Christianity in China has a long, complex and varied history. Christianity was very well known in China even before its official arrival in the 7th century AD. Further, Christian teachings were known among some Chinese texts and a few records are available of missionary work. When the Jesuits first arrived in China, the country was open to the idea and tolerant of Christianity, as evidenced by the appointment of Christian priests by Chinese leaders.
However, Chinese rulers later became suspicious of Christianity and subsequent missionaries were often persecuted. This led to periods of Christian suppression and persecution, with many followers of the faith being marginalized and even tragic deaths occurring. Despite this, Christianity in China still persists today in various ways and forms.
The practice of Christianity in China is varied and complicated, with some cities and regions having a much larger percentage of adherents than others. Although it is impossible to collect accurate statistics due to the difficulty of registering with state-sanctioned religious organizations, some reports suggest that there may currently be as many as 66 million Christians in China, with 66 distinct churches or denominations.
Christianity in China exhibits a wide variety of practices and forms. Chinese Catholic churches may be different from their Roman Catholic counterparts, and may be bilingual, or even tri-lingual, with Mandarin, English, and a third language, expressing their devotion in different languages. Protestantism in China runs the gamut from traditional worship in physical spaces, to online video streaming services, to satellite dishes.
Current Status of Christianity
Today, Christianity in China is heavily regulated by the state, with the government claiming ultimate control over religious activities in the country. Between 1982 and 2017, the government created a restrictive policy of “sinicization” that aimed to strip Christianity of any foreign influence and teachings. Such measures went so far as to force those belonging to the religion to directly serve the Chinese Communist Party.
In recent years, China has begun tightening its grip on Christianity, implementing a range of repressive laws and policies that limit the spread of faith and hinder the freedom of assembly and demonstration. This includes, for government-sanctioned churches, attendance limits, censorship of religious books and other materials, and even closure of churches with no reason provided.
The Chinese government has responded to Christianity in China with a range of repressive measures and consistent opposition to religious freedoms. Such measures have led to the elimination of pro-democracy activists and Christian believers, as well as an overall censorship of the media concerning religious topics. In addition, Chinese prisons are known to have seriously mistreated prisoners who identify as Christian and activists, who are not allowed due process or a fair trial.
Furthermore, the government has increasingly restricted the freedom of Christian activities, including banning church gatherings, and preventing churches from accepting new members, redistributing religious literature, and celebrating religious festivals. The Chinese Communist Party also has increased its control over religion by creating state-controlled religious organizations and introducing more stringent laws concerning the attire of all religious believers.
Effects on Society
The effects of Christianity in China on the wider society are complex and multi-faceted. Some studies suggest that Christianity has provided an alternative social framework to traditional values and practices in some parts of Chinese society. As such, churches have become increasingly active in providing medical and educational services, as well as social welfare to those in need.
Moreover, Christianity in China has enthusiastically embraced the idea of interfaith dialogue and has sought to develop stronger ties with other religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. Critics, however, suggest that the Chinese government’s restrictions on the rights of believers have resulted in the deepening of divisions between religious communities, as well as negative consequences for the civil liberties of Chinese citizens.
Persecution and Discrimination Against Christians
Although Christians in China are legally permitted to practice their faith, they often face various forms of discrimination and persecution. In some areas, Christians and their families may experience discrimination in housing, education, employment, and access to public services. In many cases, these prejudices are rooted in the idea that Christianity is an alien belief system, incompatible with Chinese values.
In addition, Christian religious activities continue to face regular interference from local authorities. During public holidays, Christians gather in large numbers for worship in churches, and in some cases, local security forces have denied people the right to worship, confiscated religious materials, and imposed arbitrary fines on participants.
Given the challenges posed by China’s strict control over Christian activities, there is a risk that the socio-economic status of adherents could be hindered. The lack of freedom of assembly and expression, as well as increasing restrictions on religious organizations and individuals, can lead to Christians becoming reluctant to stand up for their rights or partake in public activities. This could lead to a situation in which members of the Christian community are left at a disadvantage economically and otherwise.
In response to the Chinese government’s continued restrictions on Christianity, many international governments, organizations and religious leaders have criticized the state’s actions and demanded more freedom of religion. In addition, the United Nations and other international human rights institutions are increasingly condemning China’s repressive measures, calling for the state to respect and protect the rights of believers.
Pressure from these groups has pushed the Chinese government to make some concessions, including slightly loosening the pressure on certain churches, allowing greater freedom to organize religious activities, and increasing the freedom of worship for believers.
In conclusion, despite the myriad of religious restrictions in China, Christianity in China continues to thrive and grow. This is evident in the number of denominations, the increasing coverage of religious matters in the media, and the generally open attitude towards Christian believers.
Nevertheless, China’s government still maintains a tight control over the practice of Christianity in the country, beyond what is necessary to ensure public order. This restricts the rights of believers and poses a threat to social cohesion, as well as to the socio-economic status of Christian adherents. It is therefore vital that both domestic and international forces work together to ensure that the right of freedom of religion and belief are upheld in China.