Chinatown in NYC

Christianity in China

Does This Help Explain the Recent Crackdown?

A
summary of the translation by Tony Lambert of an important article published in Beijing in June 2010 by the China Social Sciences Press. The article is entitled: “An Analysis of the Reasons for the Rapid Growth of Christianity in Today’s China”. The translation is found at the OMF website.

The publication of this translation may help us understand at least one of the factors involved in the recent government crackdown on large house churches in some parts of China, including its response to the decision of Shouwang Church leaders to try to hold Sunday worship meetings outside.

Lambert presents the translation of this article to “show that the experts advising the Chinese government at the highest level recognize the enormous growth of Protestant Christianity as a fact and predict that this growth will be so explosive in the coming decades that it may well change the face of China.” This is Part II of his translation; Part I dealt with some reasons for the rapid growth of Christianity in China. This concluding section speaks more particularly of Christianity’s ethos of constant propagation:

“For all sorts of reasons Christianity has formed a whole system of missionary expansion, especially in the modern era. Accompanying the growth of Western political, economic and military power, its propagation has seen some new characteristics causing it to spread throughout the world.” Note, first, that the author traces Christianity’s worldwide spread to the advance of Western power.

He continues: “Firstly, Christianity is absolutely exclusive. All religions stress they have the absolute truth, but this is particularly apparent in Christianity. It is monotheistic and rejects other faiths such as Daoism. With the growth of capitalism, Western culture enjoyed a revival with Christian culture at its heart. The combined strength of the Western powers increased Christianity’s sense of superiority even more. From claiming to have the only truth it became conceited, and this fed its ambition to ‘export religion’.”

As the last three sentences quoted above show, the author ties Western expansion to a sense of superiority, which fueled an impulse to export the faith.

The author now gets to the heart of his argument:

“On a global scale it promotes ‘universal values’ and a political system with Christian culture at its heart, thus fulfilling the Western World’s ‘Great Commission’, led by the United States. Through all kinds of political, economic, military & cultural means, it promotes its values throughout the world and fulfills its strategic objectives.”

Later in the article, he states that “the propagation of Christianity has the political power of the great powers behind it, and there is a certain element of church and state mixed together.”

This faith is central to the entire thrust of the article: Western nations, led by the United States, seek to export their political system, with the intent of achieving absolute worldwide hegemony. In the process, they use a variety of means, including the propagation of Christianity.

The article traces what he alleges to be the changing role of Western powers in the spread of Christianity in China through history:

“In modern times there have been two ways in which Christianity has been spread in China: first, reliance on military power; secondly, using economic power. Before 1949 the propagation of Christianity in China was not unconnected to the gunboats. Since the Open Door policy [beginning in 1978] it has relied more upon economic power, charities and using money to smooth its path.”

The key point here is the assumption that Western governments, especially the American government, are actively involved in the missionary and evangelistic endeavors of foreign and Chinese Christians, as well as in charitable non-profit organizations.

The author illustrates his claim by stating that “the relatively poor Chinese believers could not have built so many hugely expensive churches without overseas help.”

In the next part of his article, he tries to show that the “explosive” growth of Christianity in China is “abnormal,” and will upset the religious balance in china, de-stabilizing society in the process.

Upsetting the Religious Balance

The inevitable result will be that Christianity’s expansion “will seriously damage the balance of religions in China and worsen the religious environment. .. Christianity has already destroyed, or will very soon destroy, the present situation of a balance between religions. It is not that a decline in Chinese Buddhism, Daoism or, in particular, folk-religion, which has ‘created’ this rapid growth of Christianity, but rather that the ‘monopoly’ or even ‘hegemony’ of Christianity has already, or will very soon, produce a further blow to folk-religion, Buddhism and Daoism.”

The article claims that the spread of Christianity has been possible because house churches have “avoided government control.” “It is not that the government’s religious policy has led to the so called loss of balance between religions, but rather that illegal Christian evangelism has challenged the government religious policy and finally brought about the break-up of the religious situation in China.”

According to the author’s sources, Christians could increase dramatically in numbers, so that “a moderate estimate is that, in 50 years time, the number of Christians will be 150-200 million. Mr Lu Daji estimates that in just the next 20 years there will be 200 million and even 300 million Christians (in his paper presented in 2008 to the United Front Research Group).

