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Chinese house-church leader Zhang Yinan was arrested in a raid on his congregation
Image Source: China Aid

Christianity is officially allowed to exist in China only under the close control of the government. Christians may worship legally only as part of the national, state-controlled churches, and their activities are restricted and sometimes arbitrarily curtailed. Even members of these churches suffer discrimination; because religious belief is incompatible with membership of the Communist Party, they are barred from almost all high-level jobs.

China’s unregistered “house churches” exist in constant danger of official repression. The Communist government, suspicious of groups that are outside its control, regards them as “unstable social elements”. In an attempt to stem the growth of these independent churches, the government has prohibited their worship and closed down their buildings. Their members are subject to severe restrictions, harassment and sometimes imprisonment and violent attack; the leaders are often arrested and thrown into jail, where they may be beaten or tortured.

Zhang Yinan (pictured), a pastor of an unregistered church (“house church”) in China, was arrested on 3 June 2013 in a raid on his congregation. More than ten security officers burst into a meeting and took everyone to the police station. An order was issued to close down the church, but Pastor Zhang refused to sign it; the police also tried to pressure him into joining one of the state-controlled churches. 

The authorities also use third parties such as utility companies and landlords to pressure the churches and make their normal activities impossible. Access to Christian literature is restricted.

Christianity has a long history in China. It was first introduced no later than the sixth century, probably by Orthodox Christians. Catholics arrived in the thirteenth century, and Protestant missionaries from 1807. Under their influence the number of Christians increased rapidly, leading to waves of persecution.

All missionaries were expelled in 1949, and the Communist government sought to bring organised Christianity under state control. But during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) Christian activity was forced underground, and the house church movement was born. After restrictions were somewhat relaxed in the late 1970s the churches began to grow rapidly.

Despite worsening persecution today, increasing numbers of Chinese people are still coming to Christ. Reliable figures for Christians in China are not available. The authorities say that around 22 million worship in the state churches, while independent research puts the total number of Christians in the country at about 76 million. The real figure may be much higher.

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