Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Religious Freedom in China?

~Addendem from Hannah~

Ashley sent me this link, which I found very interesting. Sadly I was not able to go since I went to my friend's graduation party instead, although that was very fun. :-)

I had this funny feeling reading the website, like they were trying to hide something. They did not speak at all about any of the persecution that Chinese Christians have undergone. Perhaps I am looking into it far too much, but this quote especially shot up warning signs, "the exhibition represents a new era for religious freedom in China." I'll admit that I haven't been up on news in China the past semester, but it would surprise me greatly if China was actually experiencing a new era of religious freedom! Perhaps it is yet another attempt by the government to put on a front of being religiously open? I looked at the list of sponsors and admittedly do not know much about most of them, except the National Committe of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. That is the official Protestant church in China. They submit to the many regulations given them by the government, including never speaking about the second coming, never speaking against anything government-related, not 'indoctrinating' children, etc.

Take that as you will. For my part, I am very skeptical about anything that the Chinese government says about religion.


After much encouragement. . . a guest post by Sister Dear :-D!!! This post is adapted from a research paper Hannah wrote a few years ago.

Disclaimer: Some of the descriptions and pictures in this post are not warm and fuzzy, but then neither is the whole Bible and neither is persecution. Read and view the pictures with your own discretion. There is nothing very graphic, but a warning is appropriate.


Persecution of Christians has been going on ever since Jesus Christ died about 2000 years ago. Though the method has differed, from having rights taken away to being roasted on coals or fed alive to wild animals, persecution has always existed on many parts of the globe, today even more than any other previous time. According to Gospel Communications’ website, more Christians have been martyred in the past century than in all other centuries combined. The same website gives the statistic that around 167,000 Christians are being martyred every year, and that number is increasing. Here in America, such a figure is hard to believe. Where are these horrible deaths of our brothers and sisters taking place? What about in China? What is happening to the Christians in that country?

The exact number of Christians in China is unknown, but rough estimates on Christianity Today’s website show that there are as many as 28 million followers in registered protestant churches, and as many as 80 million followers in unregistered, or ‘illegal,’ protestant churches. The other main religions in China are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholicism.

The topic of persecution of Christians in China is very controversial and has been widely discussed in the political arena and in many homes. It is hard to find much solid information about Christians being persecuted, so does that mean that the government is hiding information or just that the information is not there and some people have made a huge fuss about nothing? In order to find the truth, the testimonies of two basic sources must be researched: the Chinese government and the Christians in China.

The government in China is run by the Communist party, whose current leader is President Hu Jintao. The government in turn controls the Three Self Patriotic Movement Church (TSPM), China’s official protestant church, and influences the appointment of its leaders and regulates its activities. The house church movement in China began when Christians were dissatisfied with staying within the restrictions placed on the TSPM and decided to go underground, starting illegal churches. But why would Christians break with the legal church and become ‘criminals’? From what the Chinese government leaders say, there seems to be no reason to do so.

According to the website of the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the U.S:

Religious leaders and leading organs of the various religious bodies are selected and ordained in accordance with their own regulations. Religious organizations in China run their own affairs independently and set up religious schools, publish religious classics and periodicals, and run social services according to their own needs.

In other words, the government says that it does not interfere with the Christian church. Christians are free to do as they please and free to have whatever leaders they want.

This same sentiment can be seen on the front cover of this Beijing magazine (left), which was shown in The Voice of the Martyrs’ September 2002 magazine. The Beijing Review is a magazine for English tourists to China. The caption on the front cover reads “All the religious affairs are run independently by the religious groups” (p. 4).

The website for the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the U.S shows Article 36 of the Chinese constitution, which even prohibits discrimination of citizens because of their religion. According to Ye Xiaowen, Director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, all religions and religious people coexist together in harmony in China and any “claims that China practices ‘religious persecution’ are totally groundless and are quite simply based on ulterior motives” (Carlson).

Zhao Kuangwei, director of the Center for Religion Research, says that American people who think that there is religious persecution are simply misinformed and need to check the facts:

...in China no individual has been arrested or sentenced because of religious belief... [the] persons involved in cases which certain Americans made use of to accuse China of ‘persecuting religion’ are, in fact, criminal offenders. Punishing criminals has nothing to do with religious beliefs. (Carlson).

This man brings up a good point. What if Christians in China just whine when their fellow Christians are arrested, claiming they are being persecuted, when in reality justice is just being done? It is very possible and can only be refuted by doing what he challenges: checking the facts.
The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) is an organization that helps persecuted Christians around the world. They are very active in China and have visited on numerous occasions to offer support to Christians there and to work with the Chinese government to lessen restrictions on Christians. The information they have uncovered is quite shocking and eye-opening, particularly the following revealing photos shown in VOM’s magazine from June of 2003.

A Christian working with the Chinese government took the following pictures and shared them with VOM so the world could be shown how Chinese Christians are treated (3). In order to be “allowed” to take the pictures, he assured the police in the photos that the photos would go to their superiors, who would probably give them a promotion for what they were doing. The ‘crime’ of the believers being tortured in the photos was merely worshipping outside of a TSPM church.

