The situation regarding religious freedom in China is complex. While the phenomenal growth experienced in China's state-sanctioned, registered (i.e. legal) churches is encouraging and truly inspiring, the regulations imposed on these churches are for many, simply unacceptable and prohibitive.
Rather than submit to what they regard as unacceptable levels of regulation, the overwhelming majority of Chinese Christians risk serious persecution in order to worship freely. Meeting and worshipping in unregistered (i.e. illegal) house churches -- without Chinese Communist Party (CCP) permission, without CCP supervision, defying CCP restrictions on movement and evangelism etc -- they risk fines and "administrative detentions" (no charge or trial required) of up to15 days in prison or up to three years in Mao's laogai (a "gulag" of more than 900 state-owned, CCP-administered slave labour camps. Of course this is one reason why "Made in China" is so cheap.)
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is presently engaged in a strategic global propaganda campaign. The CCP wants everyone to know that it is today a party of suits, not fatigues; advancing prosperity, security and Chinese culture, not revolution.
The CCP's aim is doubtless to bolster nationalistic zeal, delegitimise both domestic and international criticism, and obscure the fact that China remains a totalitarian state.
See: The (propaganda) empire strikes in China
By Kent Ewing, Asia Times on Line, 24 Aug 2010
Included in this propaganda campaign are efforts to present China as a land of great religious liberty where Christianity flourishes, despite regulations.
Chinese authorities recently gave the BBC "unprecedented access" to China's state-sanctioned churches and religious institutions, including Amity House where some 12 million Bibles are published each year (at least 40 percent for export).
Of course the BBC subsequently released a glowing report on the Chinese Communist Party's "commitment to supporting the development of Christianity".
See: China invests in confident Christians
By Christopher Landau BBC News, China, 23 August 2010
"Three decades ago, China's Cultural Revolution saw some of the most dramatic restrictions on the practice of religion ever seen in the modern world.
"But today's communist rulers have radically altered their views about religion and have granted substantial freedom to Christians prepared to worship within state-sanctioned churches.
"Within these boundaries, Christianity is growing in China as never before - and doing so supported by millions of dollars of government funding. . . "
HEART & SOUL, on BBC radio.
Christianity in China
• Episode 1
• Episode 2
The BBC report was of course picked up by others and quickly multiplied -- its message echoing many times over across the globe.
As exciting as church growth in state-sanctioned churches is, this is not the whole story, indeed, it may be little more than a facade, erected to hide totalitarian repression.
In March 2010, I a highlighted an important lecture by Richard Madsen who comments on the fact that while CCP methods of control have evolved, the CCP still demands the church accept the "government master, religion follower" formula of Imperial China's sacral hegemony.
This is indeed the sense we get from listening to the BBC radio programs. The CCP is clearly more than happy to have the church exist as a "servant" to the state, filling in gaps in social services, helping to keep the masses satiated and pacified. However, the CCP is definitely not willing to have the church to act as "prophet".
Meanwhile, along with its interest in exploiting Christian service, the money-idolising CCP is also seriously interested in seeing if it can exploit the link between Protestant Christianity and economic prosperity. Maybe they are gambling that a carefully measured and closely supervised dose of medicinal Christianity will make CCP-ruled China rich. Of course it is absolutely imperative that this medicinal Christianity be "carefully measured" and "closely supervised", for the CCP is fully aware of the problems that could be triggered by an overdose.
In August, the state-funded Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) released its Annual Report on China's Religions.
See: Academy releases report on religion
Source: Global Times, 13 August 2010
According to the CASS report, China currently has 23.05 million Protestant Christians, of which almost one-third converted since 2003. Furthermore, 60 percent said they turned to Christianity after they or family members suffered from illness, while more than half of Chinese Protestants have not received secondary schooling.
