China contains the world’s largest persecuted church, and under the reign of the current President, Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012, freedoms have rapidly deteriorated. China has two officially tolerated churches, the Catholic Patriotic Association (circa 10m) and the Protestant Three Self Patriotic Movement (circa 25m), but the majority worship in Protestant “house churches” and live in a legal limbo – they are illegal though the state tolerates them, but pressures them to register and submit to more control. Control is the number one factor influencing Christian persecution in China.
But all churches are now under great pressure to praise the thought of President Xi, and express an ideologically biased version of the Gospel that lauds the legitimacy and achievements of the Communist party. New directives from 2018 require churches to sever links with overseas, and the ban on educating children in the faith was strengthened. In addition, China is not called the state where “big brother meets big data” for nothing. Christians are under surveillance like never before though their phones and their attitudes and actions fed into a social credit system that ranks loyalty to the ruling regime.
Christian leaders who refuse to parrot the government line can expect lengthy terms of imprisonment; bibles can be bought at TSPM churches but are not on general sale, and Christian literature is harder to find, even online. Still, in the words of a Beijing pastor, “It’s because we have to pay a cost that the Gospel grows – people are curious as to who this Jesus is we are prepared to risk all to follow.”
President Xi Jinping
“The Chinese Communist Party has 92 million member who no longer believe their founding texts; the Chinese church has 100 million members who read their Bibles every day and seek to live out those precepts in the name of Christ – which do you think is winning now, and will win in the long term?”
— House church pastor and persecuted Christian in Wuhan
History of Christianity
Christianity arrived in four waves in China, but persecution made it hard to make inroads almost every time. As early as 625AD Nestorian Christians arrived, then in the 12th century the Franciscans, and in the 16th century the Jesuits. In the latter half of the 19th century over two thousand Protestant missionaries arrived, establishing schools and hospitals as well as churches.
By the time Mao Tse Tung declared a Communist state in 1949 there were three million Catholics and a million Protestants. The new state sought to eradicate the faith but the Protestant arm began to thrive even in terrible persecution of the Cultural Revolution from 1966-76.
In the 1980’s a huge revival swept the countryside when some fifty millions came to faith, , and in the 1990’s and early 2000’s this extended into the cities. The sheer number of Christians has meant that the Chinese Communist Party no longer seeks to eradicate Christianity but co-opt it.