dhamma musings: Christianity Burgeoning in China


Although the Chinese Communist
Party is officially atheist, the country’s constitution allows “freedom of
religious belief,” and the practice of formal religion has expanded in
China, in fits and starts, for decades. The number of Chinese professing
Christianity, in particular — estimated at more than 70 million — is rising so
dramatically that, by some projections, China will have the world’s biggest
Christian population by 2030. The profusion of churches seems to have unnerved
some Chinese authorities, who have undertaken a campaign to tear down hundreds
of crosses, and in some instances entire churches, in Zhejiang, a coastal province
where a prosperous Christian community and large numbers of churches have taken
root. The government’s move against churches, after years of widening religious
tolerance, reflects its continued resistance to the rule of law and, with it,
the potential for any challenge to the Communist Party’s monolithic grip on
political power. The government’s insecurity revealed itself in late August
when a highly respected rights lawyer, Zhang Kai, who had taken up the cases of
dozens of churches in Zhejiang protesting the demolition of their crosses, was
detained by police. The fact that he is being held in secretive detention, with
no access to his lawyers, colleagues or family, and on trumped-up charges —
endangering state security and “assembling a crowd to disrupt social
order” — only underscores the authorities’ fretfulness. What’s more, Mr.
Zhang was seized by police just a day before he was to meet with U.S.
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David N. Saperstein,
who was in China partly to discuss the travails of Christian churches. The
detention came less than a month before Chinese President Xi Jinping is to meet
President Obama at a U.S.-China summit, so it also represents a slap at the
United States. Mr. Obama should not let it go unmentioned when Mr. Xi visits
Washington. The detention of Mr. Zhang augments a crackdown in which hundreds
of Chinese human rights lawyers have been arrested and interrogated by police
since July for having championed sensitive causes that make the government
nervous. The sweep has targeted lawyers who have represented environmental
activists; parents of children who became ill from consuming tainted powdered
milk; a Beijing research assistant for a prominent German newspaper; women’s
rights activists protesting sexual harassment; and pro-democracy campaigners,
among many others. In all, according to Amnesty International, more than 230
lawyers were detained, at least briefly, and at least two dozen were still
being held weeks later. A confident government in Beijing could surely
countenance growing civic activism whose common thread is the service of human
dignity; and indeed, China’s authoritarian system, despite its intolerance of
dissent, had allowed a proliferation of issue advocacy, at least on a
case-by-case basis, that stopped well short of threatening the regime itself. Now,
by attempting to muzzle and intimidate lawyers and activists like Mr. Zhang,
and tear down church crosses by the hundreds, the government is only drawing
attention to its tenuous legitimacy and the limits of China’s rule of law.

From The Washington Post.


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