christian heartland opens window into fight for china\'s soul
In order to realize his dream of building a church, China\'s old shop owner almost waited for his entire adult life.
A brick house with a sunny courtyard and a spacious lobby for 200 followers.
But during the march, about a dozen police and local officials suddenly appeared on the property of the church and dispersed the frightened crowd.
They ordered the cross, a painting of the Last Supper and the calligraphy of the verses of the Bible to be taken down.
Owner Guo said they asked to stop all services until everyone and the church itself registered with the government.
Without any warning, Guo and his neighbors in Henan, China\'s central Christian province, found themselves on the front line of an ambitious new effort by the official atheist-ruling Communist Party --
In some cases,
The practice of faith in this country.
\"I have been praying for the leaders of our country to become stronger for our country,\" Guo said . \" Out of fear of revenge on the government, he only revealed his last name.
\"They have never been so serious since I started going to church in my 80 s.
Why are they telling us to stop now?
\"Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China\'s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, even if the country experienced a religious revival, believers saw their freedom shrink sharply.
Experts and activists say that with Xi consolidating power, he is cracking down on Christianity\'s toughest system since religious freedom was written into China\'s Constitution in 1982.
The crackdown on Christianity is part of Xi\'s broader effort to \"localize\" by injecting loyal Communist Party and other \"Chinese features\" into religion in all countries.
Islamic buildings and domes in the mosque have been demolished.
Education \"thousands of Uighur Muslims.
Children in Tibet have moved from Buddhist temples to schools and are banned from religious activities during the summer holidays.
This spring, a five
In particular, the introduction of the annual plan for the localization of Christianity, as well as new rules on religious affairs.
In the past few months, local governments across the country have closed hundreds of private Christian family churches.
Last week, 47 people in Beijing alone said they had faced unprecedented harassment since February.
The authorities also confiscated the Bible.
JD, a business retailer
Com and Taobao pulled them off the site.
In some areas, children and party members are prohibited from entering the church, and at least one township encourages Christians to replace the poster of Jesus with the portrait of Xi.
Some Christians take secret actions.
More than a dozen Chinese Protestant people interviewed by The Associated Press described the rallies that were raided, interrogated and monitored, and a pastor said hundreds of his followers were asked individually about their beliefs.
Like Guo, most people ask to keep their names in part or in whole because they are afraid of being punished by the authorities.
After a reporter visited Henan in June, some respondents said police or local officials contacted them and urged them not to discuss any new measures concerning Christianity.
For a long time, due to the connection between Christianity and Western political values, the party has been cautious about Christianity.
Jiang Tianyong, Li Heping and other Chinese human rights lawyers who have been jailed for work are outspoken Christians.
There are many relatives in Hong Kong.
Democratic activists, including Huang Jiahua, 2014 protest leader.
\"Chinese leaders have always been skeptical about the political challenges or threats that Christianity poses to the communist regime,\" said Xi Lian, a Chinese Christian scholar at Duke University.
\"Under Xi, this fear of Western penetration has intensified and gained a prominent position that we haven\'t seen for a long time.
Mr. Guo opened a small store in Binhe district selling hualimen. his eyesight was once very poor and he could not distinguish the sky from the Earth.
But at the age of 27, he found God, and he seemed to have miraculously restored his faith.
For decades, like many Christians in China, he shuttled from an unregistered family church to another church, where the folding chairs served as pews and the coffee table served as the lec corner.
Two years ago, he and 10 other Christians gathered their money and set up a permanent church on his property.
They are part of what experts call the spiritual awakening of China.
According to official statistics, the number of believers in China\'s various beliefs has doubled in the past two decades to an estimated 0. 2 billion, due to the weakening of the Communist Party\'s control.
Some 67 million Christians, including Catholics
The figure is expected to become the world\'s largest Christian population in decades.
This rapid growth has rekindled the party\'s long-standing mission of a religious assimilation that traditionally aligns with the West.
Historians believe that Christianity was known to China as early as the 7 th century, and later spread by Jesuit missionaries from 1500.
In recent decades, religion has faced severe persecution and acquiescence.
During the Cultural Revolution, Christians were imprisoned, tortured and publicly humiliated when Mao Zedong tried to eradicate all religions.
But they survived through secret action, and after Mao\'s death in 1976, their numbers grew steadily, when people disappointed with the Communist Party began to seek moral guidance elsewhere.
Chinese Christians say the Bible gives them a sense of right and wrong and the power to endure in a country where power tends to overwhelm justice.
While China\'s rapid growth has brought prosperity to many, others are desperate for what they see as a deterioration in public morality.
Scandal involving contaminated baby formula and shoddy milk has killed children
Schools built in recent years have made people feel that modern China is in a moral crisis.
\"After the communist ideology\" collapses \", there is no value system to fill the spiritual vacuum,\" writer Zhang Lijia said . \".
\"It has been precisely because of this vacuum and relaxed control that China has witnessed a religious revival in recent decades.
\"Officials have largely tolerated unregistered Christian family churches, which rose independently of the official Christian Council, and suppressed some churches while allowing other churches to develop.
But this year, they have adopted a more assertive approach, relying in part on \"ideological reform \"--
A phrase instilled in politics.
A local official said that on last November, Christian residents in a rural township in southeast Jiangxi province were persuaded to replace the cross in their home with a portrait of Xi and the poster of Jesus Christ.
Qi Yan, a member of the township Party committee, told The Associated Press by phone: \"Through our ideological reform, they volunteered to do it . \".
\"This is aimed at poor Christian families. we educate them to believe in science, not superstition, and convince them of the party.
\"The poster campaign seems to symbolize what analysts believe is the fundamental force driving change in the party\'s religious attitude: Xi\'s advantage.
