There are multiple reports that the Chinese government is gathering people’s biometric data to track church attendance at different locations in Hubei province. The news adds to the growing list of human and religious rights violations being committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“The president of the Two Chinese Christian Councils of Huangshi city explained to believers that congregants’ fingerprint and facial data collection is one of the priorities in the churches’ work this year,” says watchdog site Bitter Winter. “She also said that this initiative helps to monitor gatherings at state-run churches and record attendance, warning that those believers who do not have their biometric data in the system will not be allowed into churches in the future.”
In addition to mandating that people have their faces and fingerprints scanned, the Two Chinese Christian Councils is recording church members’ personal and family information. This is a requirement for all Three-Self churches (which are government approved) in Huangshi city in Hubei. Bitter Winter says the church attendee who reported that information,
is disturbed by the order since the requirement not only puts members of congregations under the government’s constant tracking and surveillance but can also implicate their family members and relatives. He added that those relatives who are civil servants or Communist Party members would be most likely punished or have restrictions imposed on their activities; this can even negatively impact their promotion at work.
There are similar reports from other churches in Hubei. As of early October, people who attend Muyang Church must now wait in line to get their faces and fingerprints scanned. Tian’en Church also had a facial recognition system installed around the same time.
The Chinese Government and Facial Scanning
In October 2018, a source told Bitter Winter that the Chinese government had introduced facial recognition technology at a church in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). According to the church member, it takes officials so long to verify people’s identities that the service is almost over by the time every attendee makes it through the line. Church members are also required to provide ID cards in order to be allowed in, despite the facial recognition system.
As ChurchLeaders previously reported, the Chinese government has been conducting a type of cultural genocide against the Uighur population in the XUAR, actions that are aided by facial recognition technology. Only four days ago, The New York Times drew the ire of the CCP by leaking government documents tying President Xi Jinping to the oppression of the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. In July of this year, the Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China sent a letter to tech companies in Silicon Valley, urging American companies not to be complicit in the abuses of human rights and religious freedom by supplying the technology that helps to make these violations possible.
Growing Persecution, Growing Faith
ChurchLeaders has reported extensively this year on the troubling actions of the Chinese government. In addition to the oppression of the Uighur people, other abuses include the censorship of student textbooks, the sinicization of the Bible, the demolition of buildings such as the True Jesus Church, and the persecution of churches such as Early Rain. Early Rain pastor Wang Yi is still imprisoned under charges that he tried to “subvert state power” and run “illegal business activities.” It has been almost a year since he was arrested, and International Christian Concern (ICC) says he is expected to go to trial soon, without legal representation.
People in China are also in danger of being investigated for purchasing Christian literature online. According to a recent report from ICC, anyone who buys Christian books through WeChat risks being invited to what is known as a “tea session,” i.e., a police interrogation.
Nevertheless, the church in China continues to grow. Faithwire reports that there are around 100 million Christians in China and that demand for copies of the Bible is exploding. China’s Amity Printing Company has just printed its 200 millionth Bible, twice the number of Bibles the company had printed only seven years ago.
A woman who recently became a field team member in China with OpenDoors made this observation about the faith of Chinese believers:
I was shocked right from the beginning to see how Chinese believers didn’t just know their Bibles—they often memorize large portions of Scripture. They experience God every day by taking God’s Word literally and living as if it were totally true and trustworthy…While they may be lacking teaching about the nuances of various Bible passages or the origins of some Hebrew or Greek words, they could hardly be regarded as uninformed, choosing to believe God’s Word at face value and applying it to their lives, resulting in God doing all manner of wonderful things in their midst.