Amid all the stories in recent months about crackdowns on churches and other religious institutions in China, it is tempting to think that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is being singled out for pressure, harassment, and restriction.
But is that the case, or is it all part of something bigger?
The way I like to describe it is this: imagine a sandbox on a beach with the borders of the sandbox being the political, civil, and religious boundaries set by the Party-state. Over the past 15-20 years, as the Party-state has relaxed its control and enforcement of those boundaries, individuals and sectors in China have been quietly climbing out of the sandbox onto the beach, where there is more freedom.
Government officials have loosely enforced Party-state directives.
The Internet has allowed anyone with a phone to report what is happening in society.
Businesses have adopted “anything goes” practices.
Schools have opened themselves up to “western” influences.
Lawyers have been paying attention to human rights abuses, environmental degradation, and other social issues.
Internet providers have created a new public square for people to express themselves.
Online booksellers have been selling anything and everything, including Bibles.
The number of Christians worshiping in unregistered churches has exploded.
Now, the Party-state, under Xi Jinping, is attempting to reassert its control over all aspects of China’s political, civil, and religious life. It realizes that the boundaries have been ignored and that there too many people running up and down the beach outside of its control, so now the Party-state is saying:
Government officials! Get back in the sandbox.
Business leaders! Get back in the sandbox.
Educators! Get back in the sandbox.
Lawyers! Get back in the sandbox.
Internet Providers! Get back in the sandbox.
Online book-sellers! Get back in the sandbox.
Religious believers! Get back in the sandbox!
This reassertion of Party control over all aspects of society is the context within which the news stories about religion and the church are taking place.
How successful will they be in getting everyone and everything back into the sandbox? Only time will tell.
Joann Pittman is Senior Vice President of ChinaSource. She is the editor of ZGBriefs and Chinese Church Voices, as well as a regular contributor to ChinaSource publications. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and most recently,... View Full Bio
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