It was 40 years ago this week that China opened its doors to the world and launched a series of ambitious reforms that would create one of the world’s largest economic engines.
“China is now the world’s second largest economy, the biggest manufacturer, top trader of goods, and the second largest consumer of goods and recipient of foreign investment,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a speech in Beijing celebrating the 40th anniversary of the landmark reforms.
“December 18, 1978, was an important day to be remembered in the history of the Chinese nation,” Xi added, saying that it marked the “start of a great journey of reform, opening-up and socialist modernization.”
But unlike Deng Xiaoping, who helped launch the country’s reforms 40 years ago and wanted to reduce the power and influence of the Communist Party over civil society, China’s current leader believes in the absolute power of the Party and wants his government to exert control over every aspect of Chinese life.
Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has severely cracked down on human rights, religious freedom and freedom of expression. Christians are experiencing some of the worst persecution in decades.
“Under President Xi, the government has further tightened control over Christianity in its broad efforts to “Sinicize” religion or “adopt Chinese characteristics,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “In other words, to ensure that religious groups support the government and the Communist Party.”
Christians are not alone. Muslims, Buddhists and other faith groups are also coming under intense scrutiny.
“The Chinese government has also ratcheted up restrictions over Buddhism in Tibetan areas and imposed unprecedented control over religious practices in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang,” Human Rights Watch added.
The recent arrest of a prominent church pastor underscores the level of persecution against Christians.
On December 9, authorities in the city of Chengdu, in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, arrested pastor Wang Yi, along with his wife and 100 members of Early Rain Covenant Church.
Authorities shut down the church and charged pastor Wang with “inciting subversion of state power.”
Ian Johnson, who has written extensively on Christianity in China and knows pastor Wang personally, said, “One can only hope and pray that he will come out of jail or that the sentence will be light, but given the current climate I’m not so sure.”
Johnson, writing for the New York Times, said the charge against Mr. Wang and his wife, Jiang Rong, “was far more severe than what other leaders face” and that the term “subversion of state power” is “a catchall charge often used against dissidents and political activists who speak out against the government.”
Wang and his wife could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
This past Sunday morning, members of Early Rain Covenant Church were blocked from entering their worship building. With their leaders detained and facing jail, churchgoers decided to pray and worship outside.
Appearing on CBN News‘ WorldBeat, Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs, says this movement has touched every corner of China.
“And that’s the exciting thing, all across China, there are house churches, there are what they call ‘family churches’ and the reason the Communist government is so worried is because there are far more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party,” Nettleton told CBN News.
Fenggang Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, says what started several years ago as a small government campaign against unregistered churches has turned into all-out war.
“The campaign was first experimented in Zhejiang province from 2014 to 2016,” Yang told CBN News. “Now, it has become a nationwide campaign.”
Mr. Fengang, who once predicted that China could become the world’s largest Christian nation, says the government, headed by Xi Jinping, views Christianity as a threat to the party’s long-term political aspirations.
“Christians are the remaining NGO’s (non-governmental organization) in the shrinking civil society in China,” Yang warned. “Under Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, they are really trying to establish a totalitarian rule of Chinese society and the Christians are standing in the way of totalitarianism, so that’s why they’ve become a target.”
Read Pastor Wang Yi’s full letter here.
Wang is no stranger to authorities. He was once one of China most prominent civil rights lawyers and intellectuals. In 2005, he had an encounter with Jesus Christ and decided to convert to Christianity.
Full article: Christians ‘Standing in the Way’ of China’s Xi Jinping’s Totalitarian Rule (CBN News)