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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, June 19 Issue

The church demolitions continue in Zhejiang, as does the commentary trying to make sense of it all. Two articles this week contributed to the conversation.

Is the Chinese Regime Changing its Policy Toward Christianity? (June 11, 2014, The American Interest)

After reviewing the Sanjiang Church Demolition Incident and some interesting accounts of a meeting with SARA officials on a research trip, Peter Barger bravely ventures a prediction:

Where is this leading? I don't know. The future is rarely "surprise-free". But I will stick my neck out, and venture a tentative prognosis. Much will depend on China's economic future. The unprecedented economic growth since the early 1980s has lifted millions of people from degrading poverty to a decent level of material wellbeing, and a substantial increase of personal freedoms. This, I think, constitutes the basic legitimation basic of the regime, including the authoritarian rule of the party. That degree of economic growth is unlikely to continue, and this will in turn increase social tensions and encourage political dissidence. The regime, unwilling to give up its power monopoly, will have to look for other sources of legitimation. All of this is already happening. The emerging legitimation is nationalism. Ideologically, this entails suspicion of all ideas deemed to be un-Chinese, including the idea of universal human values, and of religions seen as insufficiently indigenized. A domestically more repressive and internationally more aggressive China would be bad news for Christianity. It would also be bad news for America, at present the only conceivable challenger to China's hegemonic ambitions. It does not help that the Chinese elite perceives the United States as a declining power, its political system as dysfunctional, and its culture as decadent.

An interesting take, indeed.

China's Clampdown on 'Evil Cults' (June 17, 2014, The New York Times)

Murong Xuecun, a Chinese author and blogger offers his assessment of what's going on in an op-ed published in The New York Times, putting it into the context of national security:

The government's anti-religion campaign is not borne of concern for public security stemming from a horrific murder. This is a concerted effort to bring independent churches and their followers into line. The clampdown is simply the government's way of strengthening its control of society.

As a perceived "foreign" religion, Christianity makes the Chinese leadership particularly nervous. The history of Eastern Europe in the 1980s is seen as a cautionary tale by officials such as the former head of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs, Ye Xiaowen, who often cited Christianity's contribution to the end of Communist rule in Poland. A policy document published in September 2012 on the Religious Affairs Bureau's website stated that unlawful religious groups are "threatening China's national security."

Image credit: Shanghai Water Town, by HKmPUA, via Flickr