\"Xi is a Mao pie.
He is very anxious about ideological control, \"said Willie Lin, a Chinese political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
\"He absolutely does not want people to be faithful members of the church, because that way people will show loyalty to the church, not to the party, or rather to Xi himself.
Several state and local officials declined requests for comment.
But in 2016, Xi made a clear warning at a religious conference that we must resolutely prevent infiltration overseas through religious means.
On April, the Ministry of Religious Affairs published an article saying that the Church must recognize the leadership of the party, which is part of the \"Chinization.
\"God\'s love can only be gained by the Hanhua church,\" the article said . \".
The government is even more active in cracking down on Christians by legal means.
A prominent Chinese church leader with permanent residency in the United States was sentenced to seven years in prison after setting up a Christian school in Myanmar.
According to US media reports, six Christians were sentenced to 13 years in prison last month for their participation in the cult. S. -
Christian nonProfit China Aid.
Chinese aid says pressure has forced dozens of priests and their families to flee to the United States in recent years.
About a year ago, the wife of a pastor under house arrest went to Midland, Texas, after authorities warned that their children might have trouble getting an education in China.
Her church members in China were banned from being baptized and even a simple Christmas service was interrupted, she said.
\"The government says we have religious freedom, but in fact there is no freedom at all,\" the pastor\'s wife said . \" She asked for anonymity for her husband\'s safety.
\"Many of our Christian brothers and sisters are frustrated and fearful.
\"Those who resist paying the price.
After Kim, a prominent pastor who led the Zion Church in Beijing, tomorrow rejected the local government\'s request to install surveillance cameras in his family church, the police separately asked hundreds of 1,500 members --
It was a personal rally, he said.
Kim said that there was an implicit threat to these aggregators, and many were asked to sign the promise to commit to leaving Zion, which government agents described as illegal, politically incorrect and cult.
Some people are out of work or are driven to rent an apartment because police intimidate their boss and landlord.
The church has been placed on the ground floor of the office building for 11 years, but property management has told Kim May that they will have to move out at the end of the summer.
Management acknowledged being affected by external pressure, Kim said.
\"A lot of us are frightened by the pressure the government has put on them,\" he said . \".
\"It is painful to think that in the capital of our own country, in order to practice our faith, we must pay such a high price.
\"_ The epicenter of the drive to control the Chinese Christian community is Henan, the cradle of Chinese civilization, and the entry point of many of the earliest foreign missionaries.
Today, the province is one of the most populous provinces in the country and a key part of Xi\'s fight against poverty, as announced by red banners on several acres of peanut farms and fields.
About when authorities ordered Guo\'s church to stop gathering in the March, his area announced a crackdown on private Christian gathering places.
On a Sunday morning, 700 religious banners were removed, 200 religious texts were confiscated, and 31 illegal Christian gathering places were closed, the announcement said.
Remove decorative reels with crosses from the home entrance.
In Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, the ruins of a house church are littered with broken glass, tangled wires and torn hymnbooks. down wall.
A wooden fork nailed to the other wall, still intact.
The church in a commercial building has served about 100 believers for many years.
But at the end of January, nearly 60 officials from local religious departments and police stations appeared without warning.
They removed the church with a chainsaw, confiscated the Bible and computers, and held some young worshippers. including a 14-year-old girl —
According to a church leader, he spent more than 10 hours at the police station.
Authorities say the church is illegal.
Church leaders say they have submitted three or four documents to the religious sector to try to register formally but have never received a response.
Now they are no longer gathering.
Church leaders pray that the government will change its mind.
\"We support President Xi,\" he said . \"
\"All we ask for is the space of our faith.
\"Xu Shijuan\'s space, a 63-year-old Seventh-
The seventh day of Christ\'s return is her living room, where she has had a family church gathering for four years.
After a group of men led by a local official ordered her to dissolve a meeting of about 24 elderly Christians, she stopped the march.
\"If you don\'t listen to our orders, the next group will be law enforcement,\" according to Xu . \".
\"They will dissolve you by force.
Xu readily agreed.
\"People have dispersed, but we have no faith,\" she told The Associated Press at her home in Zhengzhou . \".
\"The way of God is unstoppable.
The more you try to control it, the more it will grow.
\"Even new churches that have been registered in the state are not subject to greater restrictions.
On June, the reporter visited five such churches in Henan, and notices were posted at the entrance of all churches, saying that minors and party members were not allowed to enter the church.
A banner above the gate of the church warns members to \"implement the basic direction of the party\'s religious work \".
A Chinese flag was erected on the steps of another church.
According to a family Church pastor named Liu, some congregations now sing the national anthem during worship.
Another minister said his government
The approved church closed the Sunday school after receiving an order on February and canceled all children\'s activities.
In various parts of Henan, family churches that have held hundreds of gatherings have now sealed their doors and divided them into no more than a few groups.
Services announced last
Held weekly at different locations, usually under dark coats.
For a while, Guo\'s church did the same.
They avoided gathering on Sunday in order to escape the notice from the authorities.
But the members of the church are scared, and their number is reduced to 30.
Authorities have called on Guo to help gather information about his fellow Christians.
The AP reviewed his form, asking for the name, educational background and address of the priest, and the length of their loyalty and whether they were baptized.
This brick house is basically empty this summer.
Around the door frame, a roll of scrolls that once read \"God\'s love is as deep as the Sea\" leaves a tattered red outline.
\"Inside, Guo refused to remove the crosses and other decorations and told the authorities that they were in his private property.
Among them, a bright blue poster was nailed to the wall of the temple, citing the Chinese Constitution\'s commitment to religious freedom.
_ AP writer Brian Skoloff contributed to the report in Midland, Texas.