China Launches New Crackdown on Unofficial Churches

Head of ChinaAid discusses state-mandated religious oppression in China

Bob Fu / AP
November 1, 2013

China’s communist government launched a new crackdown on unofficial Christian churches in October, claiming the groups are illegal for operating outside of government control, according to a Chinese dissident.

Bob Fu, head of a Christian activist group ChinaAid and a house church leader once based in China, said a secret directive was issued in October by the State Council, the Communist Party-controlled central government organ, that calls for closing down, and in some cases destroying, residences used by Christians who hold unofficial church services and meetings.

"This is being conducted right now," Fu said in an interview with the Free Beacon. "They are disrupting churches, destroying them and detaining leaders. They are cutting off electricity and water to some and it’s multiplying."

The directive is aimed at so-called "illegal" Christian activity and specifically targets the underground churches that are flourishing in officially atheist China.

Anti-religious crackdowns have been going on in China since Mao Zedong took over the country in 1949.

However, Fu says this crackdown will be a failure like earlier persecution campaigns.

"This tool will once again prove to be a failure in terms of their goal of eradicating the independent church," Fu said. "It will only make the churches stronger and prosperous and thriving with more revivals. And it will further weaken the Chinese government international by their targeting these peaceful worship services."

For the past several years, the Chinese government has launched crackdowns on house churches, in some cases using bulldozers to raze buildings. The campaigns frequently coincide with the Christmas season.

Fu, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests that were crushed by Chinese military forces, was in Washington to testify before Congress on China’s human rights abuses.

He is also promoting his new book, "God’s Double Agent," a memoir that reveals how he converted from atheist to Christian in 1989. The title was taken from the fact that Fu in China taught English during the day in a communist school and at night led home Bible studies.

He was imprisoned for his religious activities in 1996. After release he escaped Beijing and stayed in a series of house churches with his pregnant wife who was facing government-mandated forced abortion for violating China’s one-child policy.

Fu escaped to Hong Kong where he stayed until shortly before its reversion form British to Chinese rule in 1997. He eventually settled in the United States and launched ChinaAid in 2002.

He helped developing the house church movement in China that sought to serve millions of Christians who opposed government-controlled Christian churches.

"In government-sanctioned churches, the leaders are political appointee and some are Communist Party members who are more interested in regulating and controlling than preaching the Gospel," he said.

China is currently experiencing a Christian revival, Fu said, with estimates of the number of Christians between 68 million and 90 million.

Unofficial church worshippers outnumber official church members by about two to one. There are an estimated 20 million to 30 million official church members and 40 million to 65 million unofficial Christians.

Fu said religious freedom in China today is "rapidly deteriorating."

"There is persecution toward house churches, with a number of house church leaders arrested and indicted," he said.

Recently a dozen unofficial church leaders were given seven-year prison terms for organizing peaceful worship services.

China’s communist rulers are conducting the crackdown under the rubric of "social stability maintenance." Chinese leaders fear the increasing prosperity of average Chinese citizens will lead to demands for political change that they believe will be destabilizing and undermine Party control.

Fu said one sign of that policy is the fact that the government budget for domestic police and service services is larger than China’s national defense budget, which the Pentagon estimates is in the equivalent of $100 billion to $150 billion annually.

China’s government also has tried to make it more difficult for Christians outside China to provide support, including financial backing, to China’s Christians, Fu said.

"One criteria of the crackdown is that people are targeted if they are deemed to have relations with foreigners, especially financial relations," he said.

Still, Fu says that Chinese churches are growing strong and becoming more financially independent.

Unofficial churches rent facilities for secret church services in larger cities.

"The Chinese government knows this but there are just too many people for them to round up everybody," Fu said.

Also, with the global financial downturn, the number of philanthropists who are supporting Chinese Christians has declined, he said.

Asked what should be done, Fu said it is up to the Chinese to press for religious freedom.

"Ultimately, freedom has to be fought domestically by the Chinese themselves," he said.

However, Fu said all who favor religious freedom should "provide a voice" for the persecuted believes.

"People should speak up in support of those who are rounded up for simply organizing peaceful services and given seven-year [prison] sentences," he said. "And the Chinese government should not be rewarded."

Fu also urged business leaders to pressure China economically to respect religious freedom.

Fu believes the Obama administration in particular has not done enough to press for religious freedom in China. For example, President Barack Obama has met with fewer Chinese human rights activists than his two earlier predecessors.

"He has not met one dissident leader in his second term," Fu said.

Fu said during his congressional testimony that, in addition to the recent anti-house church crackdown, Chinese authorities are engaged in a program designed to "strictly purge opinions voiced on the Internet and other peaceful public forums."

"There has been a huge increase in the number of cyber police officers in China," Fu told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, global health and global human rights on Tuesday.

"The Golden Shield project, the so-called Great Firewall of China strictly shield overseas websites that the Chinese communists think are sensitive, and many netizens have been summoned or detained just because they talk about civil society, the constitutionalism."