China’s crackdown seeking sinicization of churches

In what is reported to be the worst crackdown on religion since the country’s Cultural Revolution when Mao Zedong’s government vowed to eradicate religion, researchers say that the current drive in China is less about destroying Christianity than “bringing it to heel,” reports The Guardian newspaper (January 13). Fueled by government unease over the growing number of Christians and their potential links to the West, “[t]he government has orchestrated a campaign to ‘sinicise’ Christianity, to turn Christianity into a fully domesticated religion that would do the bidding of the party,” said Lian Xi, a professor at Duke University. Since 2018, the government has implemented sweeping rules on religious practices, “[b]ut the campaign is not just about managing behaviour. One of the goals of a government work plan for ‘promoting Chinese Christianity’ between 2018 and 2022 is ‘thought reform.’ The plan calls for ‘retranslating and annotating’ the Bible, to find commonalities with socialism and establish a ‘correct understanding’ of the text,” reports Lily Kuo.

“Over the past year, local governments have shut hundreds of unofficial congregations or ‘house churches’ that operate outside the government-approved church network….” The article reports that 500 house church leaders signed a statement in November saying that authorities had “removed crosses from buildings, forced churches to hang the Chinese flag and sing patriotic songs, and barred minors from attending.” Observers expect the situation will get worse as the campaign reaches more of the country. Kuo reports that local governments have also shut down the state-approved “sanzi” churches. “The goal of the crackdown is not to eradicate religions,” said Ying Fuk Tsang, director of the Christian Study Center on Chinese Religion and Culture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “President Xi Jinping is trying to establish a new order on religion, suppressing its blistering development. [The government] aims to regulate the ‘religious market’ as a whole.” The government has grown especially wary of religions with overseas links, such as Christianity and Islam. In Xinjiang, a surveillance and internment system has been built for Muslim minorities, notably the Uighurs. Christian groups recently cracked down on, such as Early Rain, belong to what some see as a new generation of Christians that has emerged alongside a growing civil rights movement. “Increasingly, activist church leaders have taken inspiration from the democratising role the church played in eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc or South Korea under martial law, according to Lian. Several of China’s most active human rights lawyers are Christians,” Kuo writes. “They have come to see the political potential of Christianity as a force for change,” said Lian. “What really makes the government nervous is Christianity’s claim to universal rights and values.”

(The Guardian,