By Ishaan Prakash
Beijing [China], May 14 (ANI): China's constitution - specifically article 36 that includes the words "no state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion" - promises religious freedom.
However, these are empty pledges as President Xi Jinping and his communist stooges crack down on believers at home, despite five faiths being officially recognized in China - Chinese Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Taoism.
ChinaAid Association, a non-profit Christian human rights advocacy organization based in the USA, issues an annual reporton the level of persecution in China, and its latest edition lists a frightening litany of persecution, including harassment, intimidation, threats, confiscation of property, arrests, incarceration and physical violence.
Last year, ChinaAid recorded 1,265 individual cases of persecution, a figure up 66% compared to a year earlier. In addition, those affected by persecution totaled 223,200 church members and more than 1,900 church leaders, which was a level 3.5 times higher than in 2016. Of these people, more than 3,700 were detained in 2017.
ChinaAid, which acknowledges it only has partial data,calculated that known persecution cases multiplied by 30 in the period 2013-17 after Xi came to power. During the same period, the number of people abused for their faith exploded 40 times.
Speaking to ANI, Brynne Lawrence, English editor at ChinaAid, warned, "Christian freedom in China is rapidly deteriorating.President Xi Jinping has emphasized 'Sinicizing' Christianity throughout his rule, or forcing it to align with communist party ideals and ideology. They are trying to accomplish this by imposing increased restrictions on churches, and many Christians are arrested for arbitrary crimes."
Lawrence noted that persecution of Christianity experienced a "severe uptick" once Xi took power in 2013. This is not worrisome to just Christians, for it indicates that Beijing'swillingness to target and attack any religion or ethnic group within China.
Indeed, the number of Christians imprisoned in China pales in comparison to the persecution being waged against Muslim Uighurs, particularly in the restive province of Xinjiang in northwest China. Thousands of Muslims are being held in detention centers and re-education camps. The exact number is impossible to verify, but estimates range from half a million to a million. Human Rights Watch claims 800,000 Muslims are currently incarcerated.
ANI will examine the persecution of Muslims in an upcoming article, while this present piece exposes the persecution the Chinese government is performing against the Christian church.
Certainly, the enforcement of religious regulations is becoming far stricter. For example, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which is the government-sanctioned Protestant church in China,is being forced to install facial recognition cameras inside their premises. This process began with a mass campaign in Zhejiang Province but it is spreading.
Lawrence described this as a "frightening" development. The government, which can arbitrarily detain anyone it wishes, is thus able to identify anyone attending a church, and clearly such cameras are a deterrent for both seekers and regular worshipers. The ChinaAid representative said this type of facial recognition technology could be easily used to target ind
ividuals. "If you just wanted to monitor to make sure that nothing illegal was going on, you'd just put a regular camera there," she told ANI.
ChinaAid explained, "Currently, the church is dealing with increased regulations, embodied in the revised Religious Affairs Regulations, including demands that all unregistered house churches register and become Three-Self Churches. This will force them to receive censorship from the Chinese government. Previous versions of the regulations allowed enough room for interpretation for house churches to flourish in the margins."
For a long time, China had laws forbidding people less than 18 years of age from attending a church. This is now being more strictly enforced too, with some churches having "no children allowed" signs posted outside.
These restrictions are being imposed at schools as well. "Teachers are being told not to teach any religion or anything like that. They're really trying to control the ideology the children are being fed, which is pretty huge as these are the formative years. I think the Chinese government knows that and is trying to take advantage of it," Lawrence noted.
Indeed, this is the heart of the issue of this surge in religious persecution. Lawrence described it as an "ideological battle".
Xi and the Communist Party of China (CPC) want to unify the Chinese populace under socialist ideology, so any other belief system that competes for hearts and minds must be considered a threat. Therefore, every effort is being made to prevent further the infiltration of religious thinking, and to roll back the advances that religion has already made in China.
ChinaAid commented, "China is terrified of the church. They view Christianity as a Western religion that foreign powers are using to infiltrate the country. Their suspicions are unfounded."
Xi continuously praises the tenets of socialism, routinely harking back to the glorious days of Mao, and recently he was particularly vocal in praising Karl Marx on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Of course, he believes his own philosophical contributions - will they one day be known as Xiism? - should be championed too, for he successfully ensuredthat they become enshrined in the country's constitution. It is perhaps ironic that Xi has so fully embraced the "Western" philosophy of a German named Marx, yet he derides every other kind of foreign influence.
Alas, Xi is likely fighting a losing battle, as all Marxist-inspired revolutions (such as Mao's Great Leap Forward or Pol Pot's murderous rampage) have failed dismally. Today there are only four self-declared Marxist-Leninist states left in the world - China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam.
