China Isn't Trying to Wipe Out Christianity
Editor's note: Last week we ran a wire story about a new report from ChinaAid, the Texas-based human rights group led by Bob Fu. The report claimed that incidents of government-sponsored persecution of Christians rose by 42 percent between 2011 and 2012. It also said that the Chinese government had launched a three-part plan to "completely wipe out house churches." Here two other key voices on religious freedom in China respond to the ChinaAid report, countering some of its conclusions. We have offered Fu a chance to reply, and plan to run his response later this week.
China's Actions Are Not About Christianity
Brent Fulton is president of China Source in Hong Kong
According to the latest statistics from China Aid, 13.8 percent more Christians in China were persecuted last year as compared with 2011, continuing a trend of increasing persecution that goes back to at least 2007.
On their face these numbers appear to be cause for serious alarm, and the China Aid report has in fact spawned headlines decrying the beginning of the end of the house church in China. However, upon closer examination these statistics do not support China Aid's assertion of a nationwide government-sponsored campaign against Christianity in China.
Without a doubt, Christians in China face many obstacles as they live out their faith in an often hostile environment. But Christians are not persecuted simply for being Christians, nor are house churches targeted for attack simply for being house churches. If this were the case one would expect to see hundreds of house churches being closed down each week. (Beijing, which had the highest number of persecution cases in 2012, reportedly has more than 3,000 house churches, yet the China Aid report mentions only two cases involving Beijing house churches for the entire year.)
As I've said previously, there are certain triggers that prompt authorities in China to take action against Christian activities. These include directly opposing the Communist Party (especially in a public manner, which embarrasses government officials and is bound to provoke a response); engaging in political activity, openly championing human rights, or being identified with a group that does so; and having foreign involvement. With China's rapid urbanization, property disputes are often another factor, with Christians being forced out of their churches (whether registered or unregistered) at the hands of greedy developers collaborating with corrupt local officials. A related factor is simply local abuse of power, especially in regions where there is a history of tension between Christians and officials, or in ethnic minority areas, where Christians may be seen as a threat by the dominant religious majority.
Of the nearly 5,000 Christians reported by China Aid to have suffered persecution in 2012, more than two-thirds were involved in cases where one or more of the above triggers were present. These Christians were either engaged in activity which the government perceived as a threat, or they ran afoul of the economic or political interests of corrupt local leaders. Examples of the former include Christian dissidents, human rights lawyers, and those who attempted to utilize public space for Christian activities (the most well-known being Shouwang church in Beijing, whose outdoor worship drew international attention and incurred the wrath of Beijing officials). Not a few cases cited by China Aid involved members of the China House Church Alliance, which was specifically designated illegal by the Chinese government some years ago.