China Now Cracking Down on ‘Official’ Churches

A new Cultural Revolution is upon us.

Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province. (YouTube)

Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province. (YouTube)

(Morning Star News) – Between 1958 and 1961, at least 18 million (and possibly as many as 45 million) Chinese died as a direct result of Chairman Mao’s disastrous socio-economic campaign known as the “Great Leap Forward.” Subsequently dissent rose within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In 1966 Mao struck back, launching the socio-political movement known as the ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.’ He purged opposition from the CCP and incited indoctrinated youths to purge society of “closet capitalists.” Books were burned, art was destroyed, intellectuals were incarcerated and killed, churches were confiscated and bulldozed, foreign missionaries were expelled or executed, and Chinese pastors were murdered and condemned to decades in labor camps and coal mines.

At that time the church in China was estimated to be around 1 million strong. Despite being severely persecuted, the Chinese Church committed herself to mission. God redeemed the suffering, using it to make hearts receptive to the gospel. For decades Church growth was largely confined to rural regions. But then the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989 shattered the confidence of China’s urban elite, opening the door to the spread of the gospel in the cities and through every level of society.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the church in China was estimated to number 100 million, with Chinese Christians working and witnessing as lawyers, academics, entrepreneurs, musicians, etc. This growth has occurred in the absence of foreign missionaries, making Christianity in China an indigenous movement. The most un-Chinese thing in China today is the Marxism Mao imported from Europe!

Today it seems the cycle is repeating. Communism has failed, the economy is fragile and dissent is rising – even inside the CCP. In this context, it seems President Xi Jinping (who assumed office in November 2012) is laying the foundation for a new cultural revolution. The CCP is being purged, mostly by means of an “anti-corruption” campaign, and Maoism is being resurrected. President Xi, increasingly the focus of a personality cult, is tightening his control over the cultural sphere while promoting solidarity around ideology as being China’s only hope against foreign infiltration. (See Document No. 9, CCP policy, 2013)

From 2002 to 2007, Xi Jinping served as governor and party secretary of Zhejiang Province, where he would have witnessed the phenomenal growth of Protestant Christianity, particularly in the city of Wenzhou, known as “China’s Jerusalem” because of its many churches, Christian-run businesses and its sizable, influential Christian minority. According to a new report by Willy Lam (The Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, 4 Feb 2016), it is no accident that President Xi’s campaign to “Sinicize Christianity,” so as to put Christianity into the service of the CCP, was launched in Zhejiang.

“Except during the Cultural Revolution, ‘official’ churches’ [as distinct from house churches that refuse to come under the auspices of the CCP-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the China Christian Council (CCC)] have not been directly subjected to the party’s ideological or doctrinal intervention,” Lam comments.

Lam is wrong on this count, however, as this has recently changed, as noted in Religious Prayer Prayer Bulletins 341 and 342. Pastor Gu Yuese, arrested on Jan. 27, was an official with the CCC and pastor of China’s largest TSPM church – Chongyi Church in the Zhejiang capital, Hangzhou. Now detained in a “black jail” on charges of corruption, Gu’s only offense was to criticize CCP policy in Zhejiang. The government has since appointed a new pastor to oversee Chongyi Church, having divided up and transferred out its pastoral team.

Authorities have also arrested Li Guanzhong, the chairman of the China Christian Council (CCC) in Pujiang County, Zhejiang, and senior pastor of Puyang Christian Church in the city of Jinhua. Arrested on Jan. 29, Li and his wife, Zhang Shuzhen, now also are detained in China’s “black jail” system where, like Pastor Gu, they are being held incommunicado, without access to legal representation, on charges pertaining to corruption. Like Gu, Li had protested CCP policy in Zhejiang. In July 2014 he resisted CCP pressure to destroy his own church’s cross. More recently he resisted the CCP’s order that all TSPM churches fly the Chinese flag.

Eighteen crosses have been toppled from churches in Zhejiang since Jan. 1 (and some 1,800 since February 2014), and eight TSPM pastors are now detained. Furthermore, the authorities have abducted five booksellers out of Hong Kong and a journalist out of Thailand; formal charges have been brought against nearly 20 human rights lawyers; and coerced “confessions” are once again being broadcast on state television.

This year, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and many observers suspect that a new cultural revolution is upon us. Just as the last one failed, so too will this one. In fact it could even facilitate revival and result in the collapse of the CCP, but not before much suffering has been unleashed. The church in China needs our prayers for wisdom, for endurance and for mission.

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of “Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today” 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012). Reprinted from Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, RLPB 343, Feb. 10, 2016.

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