STATE OF REPRESSION
Christians in China face growing, systematic persecution by the communist government, reports Development Manager James Fraser.
Throughout its history the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has targeted and oppressed the Chinese church. The Cultural Revolution from 1966-76 was a particularly dark time. China closed itself off from the rest of the world and systematically attempted to eradicate the church – closing buildings, burning Bibles, and imprisoning or killing thousands of believers.
We should take serious note then, when experts such as Release partner Bob Fu, who has himself recently been the target of an outrageous smear campaign, claim that what Christians are experiencing in China today is comparable with the oppression of the Cultural Revolution.
Over the last decade China’s growing influence in the world under the leadership of President Xi Jinping (picured) has grabbed the attention of the global media. More recently, alongside economic growth and political influence, China’s deplorable treatment of its ethnic Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and its stronghanded tactics to ban political dissent in Hong Kong have been in the spotlight.
As Release has continued to report, within this wider context Christians are also suffering increased pressure and restrictions in what is now one of the most sophisticated surveillance states in the world.
The north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang has been described as the largest outdoor prison in the world. It is estimated that perhaps more than one million citizens have been detained in what the government calls ‘vocational training centres’, essentially concentration camps. However, ubiquitous monitoring and the threat of detention for the most spurious offences, such as growing a beard, having relatives living abroad, or simply being ‘untrustworthy’, make the whole region feel like one giant detention camp.
The majority of those affected are Uyghur Muslims but the government’s strategy in Xinjiang, ostensibly aimed at countering the spread of terrorism and religious extremism, seems to be targeted at anyone who shows any sign of dissent.
This includes Christians, several of whom have also been interned or imprisoned, such as prisoner of faith Alimujiang Yimiti, who continues to serve a 15-year sentence for allegedly leaking state secrets.
‘This situation is not only a humanitarian crisis but also a profound affront to God’
Combined with suppression of the Uyghur language and recent evidence of forced sterilisation programmes, the government’s intent seems to be the complete eradication of Uyghur ethnicity and culture.
When we consider the biblical truth that Jesus died to ransom people from every tribe, language, people and nation, this situation is not only a humanitarian crisis but also a profound affront to God.
The new National Security Law passed in Hong Kong earlier last year has severely undermined the territory’s partial autonomy. Christian activists and religious groups operating in Hong Kong could now be targeted by authorities in mainland China, especially those who are connected to international organisations.
This move does not bode well for the religious freedom of Hong Kong’s 870,000 Christians. Boldly, in a recent statement in response to the new law, a group of Hong Kong pastors and believers pledged ‘[their] full embrace of the Gospel of the Kingdom, [their] sincere repentance towards the Church’s
shortcomings, [their] absolute refusal to authoritarian government, and [their] determination to walk together with Hong Kong society.’
Prominent among the churches that have been targeted on the mainland is Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) in Chengdu. Its pastor Wang Yi is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence for allegedly ‘inciting subversion of state power.’
Recently, after being imprisoned himself, ERCC Elder Li Yingqiang and his family moved back to Chengdu to renew fellowship with scattered church members.
The police told him, ‘We will never give your church any space. We will only continually squeeze you.’ Committed to the ongoing personal harassment of Elder Li, the police even constructed a temporary housing unit under his home to monitor his movements and prevent him from making contact with other church members.
After enduring nearly two months of such treatment, Elder Li and his family were forced to move to Leshan, 100 miles from Chengdu, where they continue to be intimidated by the police.
Elder Li, however, in a spirit which is typical of China’s humble and courageous house church leaders, is determined to continue to serve God and His people.
‘What does it mean to serve the Lord?’ he said, ‘It is to act according to His will and not our own. Suffering for the name of the Lord, suffering for the church of Christ, is a blessing that Christians all long for… When the sheep are facing wolves and tigers and leopards, it is the duty of the shepherd to protect them.’
Thanks to your continuing support, oppressed Christians in China are being helped to persevere.
Bibles and other Christian materials are being distributed, families of prisoners are being supplied with basic living expenses and legal defence is provided to those who are detained and convicted. As reported in the previous edition of Voice, Release is also assisting one particular network of persecuted pastors to continue to dedicate time to Bible teaching and pastoral care.
Please pray that Christians in China will continue to know the dignity and freedom they have in Christ in a context of increasing oppression. Pray also that the Holy Spirit would soften the hearts of officials in the Chinese Communist Party and help them to recognise the value that Christians can bring to Chinese society.
Population: 1.4 billion
Government: Communist party-led
Religion: Non-religious 44%, Chinese
religions 29%, Buddhist 13%,
Christian 8%, other 6%
Sources: Operation World, World Factbook.
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