According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, “Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.” While those may be pleasant-sounding words, they do not promise religious freedom as it is understood in the West.
Religion, like every other aspect of Chinese society, is managed by the state. (Note: The Chinese word that is often translated as management, 管理 guanli, is also the word for control.) How religion is to be managed is spelled out in the Regulations on Religious Affairs, promulgated by the State Council. What is missing is any law or body of law that relates to religious belief or practice. In 2013, we published a post about the constitution and the religious regulations; you can read that here.
After a period of relatively relaxed management and weak enforcement of the regulations, the State Council promulgated a newly revised version of Religious Affairs Regulations that went into effect in February of 2018. As Dr. Brent Fulton wrote in an earlier post, these new regulations would “leave no space for the house or unregistered church in China and would significantly curtail many of the activities of the TSPM as well.” The new regulations also provide for stronger mechanisms of enforcement.
Late last year, during a restructuring of the Chinese government, the agency in charge of managing religious affairs, the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) was abolished and its duties transferred to the United Work Front Department (UFWD), a Communist Party organ.
Finally, the Party has launched a “Sinicization” campaign, designed to bring all segments of society not just under its control, but to force all segments to align their values with both traditional Chinese and modern socialist values.
As was feared, these changes in the past year have led to a significant deterioration in tolerance of religious activity and a corresponding uptick in harassment and persecution of religious believers in China. These restrictions and crackdowns are affecting all religions in China, including those that have legal recognition.
Here is a sampling of recent reporting on the situation from a variety of sources:
- Chinese Christians warned not to speak about persecution (July 9, 2019,UCA News)
- US Continues to Condemn China’s ‘War on Faith’ (June 24, 2019, Christianity Today)
- Faith in ruins: China's vanishing mosques (June 19, 2019, BBC)
- Wife of Early Rain Covenant Church pastor released on bail (June 11, 2019, China Aid)
- China Wants the House Church to Vanish (May 15, 2019, International Christian Concern)
- Henan, Catholic church crosses demolished in Weihui (VIDEO) (April 30, 2019, Asia News)
- Religious Liberty Report Highlights China's Repression of Muslims, Christians (May 1, 2019, National Catholic Register)
You can stay current with these and similar stories by subscribing to ZGBriefs, our weekly round-up of news from China, or by following us on social media: Facebook, ChinaSource Twitter, ZGBriefs Twitter.
In our own publications at ChinaSource, we focus on helping our readers understand the context of the increasingly repressive environment by providing background and analysis on how churches in China (both registered and unregistered) are being affected. In case you have missed them, here is a sampling of posts from the past year, some of them written by Chinese Christians:
- Persecution or Potential? (May 9, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
- Old Rhetoric, New Normal (November 30, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
- The Challenge of Being the Church in China (December 17, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
- The Way of the Cross (December 18, 2018, Chinese Church Voices)
- Red Lines (December 21, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
- “Sinicization” of Christianity – Understanding the Contexts (March 29, 2019, ChinaSource Blog)
- 7 Reasons Why “Sinicization” is not Rhetoric This Time (May 1, 2019, ChinaSource Blog)
In addition, we have done a number of series on topics related to the tightening situation and how it is impacting local and foreign Christians in China.
- In our Chinese Church Voices column, there were two important series we did last year: The Boundary Between the Church and State and Challenges Facing the Church in 2018.
- Earlier this year we published a series of posts examining the impact on foreign workers, particularly those who have had to leave China, either by choice or by decree. The title of the series is When the Dream Dies.
- More recently, we had a series of posts on the challenge of dealing with local officials in a changing China.
While there are differences in opinion on how Christians (local and foreign) should respond to the tightening environment, one thing that everyone can agree on is the need for prayer.
Being informed about what is happening and why is important for knowing how to pray.
Two specific resources that are helpful in this area are:
- The Pray for China prayer calendar. You can use their website, or follow them on Twitter (@Pray4China).
- China Partnership has both weekly and monthly China prayer guides that you can subscribe to. You can find them here.
Paul asked for prayer while in prison; let's pray for our brothers and sisters in China who are facing difficult circumstances.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Colossians 4:2-4
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio
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