Vicious persecution of faithful Chinese Christians who shun state-run “churches” has always been a problem under the communist dictatorship ruling mainland China. But in recent months it has become an even more serious tragedy as believers are terrorized and religious leaders are tortured at increasingly alarming rates. The world, meanwhile, is not doing enough to stop it, according to activists working to expose the abuse.
A renewed sense of paranoia swept over the tyrants in Beijing last year. Following recent developments in the Middle East – the so-called “Arab Spring” has already toppled several long-ruling dictatorships – a re-invigorated crackdown on Christians has observers around the world up in arms. Perhaps fearful of the regime’s growing clout, however, governments worldwide barely dare to mention it. And activists in China know very well what could happen to them and their families if they speak out.
According to the China Aid Association, a Christian non-profit organization that monitors and exposes the Chinese regime’s persecution, the situation is bad and getting worse – fast. In testimony before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee late last year, China Aid President Bob Fu said the deterioration of the rule of law and freedom of religion in China had reached its lowest point in almost two decades, when the government ended its “official” policy of eradicating religion.
“Religious groups will either bend to the Party’s demands or be broken by its force,” Fu told the Committee, urging U.S. policy makers to put pressure on the regime as the persecution intensifies. “China’s concept of religious freedom is in fact nothing more than the freedom to follow the Communist Party.”
Of course, the regime does claim to tolerate freedom of “belief,” pointing to its state-controlled churches as proof. But the reality on the ground is far different, as the countless Christian victims of torture and false imprisonment can attest. Consider: To mark the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding, the regime’s churches were ordered to participate in concerts singing praises to their totalitarian-minded rulers. Those who refuse to submit to Beijing are punished severely.
According to experts, the communist-run churches teach their flocks that they must love their government and their rulers above all – God is something of a secondary concern. “Christians find that problematic,” China Aid Los Angeles office Director E. Perez Romero said. “Jesus is the head of the Church – not the Chinese Communist Party.” On top of that, parents are not even allowed to take their children to mass.
Reliable estimates find that there are between 75 million and 150 million Christians worshipping in “illegal” churches within China – likely far greater than the 70 million or so official Communist Party members. “That’s pretty intimidating for the Chinese Communist Party,” says Romero. “The Church seems to be growing while the Communist Party seems to be dying.”
The spectacular growth of Christianity in the face of such dire circumstances, among other developments, has contributed to an explosion of what Romero and others call the “One Party Paranoia” of communist officials. The regime, for example, uses vague laws on “social harmony” and “state security” to trump up charges against Christians and dissidents of all varieties. Sometimes their families are targeted, too. And it is only getting worse.
“Ever since the Arab Spring, the Chinese government has cracked down on what they would consider all trouble makers,” Romero says, citing Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan Buddhists, political activists and others. “The last thing they want is a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ happening in China. As a result of that, their persecution – which was already at a terrible state – has gotten even worse.”
The Roman Catholic Church in China has been persecuted by the Chinese communists for some six decades – essentially since the nation fell to communism in 1949. Like all communist dictatorships, Beijing’s despots perceived any allegiance to God or the Church as a threat to their absolute domination, and reacted accordingly. So much of the true Church was forced to go underground.