The Chinese Communist Party is taking extreme measures to shut down house churches and places of worship in order to halt the fast-growing number of believers in the country, according to Bitter Winter, a magazine about “religious liberty and human rights in China.”
A Chinese underground church is shut down by forceImage source: YouTube screenshot
One major crackdown method has been tasking local governmental authorities to monitor people of faith in their jurisdictions, the magazine said, adding that they’re “forced to take personal responsibility for any failure.”
‘We have to report our work to the township government twice a day’
“The government is taking the matter of religion very seriously now. 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,” a grassroots-level official in the central province of Henan told Bitter Winter. “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.”
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According to residents of Henan’s Yongcheng city, three local government officials were suspended from their duties this April, after it was determined that the number of believers they have reported to higher authorities was not in accord with the reality. They were reinstated later after pleading for leniency. Severe punitive measures are forcing grassroots-level governments to intensify their crackdown on religion. After this incident, all officials in Yongcheng made an all-out effort to investigate the situation of believers in their jurisdiction.
“Special attention is paid to this work. It’s like our lives are being threatened,” a local official added to Bitter Winter. “After reporting someone, we have to restrict their movements and report their situation every day.”
That same official told the magazine that higher authorities said in a recent meeting that the government fears resistance, possibly even an overthrow, from the uptick in number of believers — and because of that “measures must be taken, and the number of believers cannot be allowed to continue growing.”
The pastor of a Chinese underground church, which meets in his house, prays for churches shut down by the communist governmentImage source: YouTube
Required signing of one-year responsibility statements to suppress religion
Local officials in the eastern province of Shandong were required to sign one-year responsibility statements to suppress religion, Bitter Winter said, which ensure there are “no neglected areas and spots” regarding non-licensed Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian venues.
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For religious venues that have been shut down, close attention must be paid to their developments to “attain a timely grasp of the dynamics of key relevant personnel, and prevent them from rebounding and reviving.” As for newly established religious venues, they must be investigated and dealt with promptly and “prevented from evolving and gaining momentum.”
A 100-point scoring system has been adopted for performance evaluations. For example, 20 points would be deducted for each religious venue that resumes activities after closure or new sites are established.
Under this high-pressure responsibility system, local governments held meetings, one after another, demanding employees to focus on rooting out house church meeting venues, which has resulted in an increased number of reported and suppressed places of worship.
Officials in other regions have also been required to sign similar “religious work responsibility statements.”
Technology on the rise
An official in the southeastern province of Jiangxi told Bitter Winter that all levels of the government use messaging platforms to disseminate information and supervise suppression campaigns.
“Government officials have a WeChat group,” an official noted to the magazine. “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.”
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The official gave an example. During last year’s Dormition of the Mother of God, celebrated by Catholics on August 15, relevant grassroots-level officials received a notification in advance to pay close attention to the movements and whereabouts of believers and promptly report any situations that may arise on the day of the feast. A Catholic believer was taking a bus to a nearby city for the celebration that day, when local officials intercepted her on orders from the higher-ups to detain anyone planning to celebrate Mary’s Assumption. The woman was taken back home and admonished. The entire operation was coordinated in real-time by superior officials.
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