In the picture at left, Aizhen Miao, a Christian, is kneeling on bricks while being tortured with an electric prod (3).

Her torturer is Shanlong Meng, policeman of the PSB for Yu Zhou City.

At right, Suhuan Shi is forced to kneel on bricks in mock prayer while the guard watches (4).

The Christians who handed these pictures to VOM said that beatings and torture like this are weekly occurrences. The photographer, who is now in hiding for fear of his life, merely photographed one of the instances (3).

The lady to the left is Dongyun Jiang. She says, “This officer was standing on my feet and twisting my feet. It was so painful I started screaming, and then he used his shoe-polishing cloth to block my mouth for about three hours. Then he started to touch my breasts and make sexual advances” (5).

On the right, Xiangdong Cai is being tortured by having water forced into his stomach (6).

The picture to the left shows Xikai Huang at the detention center being hung from a pole (7).

The information regarding these photos has been verified, including the names of the policemen (3).

From the same VOM issue, Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times who has researched China’s treatment of Christians and supports what VOM has been saying, says, “[Chinese], whose only crime is worshipping God, are burned with cigarettes, beaten with clubs, and martyred for the faith” (4) Is this ‘freedom of religion’?

VOM’s recent November 2004 newsletter reports that earlier this year, on June 17, Jiang Zongxiu was taken to the police station for handing out Bibles in a market place. The police pronounced her dead the next day, reportedly by a ‘sudden disease’. An autopsy, however, showed that her hair had been pulled out and that she had been brutally beaten. A member of the police department even stated, “She (Jiang) doesn’t need an autopsy, because it’s very obvious she was beaten to death” (13). She left behind a husband and a 4-year-old son.

In 2000, Pastor Li De Xian was arrested by the Chinese government and for three days was chained in a painfully bent over, unnatural position, which put great strain on his back. He was given no food during this time, no trial, and no reason for the treatment. Soon after he was unchained, he was forced, along with other Christians, to work in a manufacturing plant for 17 hours each day, making Christmas lights for Americans. If he did not reach his quota each day, he was whipped. When he was released after two weeks, he was ordered to stop his preaching. There are many such “reform through labor” camps in China, which hold 6 to 8 million prisoners. This is the very reason that so many cheap products in American stores, especially around Christmas, are made in China. The prisoners in these camps have been given no trial and are living under the worst of conditions; prisoners are often encouraged by authorities to beat political prisoners (Marshall 100). VOM’s 2003 special issue magazine reported that there are more Christians in Chinese prisons than in all other prisons of the world combined.

The Empty Cross, a pamphlet produced by VOM, details many things happening in the church in China, including laws that have been passed restricting activity. In May of 2000 alone, 69 laws were passed restricting religious activity (22). In September of 2000, a document containing 22 Articles Governing Religious Activity by Foreigners in China was issued, greatly restricting any activity of foreigners within churches without government approval, which is at times almost an impossibility to obtain (24). Article 17 alone forbids foreigners from “preaching or explaining Scripture without permission, conducting religious gatherings outside of approved sites, producing or selling religious books... or other religious articles, distributing religious propaganda materials, and performing missionary activities [evangelism]”(25). Another Chinese law prohibits children from being educated in religion and from attending any public worship services (Marshall 102).

According to The Empty Cross, just one day after a TSPM leader spoke in California about religion in China entering a “golden age of freer expression,” 130 Christians in China, including three Americans, were arrested at a revival (24). VOM’s November 2003 magazine reported that in August of that year, police raided an orphanage run by a Christian woman and told the woman that she could no longer operate the orphanage. Their reasons? “The orphanage used books from abroad; they teach the Bible to children under 18, which is illegal in China; and the orphanage is not registered with the government” (13).

Such stories of oppression and arrest are not uncommon, and if researched long enough, possibly thousands of such stories could be found. Just a handful of stories are outlined here, but they represent millions of Christians in China.

There are two very different views on persecution of Christians in China; the government clearly states that there is no persecution in China, just punishment of criminals. The Christians, however, report that there is more happening than just due process of law. Not only does the interpretation of the law seem extremely harsh at times, but beatings and imprisonments also occur frequently without explanation or good reason. Instances of such happenings, too numerous to name, have been documented and confirmed by reliable sources.

The Chinese government claims to be entering a new golden age with freedom of religion. But how is that possible when so many Chinese Christians are still crying out from under the brutal heel of oppression? Though repeatedly crushed and silenced, their cries must be heard. Who will stand up and be their voice?

Works Cited

Carlson, Darwin W. “Understanding Chinese-U.S. Conflict Over Freedom of Religion: The Wolf-Specter Freedom from Religious Persecution Acts of 1997 and 1998.” Brigham Young University Law Review. 1998. GALILEO 4 Nov. 2004.

“China: Children’s Home Closed for Teaching Bible.” The Voice of the Martyrs Nov. 2003: 13.

Christian History Institute. What Happened in the Twentieth Century – A Few Prominent Trends. 2004. 11 Nov. 2004. http://chi.gospelcom.net/centuries/cnt20.shtml.

Embassy of the People’s Rep. of China in the US. White Paper--Freedom of Religious Belief in China. Oct. 1997. 6 Oct. 2004 . http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zt/zjxy/t36492.htm.