It is questionable how many of the 90 million or so card-carrying CPC faithful actually wholeheartedly embrace the tenets of socialism. Despite Xi's anti-graft campaign, corruption, nepotism and greed remain endemic in Chinese society, and one would wonder what Marx would think of the fact that China today has more billionaires than does the USA.
Wang Huning, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the top ideologue in the CPC, said last week that Xi thoughtis the "Marxism of modern China". Yet is Xi a true believer in Marxism and socialism, or is he keener on simply promoting his own thought and establishing his legacy for future posterity?
A lot of support could be given to the assertion that Xi considers himself the savior of the Chinese nation. This would also explain his disdain of any competing ideology that would undermine his and the party's legitimacy. Xi has demonstrated a desire to cling on to power at all costs, which means resistinguniversally recognized values like freedom and democracy. One-party authoritarian rule cannot allow any competitor for the people's loyalty.
Despite hardening persecution in China, is the CPC fighting a losing battle? Christianity continues to grow "very rapidly", according to ChinaAid, in China. Indeed, the officially atheist country is tipped to become the most Christian country in the world by 2030 in terms of total converts. Ironically, already there are estimated to be more Christians than there are CPC members, which is naturally worrying to the party.
Returning to the topic of persecution, Lawrence noted that, while the Three-Self Church is experiencing more persecution than in the past, underground house churches remain a particular focus of pressure. For example, local officials are being encouraged to investigate house churches, and to force them to register or merge with the Three-Self Church. Of course, the aim is to bring them under greater surveillance.
Lawrence explained, "The Chinese government doesn't like the house church because it's not necessarily subject to censorship. So they do encourage house churches to join the Three-Self churches so they can censor their sermons and use cameras and all that."
Whereas in the past Mao tried to eliminate the church by destroying it, Xi is instead trying to subvert the church and subjugate it to the party. For example, China released its white paper "China's Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief" on 28 March, where it decreed that faiths must "adapt themselves to the socialist society".
Within two days of that document being issued, Bibles started disappearing from websites in China to close a loophole thatallowed them to be purchased online. The authorities havealways controlled the sale of the Bible, with the sacred book only allowed to be printed by the government-owned Amity Press and distributed by the Three-Self Church.
There are also efforts to introduce a new Bible translation, one with a "Sinicized" text. The "Sinicization" of Christianity entails bending the faith to the will and ideology of the CPC. This will obviously result in a desecrated Bible, because atheism and Christianity can never be bedfellows.
ChinaAid's 2017 annual report stated, "Many signs we observed about China in 2017 indicate that a new socialist reform campaign targeting religion is building momentum, just as it was before China's Cultural Revolution, and the delusion of trying again to eradicate religion has occupied the minds of the dictators! The new Religious Affairs Regulations show a substantial regression in the Chinese government'sadministrative policies regarding the management of religious affairs. The CCP's policies and principles for the management of religious affairs are returning to that in Mao's era. Differentfrom Mao's era, in which the goal was to "eradicate religion" organizationally, or even corporeally, through "socialist reform," the current Sinicization in order to bring religion in line with the CCP's ideology aims to eradicate the mind and soul of religion."
Furthermore, the State Administration for Religious Affairs has published the 'Outline of the Five-Year Working Plan for Promoting the Sinicization of Christianity in our Country (2018-2022)'. It says, for example: "To drive forwards the process on the Sinicization of Christianity, the following principles must be observed: Embrace and support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Be guided by the core values of socialism and endorse the system, ways, theories and culture of our country's development."
It also says that "actively guiding religions in adapting to the socialist society means guiding religious believers to be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people".
The shadowy United Front Work Department has taken over responsibility for ethnic and religious affairs in China, which will ensure even tighter party control over what people believe. So, on the one hand Beijing continues to trumpet religious freedom, but on the other it is tightening control at every step.
Of course, such plans to desecrate the scriptures and subjugate the Christian faith could yet cause a massive backfire, as it will surely alienate many of the faithful.
Apart from a few advocates, international leaders and non-government organizations have been rather muted on abuses of religious freedom in China. While Xi struts on the international stage and advocates China as being a respectable world leader, his government is ruthlessly repressing religious groups and ethnic minorities at home. This is the kind of system that China wants the world to accept and affirm. Instead, there needs to be a far stronger united voice highlighting the brutal nature of the CPC.
ChinaAid commented, "China really likes to maintain a good international image, so spreading word of these abuses and pressuring the government to free citizens/stop abuses has been extremely effective. As such, we encourage people in the free world to share these stories with each other, their representativesand Chinese ambassadors. Likewise, we urge politicians to pressure their Chinese contacts on the country's human rights and religious freedom abuses."
The ChinaAid report gloomily concluded about the prospects for human rights and religious freedoms in China, "It is predictable that the CCP's suppression and persecution of Christianity and Christians will continue to intensify, and with the progression of Sinicization impends a new socialist reform and a new wave of anti-religious and human rights disasters." (ANI)