ChinaAid was founded in 2002 as a human rights and religious freedom advocacy group in response to the announcement of a death sentence for five Chinese house church leaders.
A focus of the ChinaAid report is the Chinese government’s new campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity.
“Throughout the year, ChinaAid observed escalated instances of religious oppression, driven by the government’s campaign to develop ‘religion with Chinese characteristics’,” the NGO said.
Crosses and church buildings have been destroyed, and resisters are arrested. Christians are forced to sing nationalistic songs as part of their worship services and face social disabilities, harassment, and imprisonment.
Some provincial officials have removed all Christian symbols from buildings and banned children under 18 from entering churches.
“Government officials even condemned the behavior of teaching children to sing hymns at home as ‘illegal’,” ChinaAid said.
Government agencies ban the publication and sale of unauthorized Bibles and Christian books. New textbook editions of some literary classics, including the Hans Christian Anderson story The Little Match Girl and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, are stripped of references to God or the Bible.
Some efforts to control Christianity are systematic and national in scope. Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The sinizication of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.
Wang Yang, the president of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, attended a Feb. 1, 2019 gathering of religious leaders. The conference said sinicization would include establishing Chinese characteristics for religious ideological systems, institutional structures, and ceremonial styles.
At a Nov. 26 meeting with religious leaders, the consultative conference discussed how to “use core socialist values to guide religious groups to reinterpret religious doctrine to ensure that it meet the requirements of the progressing times.” Wang’s speech emphasized the gradual development of a religious ideological system that shows Chinese characteristics and adapts religion to socialist society. The meeting required the comprehensive re-evaluation of religious canon and re-interpretations to better fit Chinese authorities’ vision of progress, ChinaAid reported.
In 2018 Chinese authorities outlined a five-year sinicization plan for official Protestant groups, the Chinese Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, as well as a five-year plan outlined through 2022 for “promoting adherence to the path of sinicization of Catholicism,” under the auspices of the CPCa.
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There are similar plans for the other official religious groups of China, including Islam, Taoism, and Buddhism.
Pilot sites in Hubei province have implemented requirements for religious sites regarding the national flag, “core socialist values,” “excellent traditional Chinese culture,” and other laws and rules. The rules bar illegal publications, “superstitious activities,” training sessions against government rules, and the inclusion of minors in religious activities.
Some Catholic priests and bishops have been detained by authorities, as have other Christian ministers and laity.
Some unofficial Catholic churches have been demolished, as have official Catholic churches ruled to have displayed religious logos in a too-conspicuous manner. Protestant churches have suffered similar fates, including some house church congregations. Some facilities have been confiscated and repurposed for community centers.
On Sept. 10, the CPCA and the Bishops Conference of the Church in China issued a joint statement requiring the flying of the national flag, the singing of the national anthem, and prayers for blessings on China. The bodies also required a post-activity report.
ChinaAid’s report draws on information from church leaders, church staff, ordinary Christians from house churches and state-run Three-Self Churches.