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T he Chinese Communist Party (CCP) introduced stringent new regulations in February 2020 giving it control over almost every aspect of religious life. The measures state religious organisations must submit to the leadership of the CCP and spread its “socialist policies”.

Since 2018, there has been an intensification of government action against unofficial congregations, known as “house churches”, and state-regulated “three-self” churches in China, a country where Christians are thought to number at least 150 million – a figure that is growing at a rate of 1.2 million a year. The intensity of the persecution varies across the vast country, but many house churches have been shut, and members arrested and imprisoned. Authorities have removed crosses from churches and barred children from attending worship.

A portrait of China’s President Xi Jinping has replaced Biblical paintings in a church in Jiangxi [Image: Bitter Winter]
A portrait of China’s President Xi Jinping has replaced Biblical paintings in a church in Jiangxi [Image: Bitter Winter]

In 2018, the scrutiny of religious literature and websites was
tightened, and online Bible sales banned. At the same time, the government announced a plan to “sinicise” (make Chinese) Christianity and interpret Scriptures according to secular socialist views. In March 2019, all churches in Luoyang county, Henan province were ordered to replace the Ten Commandments with quotes of President Xi Jinping and, in Jiangxi province, Biblical paintings in some churches were replaced with portraits of the president.

House churches responded to the tightening of regulations by launching in September 2018 a declaration calling on the authorities to allow full religious freedom in China. Within two months, it had been signed by at least 500 pastors.

The Chinese government is rolling out an artificial intelligence (AI) surveillance system across the country using advanced facial recognition to track the movements of its citizens. In Beijing and Shanghai, pilot schemes of “social scoring” watch for “dissent” from prescribed communist doctrines in people’s visible behaviour or online activities. The authorities have already used technological advances against minority Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians can expect the technology will be turned against them.

Prayer

Pray for courage and resilience for Christians in China that they may stand steadfast in their faith against the challenges facing them. Ask that the Lord is their rock and their refuge.