China’s central government has intensified its crackdown on Christianity in recent months by pressuring local government officials to keep a count on the number of citizens who believe in God and to monitor them, according to a new report.
The CCP (Communist Party of China) even is threatening the officials in towns and villages with repercussions if the number is wrong. Three government officials in Yongcheng city in Henan province were suspended in April when their report to the government was too low.
“The government is taking the matter of religion very seriously now,” an unidentified local government official in the province of Henan told Bitter Winter, a watchdog that monitors religious freedom in the country. “Every day, they ask us how many people in our village believe in God. If we say there aren’t any believers, they claim that we’re concealing what we know and failing to report it.
“If it is determined that we didn’t report the situation truthfully, we will be punished. Now, we have to report our work to the township government twice a day. We also need to fill out a form in the evening. We’re so busy that we don’t have any free time at all.”
The three local officials eventually were reinstated.
“Special attention is paid to this work. It’s like our lives are being threatened,” a local official said. “After reporting someone, we have to restrict their movements and report their situation every day.”
This local official who spoke to Bitter Winter said Beijing fears the number of Christians is growing too fast and that believers may undercut the CCP’s message -- or even overthrow the central government.
Beijing believes “measures must be taken, and the number of believers cannot be allowed to continue growing,” the local official said.
Followers of Buddhism and Taoism also are monitored.
Central government officials use a message platform, WeChat, to share information about Christians and followers of other religions. For example, during last year’s Dormition of the Mother of God – a Catholic feast day on Aug. 15 – local government officials were told to monitor citizens who were Catholic. A Catholic woman who was taking a bus to a nearby city to celebrate the feast was intercepted and returned home, according to an official in the province of Jiangxi.
“Government officials have a WeChat group,” the official in Jiangxi told Bitter Winter. “Everything is sent to it: the latest orders from higher authorities, the status of regular inspections of religious venues, photos of believers and their movements during religious holidays, activities in closed down meeting venues. Superior officials can easily ascertain the religious situation in local areas. They can even deal with any matter, regardless of importance, and conduct remote real-time monitoring.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Chuttersnap/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.