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3 Questions: The 2018 World Watch List

From the series 3 Questions

Each year the World Watch List ranks the top 50 countries where Christians face persecution—whether political, social, religious, or otherwise. Here the team at World Watch Research, which publishes the list, discusses China’s ranking.

The WWL provides a valuable gauge of how much freedom Christians in a given country have to practice their faith. Yet, as the WWR team points out, the case of China highlights the importance of delving into the myriad factors underlying the rankings in order to understand the real picture.

3 Questions

1. How does China rank on this year‘s WWL? How does this compare with previous years?

China ranks 43rd with a score of 57 points. Last year, China ranked 37th with a score of 57 points as well. This shows that the WWL is a relative ranking list as China was overtaken by several countries where the situation is deteriorating faster than in China itself. It has to be kept in mind, however, that we implemented a change in scoring from the territory to the population of a country. In the case of China, this led to a lower score as far as Muslim and Tibetan converts in Xinjiang and Tibet are concerned. If it would not be for this change, the score of China would have increased by three points (ranking around 36th)

2. What are the major factors accounting for this year‘s ranking?

Apart from the already mentioned change in methodology, there is a second point which needs to be kept in mind: the reporting period of the WWL 2018 ends at 31 October 2017, meaning that the already announced new regulations on religion were already known and had certain consequences, as most observers expect a more complicated situation. However, those rules will be implemented from 1 February 2018 and so any harsher treatment of Christians will only be reflected in the WWL 2019 and onwards.

3. What is the current trend in terms of persecution of Christians in China?

This question gives me a very important opportunity: whereas the ranking catches the eye and is important to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians, if you really want to know what is going on in a country, you need to check the country profile. China, as arguably the most complex country in the WWL, enjoys having the longest country profile of all countries with 14 pages.

One trend to be highlighted is the increasing emphasis on Communist ideology and the fact that the room to maneuver for churches is narrowing. Obeying the Party is key, and the big question is how strictly this is implemented against Christians on the local level.

A second question is if churches will increasingly be able to show the government that they can provide help and assistance in the growing social challenges, even if the Party will take all credit for it.

Finally, it needs to be seen what the new regulations on religion mean. If authorities offer a way for non-registered churches to get an official status, which strings will be attached to it? And will the unity of the church suffer; will there be splits between churches accepting the offer and others preferring to stay away from it and continue not registered?

Image credit: Open Doors. 
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio

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