Xi Jinping’s dark shadow falls over China’s believers raising concerns

May 24, 2018 by

by Brian Cooper, CEN:

THE CHINESE Communist Party’s recent decision to end its post-Mao two-term limit on the state presidency, thereby granting Xi Jinping rule for life over the world’s most populous country, shocked all in the West hoping China’s capitalist prosperity would steadily lead to democracy. It also dismayed all concerned for religious freedom in China.

Xi Jinping is not well disposed towards religion, whether Christianity or China’s other faiths. In 2016, he ordered Communist leaders “to resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means”, stressing religions in China must ‘Sinicise’ and adapt to “the Chinese way”. He told the October 2017 party congress religion had to be “guided by the party” to adapt to socialist society. The slogan “Believe in the Party, not in religion”, is now a frequent watchword to dissuade Chinese citizens from joining a religious group or adhering to a faithbased worldview.

The Mao-style cult of personality rising around Xi Jinping his name, now formally in the constitution, is increasingly designated ‘lingxiu’, reverential Mao-era word for ‘leader’ – has disturbing consequences for believers. This was clearly evident in the late 2017 anti-Christian campaign in Jiangxi province: Huangjinbu’s believers had to replace their many gospel posters and religious pictures with images of President Xi, in order to get state anti-poverty relief. Its director Qi Yan told the South China Morning Post: “Villagers should no longer rely on Jesus but on the Party for help.

Many poor households have plunged into poverty due to family illness. Some resorted to Jesus to cure their illnesses, but we tried to tell them getting ill is a physical thing and the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi.” A key aim of the relief scheme was “to transform believers in religion into believers in the Party.”

How widespread such incidents are is unclear, but Chinawatchers agree a national anti-religion campaign began with Xi Jinping’s accession to power in 2013. “The overall level of religious freedom has decreased. This fits a broader pattern of increasing human rights abuses under President Xi, a shrinking space for civil society, heightened sensitivity to perceived challenges to Party rule, and introducing legislation to curtail civil and political rights in the name of national security”, stated Benedict Roger of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, East Asia. The US Council on Foreign Relations has concluded: “In recent years China has witnessed a spike in state repres
sion against house churches and state-sanctioned Christian organisations alike”, while Texasbased ChinaAid confirms rising persecution primarily against Christians, citing 1,800 church leaders detained in 2016.

Freedom House researcher Sarah Cook agrees: “By mid2016, crosses had been removed from rooftops or facades of at least 1,500 churches, and over 20 churches demolished.” The most grimly spectacular demolition was of the independent evangelical ‘Golden Lampstand’ a 50,000-congregation mega-church in Linfen, Shanxi, with bulldozers and dynamite, for being ‘an illegal building’ (pictured below).

New Regulations on Religious Affairs from February 2018 permit state-registered faith bodies to own property, publish literature, train clergy and collect donations – but also tighten controls on religious schooling, celebrations, and young persons’ access.

Freedom of faith within restrictions and arbitrary measures seems the order of the day in China, whose president-forlife is deeply suspicious of religion and anxious about its growth. Yet ambiguities are present: the state is paying $7million towards the chapel at Nanjing’s Union Theological Seminary.

For China’s Christian community, estimated between 80 and 100 million with Protestants predominant, and its totality of faith adherents including Buddhists, Daoists, Muslims, Falun Gong and folk religionists, estimated by US State Department to number over 600 million, life under President Xi now appears a sombre and uncertain prospect.

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