Fu, Bob. “Chinese Police Record Their Torture of Christians.” The Voice of the Martyrs June 2003: 3-7.

Fu, Bob. “Martyred in China.” The Voice of the Martyrs Nov. 2004: 13.

Lane, Gary. “Partakers of One Bread, One Body.” The Voice of the Martyrs Special Issue 2003: 5.

Morgan, Timothy. “China Arrests Dozens of Prominent Christians.” Christianity Today 18 Feb. 2004. 11 Nov. 2004 . http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/107/31.0.html.

Nettleton, Todd. “Friendly in Public, Fierce in Private.” The Voice of the Martyrs Sept. 2003: 4.

The Empty Cross: The False Doctrine of China’s Official Church. Bartlesville: V.O.M., 2003.


Ashley said...

Wow, Hannah (and Susan), thanks for posting that. It's a very difficult read, though... It makes me realize how much I take for granted as far as being able to worship Christ openly. Is this in response to the China Bible exhibit here in Atlanta?

une_fille_d'Ève said...

Heh, ;-) no this wasn't really a response to the China Bible exhibit, although I forgot that I was going to add a little something about that to the post before Susan posted it. And we're about to leave to help with VBS decorations, so I might have to add that addendum after we return.
Guess what we picked this morning for part of dinner next Monday?? :-)

Anonymous said...

Really going to think twice before buying "Made in China"? I know I will.

Lydia said...

Very thorough, well thought out post, Hannah. Thank you for sharing this important information with us. It has made me more mindful to be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe.

A couple side points:

1) We (my family) have heard from a young man who has been to China for short-term missions that the demand for cheap goods in China is actually a good thing as it keeps the Chinese Christians from being put to death. The reasoning goes that if there is no work for the government to have the Christains do then they have no use to keep them alive. At least with the labor camps, they have the chance of being released in a few years to go back to their ministry and families. I didn't know if you had heard this argument but it was eye-opening to me. I haven't come to a full decision about whether to buy products made in China. It certainly harms the US economy as more goods are produced overseas at a cheaper price for greedy American consumers.

2) The upcoming Olympics in China is something to keep our eyes on. One of the major arguments for keeping the olympics out of China were their gross human rights abuses including persecution of religion. Of course, the Chinese government came back with the same arguments you have presented: there is no persecution of Christians and all religions are accepted equally. With the Olympic games in China for 2008, there is a greater opportunity for evangelism and outreach to the common people by Christians. May we be faithful in praying for laborers to reap the harvest of souls prepared by God.

Mrs.B. said...

Excellent article!

I've seen all of these photos in my 'Voice of the Martyrs' magazine.

Mrs.B. said...

Just wanted to let you know that I linked to this post from my blog.

Thank you for posting it!


Becky Miller said...

Good research. Have you read "The Heavenly Man"? Excellent book with a solid eyewitness account of religious persecution in China.

Business is actually a great missions venture in China...there are a number of "Great Commission Companies" who have set up legitimate factories and businesses in China for the purpose of evangelism. They give their workers great conditions, good pay, and opportunities to hear the gospel. It's a wonderful modern-day form of tentmaking missions.

une_fille_d'Ève said...

Anonymous and Lydia,
I'm not quite as dogmatic as I used to be about the whole buying things made in China issue. For 12 years now my family has tried very hard to never buy things made in China except when it was something at least close to a 'necessity' and it wasn't made anywhere else. Computers, for instance, usually have at least a few parts made in China.
I've heard of testimonies from Christians on both sides... "Please don't stop buying things made in China; being in prison is a great chance to witness!" OR, for instance, there was one man I heard of who was ransomed out of prison and China to the US and cringed when he saw fake flowers or Christmas lights or something like that. I have heard similar reasoning to what you mentioned in your first point, Lydia. Personally I can't bring myself to think that it's sound enough reasoning to justify buying things made in China and supporting China's method of manufacturing them. However, I can understand both sides better than I used to, and who knows... I may change my mind someday and end my boycott on Chinese products! But for now, my conscience tells me 'no'.

Mrs. B, I'm honored that you are linking to the post! That's great that you get VOM's magazine! I used to read it every month as soon as we got it, but sadly I have hardly read them the past couple semesters with school taking over most of my life. I hope to get back into what's happening with VOM over the summer since I'll have more time.

Becky, no I haven't heard of The Heavenly Man. I looked it up, and it sounds like my kind of book! I'll have to read it sometime. And very interesting about missions and business in China... I had not heard of that before - exciting!

Mrs.B. said...

I don't get the magazines anymore because I wasn't finding time to read them and I didn't want them to spend the money to keep sending them to me. They have a website so I now go on there to read about things and I get an e-mail sent to me about it.

Anonymous said...

We recently fought for the Asylum of a Christian lady from China who was on the run from the Authorities. She finally won her case. She had been threatened with death, her family was threatened with death and any associates and friends were threatened with death. She was permanently on the run and she had no friends or family to turn to because they couldn't even speak to her. She has seen some terrible things. Like members of a non-government church being drowned in their own urine.