When considering the latest outbreak of persecution against Christians in China, what you have to understand is that there are already thought to be more Christians there (some 100 million) than members of the Communist party (87 million). This is not an impressive outcome for 70 years of intermittently ferocious atheist suppression of religion: when the Communists seized power in 1947, there were only around 4 million Christians in the country. Under Mao, an estimated 500,000 Christians died for – or because of – their faith. Yet since the Maoist state was opened to capitalism in the 1980s, Christianity, along with other religions, has grown at an astonishing rate.
This week it was reported that Christian leaders in eastern China had taken to the streets in protest at the removal of crosses; in the past two years, it’s estimated that more than 1,200 crosses have been removed from churches in Zhejiang province as part of a government initiative. The periodic campaigns against Christianity in China might suggest that the religion is a foreign import that the authorities can hope to suppress, and a fringe element in Chinese life. This would be almost entirely wrong. Although Christianity is undoubtedly an import to China, Christians argue that it is as well placed as any religion there, since the Communist regime so successfully persecuted traditional Chinese belief systems as well.
China is on course, over the next 15 years, to become the world’s most populous Christian nation. It is also home to the largest population of atheists in the world – according to Pew Research, 46% of the world’s atheists are based in China. There are Muslims in the west of China and Buddhists in Tibet, for both of whom religion is also an expression of national or ethnic dissatisfaction with the Han Chinese. Traditional religion is also returning. But there’s no doubt that Christianity is growing the fastest.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this recent growth is that it must almost all have happened by conversion. The one-child policy, if nothing else, ensures that Christianity is not spread by large families. New conversions to Christianity in China are mostly found among the educated and striving classes. About half of the country’s few human rights lawyers are Christians, as are many of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
This growth means the real fight is not over whether China will become a country with a significant Christian presence, but who will control the burgeoning churches.
Click here to read more.