Religious groups in China are currently experiencing what has been referred to as the most severe crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution. This is a composite account constructed from real stories of Christians in China. Similar things have happened, but we have changed the details.
“Today it finally happened. As soon as I entered the lecture hall and sat down, I could feel the professor’s eyes on me. After class started she didn’t give me a second glance, but even so, when she called my name and told me to stay behind afterwards, I wasn’t surprised. I guess I’ve been expecting this for a while.
“I need to talk to you about your Bible study group”, she said.
Actually, it’s more like a discussion group. We read a passage from the Bible, and then we talk about its meaning and what we think it means for our own lives. Sometimes we talk about social issues as well, it just comes naturally. But there would be no point explaining all this to my professor. It would only make things worse.
She’s more nervous than angry, I can see. She’s under pressure too. I heard that for about a year now, colleges and schools have been instructing teachers to check up on their students’ religious beliefs. They’re being held responsible for any religious activities in the college, and have to report back on their ‘performance’ – i.e. what they’ve done to stop it.
My professor ends by telling me to pause the Bible study meetings, and close down our group chat for a while. It’s an instruction, not a request, but nevertheless there’s a note of pleading in her voice. She knows this is all ridiculous: a few years ago, she was encouraging us to think for ourselves and discuss our own ideas about society. Now, she just sticks to the textbook. She has to protect herself, and perhaps she’s trying to protect me too.
I agree to stop the meetings and close the chat group, but I hope it’s only temporary. When I tell the other group members, a couple of them have already received the same message from their professors, and one was actually threatened with suspension if we were caught reading the Bible on campus. We decide to meet at Dawei’s house. His parents are both Christian so they won’t mind. We agree not to talk about the group outside our small circle of friends.”
Things are changing fast and who knows what it will be like in a few years?
“Last Friday we met at Dawei’s house. It was a really good time! Dawei’s father is a pastor and he joined our group and then shared his own ideas about the Bible passage. He even talked about the social problems in China today and how we needed to rebuild social trust and a sense of citizenship. A lot of what he said made sense. I didn’t understand all of it – after all, we’re different generations so we’re bound to think differently. A couple of times he mentioned something that happened in the late 80s in Beijing and a few other places, but I didn’t really understand, and Dawei’s mum told him to be quiet. But overall it was a great meeting.
At the end, though, another member of our group, Fei Fei, told us her parents were pressuring her to join the Party. They are both Party members and they have some good connections. They’ve been pushing Fei Fei to join for a while, so she gets the best job opportunities after graduation. But we all know why Fei Fei is hesitating. Party members aren’t allowed to follow any religion. Before, it was possible to be a Party member and a Christian, and the Party just turned a blind eye. Actually there were quite a few people like that. But things are changing fast and who knows what it will be like in a few years? I think Fei Fei is right to be careful, but that means going against her parents’ wishes… There are no easy answers.”
“I can’t believe it… Something terrible has happened…
This morning I got a message from Dawei asking me to meet him at the playing field. The moment I saw his face, I knew something was very wrong.
“My Dad’s been arrested,” he said. I couldn’t take it in.
It turned out Dawei’s dad’s church has been shut down by the authorities. I always knew it was a house church – so technically illegal – but I’ve never really thought of it like that. It’s just The Mountaintop Church, another house church, mostly made up of young office workers and some teachers and doctors. There’s even a few government workers. They don’t stage big rallies or anything like that, they just hold meetings and run a few charity groups, helping poor people who need medical care, that sort of thing. The church has been around for years, since I was a little girl… Why would they be shut down?
It gets worse, though. Dawei’s father and the church’s other pastor and accountant have all been arrested. Dawei doesn’t know the charge yet, but the police took all the Christian books from their apartment and warned them not to put anything online or talk to the international media. Dawei’s mum has found a good lawyer, one who’s defended churches in the past, but someone warned his boss that he’ll lose his lawyers’ license if he takes this case.
I could see Dawei was scared but also angry and determined, and I’m starting to feel the same way.
It feels like the walls are closing around us. But if that’s true, surely now is the time to push back? The question is, how?”
By CSW’s China Researcher
Click here to stand up and speak out for those currently facing China’s crackdown on religion.