Christians in rural areas of China are facing increased pressure to hide their faith, according to a November 14 article in the Washington Post. As Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to increase his power, local authorities are pressuring Christians to turn away from religion and find their hope in the communist government.
Villagers, many of whom live in poverty and are riddled by disease, are being told Jesus will not save them, and instead they should turn to the Chinese communist government for assistance. According to a local Chinese government social media account, officials in Jiangxi province of Yugan county successfully “melted the hard ice in their hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party.” As a result, more than 600 villagers “voluntarily” got rid of the religious texts and paintings they had in their homes, and replaced them with 453 portraits of Xi.
Christianity Vs. the Party
Qi Yan, a local official in charge of local poverty alleviation efforts, recently told the South China Morning Post that “Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses. But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi. “Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour … After our cadres’ work, they’ll realise their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.”
This recent campaign is part of a broader attempt by the communist government to stifle the rapid expansion of Christianity in China. While exact numbers are impossible to know, some experts believe the Christian church in China is as large as 115 million people, and growing.
“By my calculations, China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule, told The Telegraph. It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”
In response to this, the Chinese government has been increasingly aggressive in its attempts to limit Christianity. In 2015 in Zhejiang, the provincial governor and one of President Xi’s top lieutenants, tore down crosses from 1,200 to 1,700 churches and jailed hundreds of house church leaders. While Christianity is officially allowed in China, government regulations mandate that only approved Christian churches may be attended. However, of the country’s estimated 115 million Christians, only 30 million attend approved churches, opting instead for thriving “unofficial” churches that China has found nearly impossible to squelch.
Echoes of Mao Zedong
Between 1949-1976, founder and chairman of the communist party in China, Mao Zedong, attempted to eradicate Christianity from the country, driving the church underground. Since his death, and with China’s attempts to become a financial power, the grip over society has lessened and the church that had faithfully, slowly expanded in secret became a societal force. Some estimates believe there will be more Protestant Christians in China than America within 15 years.
However, current President Xi has been resembling the former dictator Mao lately, gaining power and popularity to the point where his name has been included in the Chinese communist party constitution alongside Mao’s. But if Xi looks back at his own country’s history, he’d be wise to take note of how his predecessor’s attempts to persecute Christianity backfired.
“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic—they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”
Although this newest attempt by the government to manipulate Chinese Christians is disconcerting, the silver lining is that the amount of people following Jesus has garnered the attention of the government.