Exposing China’s newest crackdown on Christians

China and Christians
Dave Watts, Flickr.

China is none-too-comfortable with Christians, and a newly released government document reveals a deeply ingrained bunker mentality about outside religious influence, especially in the country’s universities.

“Resisting foreign use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education and preventing campus evangelism is an important and imperative/urgent/pressing strategic task,” says the document, which was issued by the Communist Party Central Committee’s General Office.

Obtained and translated by ChinaAid, the May 2011 document was authenticated by Columbia University Sinologist Andrew Nathan.

Its rationale?

Saboteur evangelists

“Foreign hostile forces,” according to the document, are trying to “westernize and divide” China. And these forces are using religion, “Christianity in particular, for infiltration.”

The document oozes paranoia. Education and government officials are encouraged to “a high degree of vigilance.” Proselytizing “should be stopped in time.” To that end the Education Ministry is charged with establishing a database to keep track of evangelistic groups. Suspicious activities are to be reported. And faculty who transgress are to be in some cases fired and “handle[d] . . . in accordance with law.”

Universities are directed to “[m]ake education in Marxist atheism the foundational work in resisting infiltration and preventing campus evangelism. . . .”

“In the name of supposedly countering foreign religious infiltration,” says ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu, “the repressive nature of both the policies and procedures revealed in the secret document shows the Chinese regime’s disregard for freedom of religion. . . .”

Widespread disregard

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom lists China as a “Country of Particular Concern.” It shares the list with other repressive states such as Iran and North Korea.

“The Chinese government continues to violate severely its international obligations to protect the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief,” says the USCIRF. “Religious groups and individuals considered to threaten national security or social harmony, or whose practices are deemed superstitious, cult-like, or beyond the vague legal definition of ‘normal religious activities’ face severe restrictions, harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses.”

Interestingly, the news from ChinaAid came just before the Council on Foreign Relations announced its list of thirty global crises to keep an eye on in 2013. One honorable mention not in the final list: “Widespread popular unrest in China triggered by dissatisfaction with economic prospects and political reforms.”

Shades of Nero? How much blame will believers get for “westerniz[ing] and divid[ing]” the country in such an event? I would assume the answer is however much is most expedient to the government.

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  • There are a number of Christian groups in the US who send English tutors and college teachers as “tentmakers” who evangelize on the side; that’s about the only way missionaries can get into China, since they can’t get in with missions as their primary reason for being there. However, it’s not foreign governments that are looking to do this but independent church groups, but it still casts doubt in a “Marxist atheism” which Marx wouldn’t recognize.

    • Joel J. Miller

      I found Beijing’s notion that all these “tentmakers” (good word) are part of an organized effort to destabilize the country to be astonishing. It also reveals a debilitatingly limited view of what religion is about. In the government’s one-dimensional view, religion is tool of social coordination and an “outside” religion like Christianity can only cause problems.

  • Tom

    It takes more prayer and time.

  • John

    My thoughts as a Christian and a foreigner living and teaching in China: The school is sponsoring a Christmas eve production that begins with telling the gospel message and ends by putting John 3:16 on the screen. My text book which I am required to teach talks about Martin Luther, the protestant reformation, and that Luther taught that salvation was through faith in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, and not through good works. One student has a text book which includes a chapter on the Bible in which he reads Genesis 1-3, the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke and the account of the death and resurrection of Christ. And this is all at a public university! None of these things would be allowed in a public school in America. That said, pray for China – for God’s blessing on all the people here, because Christ came for all – not just westerners.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Amen. Christianity isn’t western anyway. The Apostle Thomas took the faith deep into the East during the first century. Missionaries took it further, all the way to China by the seventh century. Westerners didn’t arrive for more than five hundred years after that.

  • HS Shin

    On one hand, the paranoia of the Chinese Communist Party is justified because Christianity is indeed fracturing the population. Communist ideology is supposed to meet all needs of the population, but now there are millions finding an alternate source of meaning in life. It all gets down to the future strength and viability of the CCP. Churches are experiencing spectacular growth, but Communist Party enrollment is seen by many urban youth as unnecessary at best or laughable at worst.

    On the other hand, China may be completely off in its way of thinking. Equating the influx of Christianity among university campuses as a threat to national identity is hypocritical. China has not stopped becoming more “western” since the Reform and Opening Up with its skyscraper-a-day rate of growth.

    I believe the good news in all this is that internal documents such as these are fairly common and may not be so influential. Imagine you are the dean of a school. Would you really make these directives a priority for your school?

    • Joel J. Miller

      Good perspective. Thank you.

      ChinaAid likely considers it significant in part because Bob Fu’s own story revolves around campus outreach. He was a teacher by day and participated in a house church by night — until he and his wife were arrested and jailed. Eventually they were released and placed under house arrest. His wife became pregnant, and they decided to flee the country, concerned the only alternative was a forced abortion because she did not have a permission card for the child. To see language in the document that speaks of teachers being “handled by law,” undoubtedly triggers something visceral in a guy who’s experienced the rough side of that handling. That said, just because there’s an edict doesn’t mean it can or will be enforced. The fact that this effort renews several existing policies only shows that compliance isn’t happening.

      I think you are right about the basic hypocrisy in play here. China is in the midst of determining which stream of water it wants to allow past its toes. Christianity is destabilizing in China particularly because there’s so much restriction on its practice. The government has, in the words of Martin Luther, stepped on the dish to pick up the spoon. On the one hand, they are decrying the disharmony and destabilization caused by Christianity while their very policies exacerbate it. And on the other hand, the economic liberalization is causing extensive destabilization as well, though its rewards are too great to stop.

  • Jipfbutter

    As a person who has lived, taught, and observed much on China, I have to caution all that living and teaching at a large public university in a major city such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou for example are seen as little or no threat to the government as there is a large foreign presence and influence and there are even foreigner churches where a foreigner can can show their passport and attend church services. However, if you are working or teaching in smaller rural areas where most or all of the people have never seen a foreigner of any kind and few or none understand English, the government considers it a great threat to the masses of people who normally would be safe from influence. Think of it as China’s 1% versus the 99%.

    Most who live in large cities have permission to live there because of their party connections and the kids who make it into the most well known Chinese Universities again are there because their families are either party members, wealthy or both. In rural schools, like where I taught…I worked with students whose parents were rickshaw pullers, fruit vendors, tinkers, tailors and farmers. What the government doesn’t want is outsiders influencing the 99%.

    I advice caution to anyone who thinks there is no harm in openly proselytizing or believing that China is better the US when it comes to religion in school or religious tolerance. You may not be affected by your poor judgement and actions and worst maybe deported, but the people who cannot leave China willingly will pay the highest price for your indiscretions.

    The greatest gift we can give them is to see through their eyes and understand with their hearts and truly love them and offer them hope. That is the story they need to see and learn. It goes a long way for someone who has never known hope or love or anyone who would accept them as they are.