Chinese Christians fear they will lose points in the nation’s “social credit system” – which allows the government to punish those with a low score – simply for their faith, a report on global Christian persecution revealed on Wednesday.
The Catholic charity organization Aid to the Church in Need’s report Persecuted and Forgotten? found a marked increase in repression of the free practice of Christianity in China in the time period it studied, between 2017 and 2019.
Chinese dictator Xi Jinping has launched a campaign to “Sinicize” all religions, or make them more Chinese, by giving the Communist Party the full power to regulate the five legal faiths: Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and “Christianity.” The fifth is controlled by the Three-Self Patriotic Church, an allegedly Christian institution in which all prayers, sermons, and religious activity must go through the Communist Party.
The Chinese Catholic Church is also divorced from the Vatican and acts fully subordinate to the Communist Party.
Xi Jinping has reportedly exacerbated the persecution of Christians who refuse to join these churches and pray secretly in their homes instead. “House church” Christians, as they are often referred to, often use “banned” versions of the Bible that do not include communist propaganda added by the Party and are not supervised by government officials. Aid to the Church in Need noted that Beijing banned all sales of the legitimate text of the Bible in April 2018, promising access to an “improved,” pro-communist version of the Bible.
China announced the launch of a “social credit system” to regulate all human behavior in 2018, scheduling its full implementation for 2020. The system ascribes points to each individual based on how much the Communist Party approves of them. Individuals the Party disapproves of may be banned from travel, prevented from using core social programs, or otherwise limited in their freedom.
As of March 2019, the trial version of the social credit system has blacklisted over 13 million people.
“There are fears that China’s new ‘social credit system’ – designed to reward good citizenship and punish bad – will be used to discriminate against Christians,” the charity explains. The fears are tied to police raids on “house” churches, which increased in frequency during the time the report covered, and “cash rewards for those who inform on underground churches and other ‘unofficial’ places of worship,” a policy implemented this year in Guangzhou. Cash rewards indicate that the government might also reward the persecution of Christians with high “social credit” scores.
Xi Jinping also imposed new regulations that limit the ability of parents to expose children to religion. China banned children under 18 from attending services at churches, mosques, or other religious locations. According to the report released this week, Xi has also restructured education to promote atheist Marxism. The report said:
Education is used as a tool of social conditioning: in some regions pupils were reportedly required to sign a statement saying they will “promote atheism, and oppose belief in God.” In other areas problems continue. Christian clergy are still subject to arbitrary arrest and building regulations are increasingly used as a pretext for church demolitions.
The report also notes that China is a focal point for regional human trafficking, attracting enslaved Christian women and girls from places like Burma.
Xi has actively made moves to replace Christianity with a cult of personality with himself at the center. Reports surfaced in 2017 that Chinese government officials had begun pressuring rural Christians to replace crosses in their homes with photos of Xi Jinping. Last month, a report revealed that Chinese officials were forcing “legal” churches to replace the Ten Commandments with an assortment of Xi quotes.
Chinese Christians who have escaped repression note that Xi has used violence to crack down on all religions, but, China Aid founder Bob Fu said last year, he has “animosity against Christianity in particular.”
Unlike with Christians, Xi has established concentration camps for Muslims in western Xinjiang province, home to the largest population of ethnic Uyghurs. Beijing treats Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz with particular brutality, targeting their ethnicity but not Hui and other ethnic Muslim groups.
“[China] is in a league of its own [when it comes to human rights violations],” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in April. “The [oppression] work that began in Tibet is now being perfected in [Uighur-majority] Xinjiang [province] is Orwellian in nature. Our efforts are diplomatic that is we identify this as something the Chinese can’t continue to do.”
In Hong Kong, where China has attempted to fully impose communism but failed in part thanks to a growing protest movement, Christians have joined pro-democratic forces. In September, a group of Christians organized a “prayer walk for sinners” against police repression and violence by pro-China thugs. The event attracted about 1,000 people, many singing hymns and carrying religious paraphernalia.
The Christian song “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” has also become a Hong Kong protest anthem.