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China rises 16 places on the World Watch List as authoritarianism returns


16 January 2019

One of the big stories of this year’s World Watch List is the rise of China, which has risen 16 places to number 27 on this year’s list.

China has been increasingly clamping down on Christianity.

New Regulations for Religious Affairs came into force on 1 February 2018, and since then, a focus on prohibiting children and youth from hearing religious teaching has seen nursery and Sunday schools closed down, summer camps banned, and churches forced to place signs at the entrance forbidding anyone under 18 to enter.

Chinese churches have been pressured to fly the national flag higher than the cross, sing the national anthem before services and, in one area, a few Roman Catholic churches were told to replace pictures of Jesus with pictures of President Xi.

CCTV on the congregation

Church meetings were disrupted in several provinces, especially rural Henan in central China where sixty percent of the thousands of churches have been closed (three of the big five ‘house church’ networks started here). In Zhejiang, on the east coast, where exterior church crosses were torn down in previous years, they are now regulated in size, position and even colour.

In September, Beijing’s largest ‘house’ church, Zion – with 1,500 members – was shut down. The official reason was ‘illegal meetings held by an unauthorised church group in an unregistered building’. The real reason was that they refused to install CCTV cameras facing the congregation.

Report to the police station

Churches registered in the state-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Movement now find themselves bearing the brunt of the regulations. Pastors and religious teachers can be told to report to their local police station every few weeks: some are fined excessively for oversights such as ‘inadequate fire safety equipment’. A small number are arrested and questioned, but often released the same day. Occasionally, churches are completely destroyed.

The recent removal of Bibles from e-commerce platforms means they can’t be downloaded or sold (though they can be read) online; they are officially available only from State-sanctioned church shops, though un-official ‘house’ churches can still sell them through their own channels.

Adapting to socialist society

A government document says ‘Active guidance’ is provided to help religion ‘adapt to socialist society’; in other words, it must serve the Communist Party. In March 2018, President Xi Jinping was allowed to rule indefinitely, the first since Mao to hold such power. He is using religion as one of many tools to build a socialist society with Chinese characteristics, free of other belief systems. Hence the need for the pursuing a policy of the Sinicisation [ie ‘China-isation’] of religion.

The world has recently become aware of re-education camps in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, where ethnic Uighur Muslims form 45% of the population. Of the estimated 6,000 Christians from a Muslim background there, some have disappeared into such camps and not been heard of since.

Stand with your church family in China

Despite rising levels of persecution, many Chinese Christians are determined to remain faithful to Christ. One pastor told us, "We stood through tough persecution before, we will stand through whatever comes now as well."

Please pray for our church family in China, that they will have the strength to continue to stand through the persecution they face, and that God will be at work in them and through them.

You can also provide practical support for persecuted believers. Open Doors supports persecuted believers in China through training in discipleship, stewardship and how to face persecution, and by providing contextualised Christian literature. £12 could provide four Bibles to encourage persecuted Christians in their faith.

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