A 2020 US government report on international religious freedom saying that China has been “engaging in . . . particularly severe violations of the freedom of religion,” should give continuing relevance to the claim of journalist and author Rupert Shortt that Communist China, despite its economic progress due to its accommodation and engagement by the West, has not stopped persecuting Christians and other religionists.
“The idea of correspondence between economic progress and progress on human rights thus requires heavy qualification,” Shortt writes in his celebrated work, “Christianophobia” (Rider/Random House; 2013). “More Christians are imprisoned in China than in any part of the world.”
In its annual report, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has asked the State Department to redesignate China among the leading Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) “for engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of the freedom of religion,” according to major news media agencies on April 28.
A bipartisan and independent body that that gives advice on American diplomatic directions, the UCIRF took note of China’s “systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations.”
Targets of China’s “systematic” attacks on religion are Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Protestants and Catholics.
Communist China has imprisoned tens of thousands if not millions of Muslims, Buddhists and Christians, destroying mosques and churches, the report said. It has forbidden those under 18 years of age from getting religious instruction. It has even forced organ harvesting from imprisoned Falun Gong meditation practitioners and anticorruption activists.
“(Communist) authorities across the country have removed crosses from churches . . . and replaced images of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary with pictures of President Xi Jinping,” the report said.
Aside from China, included on the CPC list are Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. New additions to the list are Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.
For the first time, India, a US ally, was recommended by the USCIRF to be included in the Special Watch List (SWL) of countries whose governments “engage in or tolerate severe violations of religion or belief.”
Aside from India, new additions to the SWL list are Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.
USCIRF is an independent and bipartisan body that monitors religious freedom in the world following international law standards.
“In 2019,” the USCIRF report (www.uscirf.gov) said, “religious freedom conditions in China continued to deteriorate. The Chinese government has created a high-tech surveillance state, utilizing facial recognition and artificial intelligence to monitor religious minorities.
In the Muslim region of Xinjiang, some 900,000 to 1.8 million Uighurs and other Muslims were detained in 1,300 concentration camps, the report said. In Tibet, China “continued to pursue a strategy of forced assimilation and suppression of Tibetan Buddhism.”Communist authorities also “raided or closed down hundreds of Protestant churches in 2019” and harassed and detained Catholic bishops refusing to join the state-approved Catholic association. It offered bounties to squealers of underground Catholic churches.
Communist China likewise arrested thousands of Falung Gong meditation practitioners who had condemned corruption. “Human rights advocates and scientists presented evidence that the practice of harvesting organs from prisoners—many of whom are believed to be Falun Gong practitioners—continued on a significant scale,” the report said
“In addition, there were widespread reports that authorities across China demolished Mahayana Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian statues it claimed were ‘unauthorized.’”
Aid to the Church in Need
The 2020 USCIRF report dovetails with the latest report of the Aid for the Church in Need (ACN) about Communist persecution of Christians in China.
In its report, “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on the Christians Oppressed for their Faith 2017-2019,” ACN cited fears that China’s new “social credit system,” which the Communists said would reward good citizenship and punish the bad, could be “used to discriminate against Christians.”
“Education is used as a tool of social conditioning.” the report said. “(In) some regions pupils were reportedly required to sign a statement saying they will ‘promote atheism, and oppose belief in God.’”
The ACN report said Chinese officials in Guangzhou city introduced cash rewards for those who inform on underground churches and other “unofficial” places of worship.
“In other areas problems continue. Christian clergy are still subject to arbitrary arrests and building regulations are increasingly used as a pretext for church demolitions,” the report said.
Established in 1947, ACN is a pontifical foundation that provides humanitarian assistance to persecuted Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic and other religionists. It has provided relief and aid in 145 countries. In East Asia, ACN has offices in Seoul and Manila.
Even after the September 2018 agreement between the Vatican and China, the ACN report noted that “the Catholic Church’s status continues to be complex, as two underground bishops were formally replaced by bishops from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association; and even after the agreement, state agents destroyed Marian shrines in Shanxi and Guizhou.”
It should be noted that Nationalist China persecuted the Christians as much as the Communists because Christianity was associated with western imperialism in China during the 19th century. But it should also be taken into account that China has had a history of xenophobia, absolutism and despotism. As Shortt, the religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement of the United Kingdom, points out in his best-selling book, “Christianophobia,” “Christians are feared with reason (in China) because they are heralds of a more open society.”
Subtitled “A Faith Under Attack,” “Christianophobia” said that Christian inroads in China had alerted Communist authorities so that Christians had invited repression. “That the Churches have faced large-scale persecution in China and elsewhere says much about their remarkable strength, as well as their vulnerability.” INQ“Christianity: A Faith Under Attack” by Rupert Shortt is available online.