falun Gong is a good religion for them or not. They choose humanity and conscience over capitalism and atheism, even at the risk of their lives and reputation. 

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THE ISSUE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN XINJIANG’S VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING CENTERS.

China is facing many criticisms from around the world over its “re-education camps,” which target the Muslim Uighur population located in the North-western region of Xinjiang.

 

Islam has been practiced in Mainland China for more than 1,400 years. Muslims are a minority group in China. Since early times, many Muslims crossed via the Silk Road to trade to East Asia. Many traders were Muslim, and they along with their trade with the Chinese they spread their culture and beliefs. Islam was one of the many religions that began to spread across the Silk Road during the 7th to the 10th centuries through war, trade, and diplomatic exchanges. The Uighurs (or Uyghurs) are a nomadic Turkic people native to China’s Xinjiang region. Most Uighurs are Muslim, and the Chinese Communist Party has been increasing pressure on the community so as to prevent calls for independence in the future. About 12 million Uighurs live in the region of Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). They made up less than half of the Xinjiang population. Uighur activists say years of state-sponsored oppression and discrimination against Uighurs have fueled grassroots anger against the government.

 

Studies show that China has run re-education camps in Xinjiang for years, but the party denied the existence of camps until 2019. Officials from Beijing said that all trainees at “vocational education and training centers” in Xinjiang had graduated. In 2019, BBC news was the only media that have been invited to the camp in Xinjiang. The documentary is about 13 minutes, and it shows the first hand experience. The Chinese report said that 1.3 million people have been through Xinjiang’s “vocational training” scheme annually for six years. The recent report estimated nearly 8 million people out of a population of 22 million could have been through the programme.

The Chinese government states that the principal purpose of the re-education camps is transformation. The camps help the Uyghurs learn about Mandarin and Han Chinese culture.  The official name of the internment camps is “Xinjiang Vocational Education and Training Centers.” Students would learn about Mandarin, which is the official language in China, they would be immersed in Han Chinese culture to fit into the society and various skills to help them in different workplaces.  This raises the question how the government may “socialize” the minority group while respecting its culture. Some people who have been in the re-education camps or schools shared about their experience, and they said, “their goal is to destroy everyone.”

 

According to a BBC interview with a survivor in 2021, women have been systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured in concentration camps. The interviewee said that women were removed from the cells every night and raped by one or more masked Chinese men. Many victims are afraid to expose the truth of the camps because they would be punished even more harshly than before.

 

Another interview by ABC News with a Uighur woman focused on her three-year experience of detention in Xinjiang. Gulbahar Haitiwaji was summoned back to China to sign documents for her retirement in 2016. Before visiting China, she lived in France for ten years. However, she was unable to travel outside of China at the end of her trip. She was targeted and accused of being a terrorist and was sentenced to years of detention in re-education camps. Inside the camps, she said she was taught to repeat daily good wishes for President Xi and learn a glorified version of China’s history. After three years of convincing the French Foreign Ministry to plead for her release, Haitiwaji was eventually released and flew back to France.

 

Social movement advocates have spread widely claims about the issue of human rights in Xinjiang. Fashion retailers like H&M and Nike were facing a potential boycott in China earlier this year. The companies made statements about the forced labour camps in Xinjiang and will not support Uighurs' cotton production any longer. Many Chinese have called for boycotts, celebrities have cut ties, and e-commerce platforms have dropped H&M. H&M has over 400 stores in Mainland China, which makes China account for 55 percent of H&M's revenue. 

 

This is a topic that deserve more action and helps from the global public. Some might even argue that it is “Genocide.” The putative definition of genocide might differ from country to country based on their political views. The camps might have some similarities to the early Nazi camps or other genocide: they similarly target ethnic minorities and political dissidents. But the Xinjiang camps are not death camps. The BBC documentary shows that the hours of the “camps” are long, but eventually, some people have the chance to escape the re-education camps and go home.