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Christian communities in China have endured enduring persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), compelling them to congregate clandestinely in underground churches.
This practice has persisted for years following the official prohibition of non-CCP-controlled churches, with those steadfastly refusing to attend state-sanctioned churches resorting to private homes and other discreet venues.
According to ChinaAid's findings for the year 2022, the CCP's persecution of underground Christians has witnessed an alarming escalation. The environment has become progressively hostile towards foreign missionaries, whose activities are deemed as "Western influence" by the CCP.
In July, China's Anti-Espionage Law introduced the classification of "illegal religious activities" as espionage, subjecting foreign nationals to the possibility of lengthy incarceration under this new legislation.
During the reign of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the CCP has orchestrated an unprecedented campaign to suppress Christian congregations. Notably, the CCP now demands loyalty to Xi Jinping from state-sanctioned churches, thereby exacerbating the predicament faced by "house churches."
Under the CCP's aegis, the "Three-Self Patriotic Movement" was established to subsume Christian churches within a CCP-supervised framework, where the content of teachings must gain CCP approval.
Conversely, house churches, also known as underground churches, operate autonomously outside the purview of the state, frequently convening in private residences and apartments, thus attracting the regime's ire.
Pastor Luigi Bilucaglia, an independent Baptist missionary hailing from Quebec, Canada, with 18 years of service in China, commented on the deteriorating situation: "It has always been difficult, but conditions took a marked turn for the worse in 2018 when President Xi extended his presidency indefinitely, effectively establishing the Xi dynasty. It was during this period that church persecutions intensified, prompting me to arrive early at our church every Sunday, vigilant for any police presence in our vicinity."
Bilucaglia and his family faced expulsion from China in late 2021, having resided in the country since 2003 as missionaries. CCP authorities raided his church and detained him for interrogation regarding his activities in China.
He recounted the ordeal, saying, "During the interrogation, the lead interrogator struck me in the back of my head and alleged to the other Chinese Christians present that they were implicated due to my actions. This divisive tactic aimed to secure self-incrimination. Ultimately, they chose expulsion over imprisonment, granting me a seven-day window to exit the country. Throughout those seven days, they transported me to five different police stations, subjecting me to multiple interrogations in a bid to entrap me in my statements and link me to a foreign entity, thus implicating me in espionage."
Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, reported that the CCP is endeavoring to revise the Bible, altering its contents to depict Jesus as a "lawbreaker" and "killer." Bilucaglia corroborated these claims, mentioning how Chinese Christians rushed to purchase copies of the Bible at state churches before the circulation of the current version was halted.
Additionally, there are disturbing reports of individuals in custody having their blood tested, raising concerns of potential organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience. If a detainee's blood type aligns with a prospective "buyer," they may be subjected to organ extraction. Bilucaglia has heard accounts of police drawing blood from Chinese Christians, adding, "I often hear about prisoners being executed while doctors await to harvest their organs for sale."
The assault on Christian charities and educational institutions is another disconcerting trend. D. Smith, a missionary from Alabama, who had served in China with her late husband for over two decades, revealed how their church, initially established in central China, had to be divided into 14 separate locations for Sunday services due to the CCP's crackdown on house churches.
Smith recounted an incident where a SWAT team comprising 20-30 police vehicles apprehended orphans from an orphanage affiliated with the church, forcibly relocating them to state-run orphanages.
The police justified this action by prohibiting the establishment of orphanages under the auspices of Christianity. Bibles were banned, and any form of ministry was strictly prohibited.
Furthermore, posters advertising rewards for reporting on large gatherings began to surface on every building in China.
Since 2005, the orphanage had been supported by the church founded by Smith and her late husband. The Chinese regime's aim is the complete eradication of Christianity from Chinese society, as it perceives it as a threat to its communist ideology.
Alongside house churches established by foreign missionaries, numerous Christian schools in China employed the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program, an American Christian educational curriculum.
These schools remained unregistered with the Chinese state, as the CCP vehemently prohibits "teaching religion" to the younger generation. Many Christians preferred ACE schools, which followed an American curriculum, to shield their children from the CCP's ideological propaganda.
Bilucaglia commented, "The CCP aims to indoctrinate the next generation exclusively with communist ideology; they want to brainwash them."
In early 2022, all these Christian schools were forcibly shuttered by CCP authorities, who traced the IP addresses of all participants in an online conference for Christian school educators throughout China.
Foreign individuals associated with these schools were expelled from the country, while many Chinese educators still confront investigations and surveillance.
The CCP has progressively harnessed its sophisticated surveillance apparatus to regulate its citizens and target Christian communities. China is notorious for its stringent online censorship and control of social media.
In March 2022, the CCP implemented new regulations that prohibited all forms of online religious instruction and religious groups. The regime also recruited and trained content monitors to supervise social media content.
Liu, a Christian Sunday school teacher from central China, shared her experiences, saying, "Following the introduction of these new rules, we became exceedingly cautious during our Zoom-based Bible studies and worship services. We would attempt to have several people share a single device to avoid attracting attention to our online gatherings. The police would conduct random checks of people's phones in public, and if they spotted Zoom on our devices, they would uninstall the app and interrogate us about it."
Pastor Joseph Jiang, a Chinese Christian pastor now in exile in New Zealand, highlighted the recurring banning of online preaching content. "We frequently shift platforms," he noted. "Once our content garners a certain number of views, the authorities block it. We are constantly seeking new online platforms for sharing our content."
Chinese house churches typically convene secretly in apartments, and Bilucaglia reported that the CCP introduced financial incentives for individuals to report on church gatherings or even on those who hold views contrary to those of the CCP.
Liu further underscored the level of surveillance, saying, "Before leaving our homes for church on Sundays, we were advised to switch off our phones or at least put them in flight mode. This was done to evade authorities tracking our locations via GPS. If the authorities detected people congregating in an apartment on a Sunday, they would promptly knock on the doors."
The CCP views education as a critical tool for indoctrinating the younger generation and ensuring loyalty to communism, given the historical significance of student movements like the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989 and the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protests in 2019.
These movements often found their roots in university campuses, which traditionally fostered free thinking and Western ideals. Consequently, the CCP is resolute in its efforts to shape education to promote unwavering allegiance to communism as a means of safeguarding its regime's stability.
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