International Christian Concern | Meg Midwood | October 2, 2020
The last time Pastor Wang Yi’s family saw him was before his sudden arrest in December 2018. Without warning, Chinese authorities raided his church, Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC), a large underground church just trying to meet for worship in the heart of Sichuan.
Since Wang’s arrest, the entire Christian community has been anxious about his safety. His last known whereabouts were at the Chengdu City Detention Center, where he was being held by the Chinese government for “incitement to subvert state power.” It came as a devastating blow when he was transferred from the detention center to an unknown location in May. Now, his family and church members must live with the fact that they might never see him again.
Fearful of the State
Roughly 600 miles from Sichuan, in Chengdu, a similar situation played out. Merdan Ghapper, a Muslim Uyghur and former model, used a secret phone to film a video of himself chained to his bed at one of China’s internment or “re-education” camps, where he was allegedly imprisoned.
It was one of the last messages his family would receive from him before he disappeared after the video went viral. They have not heard from him in five months.
Christians, Muslim Uyghurs, and Falun Gong practitioners living in China share a common fate. The persecution of these religious minorities under China’s President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has reached an all-time high, hitting numbers that haven’t been seen since Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
“We have not seen such an authoritarian figure since Mao,” shared Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, of President Xi in an interview with ICC President Jeff King.
Though only one of these religions is illegal on paper (Falun Gong), all of them are subject to government control and abuse. Thousands of churches, mosques, and Buddhist temples have been closed, religious leaders arrested, family members silenced, and religious symbols removed and replaced with the emblem of the CCP. The control has also seeped down into the Chinese culture, resulting in widespread cultural discrimination as well.
Why Religion Terrifies Xi
China’s leader, President Xi, is terrified of religion. Religion represents a threat to his authority, a potential Achilles’ heel of the communist infrastructure. The government crackdown on religion stems from the Chinese term “zhongguohua” or “sinicization,” an expression that refers to the acculturation and assimilation enforced by China on its diverse communities. China wants to prevent any allegiances that might invite foreign involvement or detract from one’s loyalty to the state, including religion.
Fearful of religious authority undermining the state, the CCP is closing religious institutions, arresting civilians, and tracking religious activity–even bugging homes.
In the case of Christianity, China is doing its best to stifle Christian influence by erasing true Christian teachings from the Church. Churches must be registered as Three-Self churches, all of their Christian symbols replaced with CCP symbols and their Bibles replaced with state-approved “Bibles.” Portions of these “Bibles” have been rewritten by the state.
This is why Christian persecution is so rampant in China.
Churches that do not comply with these rules are often infiltrated and shut down, with numerous members arrested. In December 2018, this is what happened to Pastor Wang’s church, ERCC. Hundreds of members were arrested, and families even lost their children to the state as a result.
Today, many of these members cannot find jobs. They have lost their apartments. Neighbors whisper behind their backs. Even their own homes are bugged by the government. Their every move is placed under the watchful eye of the government.
1-3 Million Imprisoned
Christians aren’t the only individuals suffering in China. Muslim Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and Tibetan Buddhists are all victims of China’s attack on religion.
Since 2017, the Chinese government has placed between 1 and 3 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities into “re-education camps.” These camps have been described chillingly by former detainees as “de facto prisons implementing mass brainwashing and obedience to the communist party,” according to The Guardian.
The mainly-Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a “no rights zone,” where one million live under surveillance and endure forced labor. Some have claimed that the Chinese government is committing acts of genocide, as evidence emerges of abuse, torture, and forced sterilization taking place in these horror camps.
Benedict Rogers, a human rights activist, shared: “The authorities say [the camps are] vocational education centers, but they’re surrounded by barbed wire, there are widespread reports of severe torture, of slave labor, of sexual violence. One of my questions for the Chinese regime is if these are really vocational education centers, firstly why are numerous academics put in these educational centers? Why do they need education? Secondly, why are they unable to leave?”
The Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs is “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust,” two Asian cardinals and 74 other religious leaders wrote in a statement released August 8, 2020.
The same statement also denounced the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, a cult-like religion that has been banned in mainland China since 1999, and Tibetan Buddhists. Both of these groups have been targeted in various ways by the Chinese government. Some claim that Falun Gong followers are regularly trafficked in China due to their unprotected status.
“Christians should be active and involved in promoting the religious freedom of all groups in China, not only because it’s beneficial for believers, but also because we should be promoting religious freedom so that people can practice their faith,” Enos shared.
Her message resonates with ICC and many others who are now raising an outcry for the rampant religious persecution in China (Page 26).
Standing with Them
The church bells have stopped ringing in China.
Today, Christians continue to meet underground, worshipping in secret house churches in China. If found out, they face the fear of not knowing what will happen to themselves or their children. They are watching, waiting until it’s safe to come back into the light again.