The Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Congress this week has largely focused on the development of Chinese “exceptionalism,” the development of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and the imposition of uniform identity through a sense of cultural and national superiority.
Far from the scope of free religious expression is “Xi Jinping Thought,” the colloquial name for the ideology the Chinese president has now formally enshrined into the CPC’s constitution. At the congress this week, the head of the umbrella agency that supervises religion insisted that “socialist core values” must be at the heart of any religious faith active in China.
Zhang Yijiong, the head of the United Front Work Department (UFWD), explained on Friday that the Communist Party had a long way to go to “sinicize religion”—make it more Chinese. This required, Zhang argued, harsh measures to prevent anyone from “taking advantage of religion to harm national security,” “promoting extremism for terrorist activities,” and “endangering national unity,” according to the Diplomat.
Zhang reportedly referred to Tibetan Buddhism in general, arguing, “if you look at it from [U.S. president Abraham] Lincoln’s point of view, he would have approved of China overturning the serfdom system in Tibet.”
“In Tibet we freed the serfs, and how are American friends not able to understand this? This is also a human rights issue,” he argued, urging Americans to cease all interactions with the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government has spent years attempting to promote an illegitimate, communism-friendly heir to the Dalai Lama given the religious leader’s rejection of Marxist totalitarianism.
Zhang nonetheless praised Buddhism as a “Chinese religion” that “didn’t come from outside,” leaving open the question of religions that China claims are foreign in nature.
While the Chinese government has branded all religion a national security threat, of paramount concern is Christianity. Christianity has seen such a dramatic surge in popularity that Christians reportedly outnumber Communist Party members in the country. In response to this phenomenon, the Chinese government announced the imposition of new regulations imposing onerous fines and jail time on Christians who participate in “unauthorized” travel to religious conferences, engage in “unregistered” Christian activities like house prayer, or refuse to abide by laws demanding the removal of any public displays of Christianity.
The law also bans members of the Communist Party from possessing any religious beliefs, posing a problem for the leaders of the authorized government churches. The Chinese government only recognizes two Christian religions: the Chinese Catholic Church and the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, both kept under the heel of Beijing officials. The Chinese government estimates that around 45 million people believe in one of the two religions. The real number of Chinese Christians is estimated to be closer to 127 million including those who reject the government-regulated churches and instead opt for “house churches,” which offer underground services not subject to the Communist Party message forced upon the sermons of government services.
“Every Sunday, these 80 million Christians are acting with passive civil disobedience by choosing to not worship in the government-sanctioned churches,” Pastor Bob Fu, who served prison time in China for “illegal evangelism” before arriving in the U.S. and founding the advocacy group China Aid, tells Breitbart News. “That’s why I think the government is so nervous, because the number of Chinese Christians already outnumber the Communist Party [89 million]. You have this large number of Chinese people showing their allegiance to God alone and not willing to show total loyalty to the Communist Party leadership.”
Fu expresses hope that the Xi regime will fail in curbing the spread of Christianity, not just because of the popularity of house services—which he himself once led—but because Christians of high rank in the official churches are starting to revolt, too. He cites the case of Reverend Joseph Gu, once the head of China’s largest legal church, the Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, now facing prison time for protesting the government demolition of crosses from the tops of churches.
Gu was arrested twice—once in 2016, and once a year later for “misappropriating funds,” despite the fact that he was reportedly never allowed to return to his senior post at the Chongyi Church. Supporters state that, much like Xi’s alleged corruption charges against political opponents within the party, this too was an attempt to silence a dissident.
“He was not happy, and a lot of his followers … they did the same thing [protest], but all of them have been formally arrested and some already received 8-10 years imprisonment sentenced,” Fu explained. “Joseph Gu himself was arrested and removed from his post and had his pastor license revoked.”
“If they can’t even manage their so-called registered, appointed church leaders, like Joseph Gu, how could they expect to control the 80 million Christians in independent churches?” Fu asks.