Of course many would dispute those statistics. Fan Yafeng (41) a researcher with the Zhongfu Shengshan Institute and ex-CASS researcher flatly rejects CASS's findings as "ridiculous". A house church member for 13 years, Fan asserts that there are at least 500,000 Protestants in Beijing alone -- five times the figure asserted by the CASS -- and that a lot of them are well-educated professionals and intellectuals.
The aim of the CASS report is doubtless to elevate the role of the CCP in the alleged recent explosion of Christianity -- thereby establishing the church's debt to the regime -- while diminishing the Christians themselves as needy and under-educated, i.e. weak and vulnerable, i.e. not the sort of crowd with which any strong, intelligent and influential individual might wish to identify.
Preserving the CCP
Jamestown's China Brief has published a hugely significant study (in two parts) by Arthur Waldron, in which Waldron analyses an eight-part television series in which Chinese social scientists analyse the fall of the Soviet regime. The series is called "Preparing for Danger in Times of Safety -- Historic Lessons Learned from the Demise of Soviet Communism".
According to Waldron the series attributes the demise of the Soviet regime, not to openness or restructuring, but to very specific failures of the Soviet Union Communist Party (SUCP). Decade-long research has determined that the Soviet regime failed "because," reports Waldron, "it gave up the dictatorship of the proletariat, ceased to practice democratic centralism, criticized Stalin, was beguiled by western concepts such as democracy, and also tripped up by Western propaganda and other operations."
The series adulates Lenin and Stalin, while demonising Khrushchev and Gorbachev. Waldron quotes Chinese social scientists Zhou Xincheng and Guan Xueliang who maintain: "The disorders of the 1980s and 1990s in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe all have a conspicuous characteristic, which is that they were all set in motion by negation of and attacks on 'the Stalin model'." They regard Khrushchev's "secret speech" of 14 February 1956 -- "On Personal Worship and its Consequences", in which he denounced Stalin before the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union -- as the beginning of the end. Waldron notes that even today, no criticism of either Stalin or Mao is permitted in China, although Mao is the subject of considerable public criticism regardless.
The Chinese analysts firmly believe that the situation in the Soviet Union could have been salvaged had the Soviets adopted the path subsequently followed by China: adhered to Marxist-Leninist theory and paths while correctly solving its problems and conflicts, correcting mistakes with courage. They conclude that the Soviet regime fell because, in its attempts to make the system more "humane", it failed to maintain a comprehensive dictatorship. "The consensus is," writes Waldron, "that Gorbachev was beguiled by the siren song of 'humanitarian socialism'."
"Such" writes Waldron," is the Chinese official -- it must be stressed official -- diagnosis of the Soviet failure, and from the diagnosis will flow the policy solution. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that party discipline and unity are at the top of the list of issues being stressed publicly in China today, and simple repression is regularly employed as a means of dealing with tensions, while relatively less emphasis is placed on how to cope with the vast challenges posed to any authoritarian government by a dynamic, growing, and ever-differentiating society."
Waldron regards China's "concealed history" as a ticking time bomb. "It is a good bet," he reckons, "that someone in [the next] generation of leadership will make a Chinese 'secret speech' and turn to the ideas of humanity in socialism, even though they are today officially excoriated in analyses of the disintegration of the Soviet Union."
Chinese Analyses of Soviet Failure: The Party
Publication: China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 23
November 19, 2009 By: Arthur Waldron for Jamestown
Chinese Analyses of Soviet Failure: Humanitarian Socialism
Publication: China Brief Volume: 10 Issue: 11
May 27, 2010, By: Arthur Waldron
No matter what happens, the CCP does not have the last word on Christianity in China.
Antonio Weiss writes in the Guardian:"With the state now actively financing Christianity, China could well become the largest Christian country in the world."
Weiss' assessment is only partly correct.
For "Yes", China is set to emerge as the world's largest Christian country. Indeed, China is destined to become the greatest missionary-sending nation the world has ever seen.
But "No", it will not be on account of the Chinese Communist Party.
Rather, all the glory will be God's.
For HE alone is sovereign.
And HE is doing a great work in China.