Endangering National Security

Not only will the religious balance be upset, but “this [rapid growth] will affect national security.” Why? Because “against the background of globalization, cultural and ideological security can be often ignored, so that ideological & cultural aggression easily gain the upper hand. Western powers, with America at their head, deliberately export Christianity to China and carry out all kinds of illegal evangelistic activities. Their basic aim is to use Christianity to change the character of the regime in power in China and to overturn it.”

He quotes Western analysts who observe that “this is ‘a battle to gain the very soul of China’.” It is a contest between “socialist atheism and Christian theism, … traditional Confucian pragmatism and the Christian spirit of seeking the heavenly kingdom, also between a renewed Buddhism and Christian opposition to idolatry. It is a confrontation between the international system of Christian values and the values of traditional nationalism and Marxism. It is a contest between American Protestantism and Chinese Communism, and a contest between American Christians and China’s traditional forces.’ (Yu Ge, America’s Essence, 2006, Modern China Publishers.)”

Unless the Chinese government steps in, the author warns that the use of Christianity by western governments to “westernise, split, Christianize and ‘gospel-ize’ China, … will create a great blow to our national security..”

He returns to the problem of the shift in the religious “balance of power”: The presence of huge numbers of Christians will “challenge the government’s control of society and its public services, and create confrontation and clashes between Christian culture and traditional culture, and between Christians and believers in other religions.” After all, how can you control a religion with 200-300 million believers? Along the way, the government’s policy of limiting Protestant activity to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement will be challenged, as control of religion is wrested from China and grabbed by foreign powers and their Chinese Christian tools.

The author concludes that, “faced with this abnormal growth, we must undertake State interference, and take legal and administrative means so that religion does not have a free market and expand out of control.” First, the “racial pride and self-confidence of the Chinese people” must be strengthened, along with “core socialist values… and superior cultural traditions of the Chinese people” to eliminate “the present fertile bed causing the disorderly expansion of Christianity, as well as resisting infiltration from abroad which uses religion.”

Here we see clear indications of Chinese “exclusivism,” as opposed to the “international” or “universal” values which “liberals” think should drive China’s domestic and foreign policies.

He goes on: “Secondly, we must use the method of combining government policy leadership to control [Christianity] according to the law and undertake ideological education, so gradually the Christianity fever calms down and we can establish normal religious order.”

Trying to “control” religion “according to the law” means using the official religious bodies, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, to keep religious practice within tight boundaries. The participation of the TSPM in the interrogation and “education” of members of Shouwang Church fits this pattern nicely.

Translator Tony Lambert ends with these words: “The reader will see the importance of this article as revealing the kind of advice currently being given by researchers to the government at the highest level. It may explain why there is no thaw in religious policy and continuing pressure on the house-churches.”

The entire translation, like every issue of China Insight, deserves careful reading, but for now we should just note that the Chinese author mixes some fact with a considerable amount of fantasy to concoct a scenario which must be horrifying to his readers. Clearly, he either willfully hides what he knows, or is hindered by massive ignorance of the essence of Christianity, both in the West and in China. His own cultural and political blinders make it impossible for him to understand either the history of Christianity in China or its present condition. Readers of the entire article will sense confusion and repetition in his argument, obviously caused by fear and prejudice.

At the same time, we can see why the open challenge to the government’s religious policy recently expressed by the actions of the leaders of Shouwang Church, the petition by house church leaders to the National People’s Congress, and the strong support expressed both by the Western press and American government leaders would serve to confirm the article’s fundamental thesis in the eyes of the Chinese government. Let us hope that they are receiving better, more informed advice from other researchers.

In fact, there is some evidence that they are. Although, as a recent article in The Economist stated, the hardliners have a far stronger hand than the liberals in the Chinese government today, the relatively mild treatment shown towards the Shouwang Church and the unregistered church leaders who have supported Shouwang’s case seems to be an indication that some high-level officials in China do not view the growth of “house church” Christianity in the same way as the author of this article.

They may have seen evidence showing the independence of “house” churches from foreign control, the participation of urban professionals that enables them to buy property, and the lack of purely political ambition of its leaders.

Still, this article seems to fit the general “Red” revival taking place in China; as such, it represents a definite backward trend that has affected the information and security sectors of the government, and accords with the strong insistence upon China nationalism that has fueled important foreign policy moves in the past year.