China’s communist government only recognises state-registered churches and officially admits the existence of around 22 million Christians. In reality, there may be as many as 100 million believers in China, most of whom are part of a vibrant unregistered “house church” movement, which is seen as a threat to the avowedly atheist state.
All Christians face tight restrictions – which extend to Christian literature and websites – but believers who are part of unregistered congregations are at greater risk of arrest, torture and imprisonment.
Outright persecution is usually localised and sporadic, but since Xi Jinping became president of China in 2013, there has been an increase in persecution, particularly of Protestant Christians, as well as Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims from the Hui and Uyghur ethnic groups.
In August 2017, authorities notified more than 100 registered churches in the eastern province of Zhejiang that minors would not be permitted to participate in religious activities, including Sunday School or summer camps, even if accompanied by their parents.
Christians also face discrimination in employment and are barred from high-level positions in business and government. Writing in the Communist Party magazine, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs said party members – who number 89 million Chinese citizens – “should be firm Marxist atheists, obey party rules and stick to the party’s faith … they are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion.” Any officials who have religious faith should be “persuaded to give it up” and any who resist “punished.”
Although outright persecution of Christians is localised and sporadic, Chinese believers suffer wider discrimination in employment and are barred from most high-level jobs, including government positions, which require membership of the atheist Communist Party. This includes members of the registered churches that are only allowed to operate under close supervision. Believers who come to faith in Muslim communities, such as the Uighurs in north-west China, face persecution from their communities as well as the state.
Praise God for the continued growth of the Chinese church, during years of discrimination and persecution. Pray that government pressure and persecution of Christians will not worsen further and that believers will be free to worship openly. Lift up believers in prison – some have been detained for many years – experiencing inhumane treatment and sometimes torture. Ask that they be comforted by the presence of the Holy Spirit.