The Chinese government has long taken control of religious freedom in the country. Churches must be state-sanctioned, and their theologies policed to be in accordance with the Party’s ideologies.
Xu Xiaohong, China’s chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), recently announced a much stricter crackdown on “Western influences” in the churches. The TPSM is the government’s arm that oversees Protestant churches that are approved by the state.
The move is in line with Xi Jinping’s plans to ‘Sinicise’ foreign religions such as Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam. The government is closely monitoring these religions specifically because of the churches’ connections to western countries.
The Chinese government, through the TSPM and the China Christian Council, is implementing a five-year campaign to Sinicise Christianity which includes publishing a state-approved translation and annotation of the Bible and integrating Chinese traditional cultures into Christian hymns and liturgy.
“Some believers lack national consciousness, and that’s why we have the saying: ‘one more Christian, one less Chinese’,” Xu stated.
Experts argue that the current government now aims to water-down Christianity and other religions in order to make it conform to the Communist Party’s principles instead of totally eradicating it as what Mao Zedong did during the Cultural Revolution.
But violent government interventions are still rampant. House churches and prayer gatherings are being monitored by police officers in civilian clothing.
A church in Beijing was closed down for refusing to install CCTV inside its worship halls. “Illegal” Catholic churches were also bulldozed, crosses and Christian imagery taken down and replaced with patriotic paraphernalia.
In December 2018, the Chinese government shut down Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu and arrested pastor Wang Yi and more than 100 members. Wang and his church have been outspoken and critical regarding the unjust deaths caused by government negligence and outright military suppression, behaviour the Party regards as “subverting state security.”
Several human rights groups and the United Nations also reported that more than a million Uyghur Muslims are detained in “re-education” camps where they are forcibly indoctrinated with the Party’s agenda and psychologically tortured to deny their faith. The Uyghurs are a Turkic Muslim minority group in Xinjiang, western China. The Uyghurs who are not in camps are still under constant surveillance through spyware on their phones and facial recognition devices throughout the city.
China denies the existence of the camps, saying these are “pure fabrications.” At the same time, China justifies the surveillance of Muslims in order to suppress what it believes to be “religious extremism.”
Perhaps the Chinese government has learned that it cannot eradicate religion entirely and has resorted to watering it down to suit their party’s needs instead.