In a recent case of religious persecution, Pastor Yang Xibo and his wife, Wang Xiaofei, leaders of the Xunsiding Church in China, have been fined a staggering amount of 400,000 yuan (approximately $55,100) by the Chinese government for organizing religious activities. This incident highlights the ongoing crackdown on unregistered churches in China, a grim reality faced by many Christians in the country.
The Xunsiding Church, located in Xiamen, is the largest house church in the city. House churches are Christian congregations that have not registered with China’s official Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. The Chinese government’s relentless efforts to suppress these unregistered churches have resulted in fines, bans, and persecution.
For Pastor Yang Xibo, this is not the first time he has faced such adversity. Coming from a family of ministers, both his father and aunt were imprisoned for refusing to join the state-sanctioned Three-Self Church. Despite the hardships, Pastor Yang remains resolute in his faith and sees his role in the affliction as a part of God’s plan.
The Xunsiding Church has faced continuous harassment from the Chinese government. It was first banned and fined in May 2019, with police surrounding the church and subjecting its members to 30 days of harassment. The congregation has been forced to shift venues frequently, as the authorities monitor and raid their gatherings, even resorting to the destruction of private property.
This crackdown on unregistered churches is part of a larger campaign against religious groups in China. Under President Xi Jinping’s government, only five religious groups are officially permitted to practice their faith, tightly regulated and monitored by the state. This restriction on religious freedom has led to the imprisonment, torture, and financial suffocation of Chinese Christians.
Recent revelations have shed further light on the coercive tactics employed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to control and manipulate religion within the country. A new report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlights the extent to which the CCP utilizes government-sanctioned faith organizations to enforce its political agenda and suppress religious freedom.
According to the report, the CCP interferes with various aspects of faith groups, including rewriting religious texts and altering sermons to align with state propaganda and further the party’s objectives. By imposing such measures, the CCP aims to ensure that religious organizations serve as conduits and endorsers of state propaganda, thus facilitating the implementation of its religious policies, particularly the coercive sinicization campaign.
Ironically, these state-controlled religious organizations become both agents of manipulation and victims of repression. USCIRF warns that their integral involvement in the CCP’s systematic violation of religious freedom makes them complicit in the government’s egregious actions. However, these organizations also suffer from the CCP’s policies, as they are deprived of the genuine practice of religion without state interference. Any perceived disloyalty or public disagreement with the CCP and government can result in severe punishment for these religious organizations.
To exercise firm control over religion in China, the CCP relies on seven state-controlled groups in addition to the government and the party itself. These organizations, including the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the China Christian Council, and the Islamic Association of China, oversee and manage the five officially recognized religions in the country.
Religious groups belonging to these officially recognized religions are required to register with the government, while independent groups that refuse to join these state-controlled organizations often face repression. USCIRF emphasizes that the CCP exploits these religious organizations as a means to achieve political ends rather than genuinely protecting religious freedom. Consequently, these organizations must demonstrate patriotism in all their teachings and activities, with political loyalty to the CCP being deeply embedded in their bylaws.
The report further reveals that officially recognized faith groups in China are legally obligated to enforce state laws, often at the expense of the religious communities they claim to represent. They are subject to continuous supervision, monitoring, and control by relevant CCP and government agencies, extending to matters such as religious school management, places of worship, clergy selection, and leadership positions. Noncompliance with state directives can result in severe penalties, ranging from suspension to administrative or criminal punishment.
Christianity, Islam, and Tibetan Buddhism, in particular, are viewed with suspicion by Chinese authorities due to perceived Western influence and infiltration. Underground Catholic congregations and the Protestant house church movement are specifically targeted as threats. Nevertheless, the CCP’s response to such perceived threats is to exert even greater control. State-controlled religious organizations regularly organize meetings and issue directives to ensure compliance with the CCP’s religious policies. Many state-sanctioned places of worship have been transformed into propaganda centers, where the CCP’s ideology and policies are enforced through the display of Communist propaganda posters, despite the violation of religious principles.
The report highlights that ministers within state-sanctioned religious organizations face additional pressures. They are compelled to incorporate CCP ideology and policies into their sermons or speeches, further blurring the line between religious teachings and state propaganda.
China’s sinicization efforts, aimed at assimilating religious practices into a Chinese cultural framework, have had a profound impact on people of faith, as outlined by USCIRF. Religious organizations affiliated with the state have been involved in altering, censoring, and controlling the content of religious texts, doctrines, sermons, and hymns to align them with the CCP’s interpretation of religion and its political objectives. Furthermore, the state has undertaken demolition campaigns to remove or modify places of worship and religious symbols deemed foreign or insufficiently sinicized.
Any form of protest against these policies is met with harsh reprisals, according to USCIRF. State-sanctioned places of worship have been subjected to demolition, and religious leaders who resist government policies run the risk of official punishment.
Welcome to the totalitarianism of the Chinese Communist Party.