As a part of its continuing coverage on China’s increasing religious crackdown, Radio Free Asia spoke with the family of a Christian pastor sentenced to 12 years in prison. Zhang Shaojie was charged with “fraud” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order,” a move sparking concerns that the government is broadening its campaign against large religious groups.
RFA has been covering the escalation of religious intolerance, including a campaign in eastern China to remove prominent symbols of Christian worship from public places and to demolish churches. In a June interview, one Chinese Protestant worshipper told RFA reporters that some 40 churches in Pingyang and Cangnan counties have been informed that they must remove their crosses or face demolition.
“[Worshippers] don’t dare to obstruct [the authorities],” he added. “They will bring in the armed police and the riot police as soon as you get even slightly organized.”
The crackdown on a state-approved church has surprised many observers; the government officially allows Christians to worship in some sanctioned churches, while unregistered congregations tend to be focus of harassment. In May, RFA reported on two separate occasions where family church gatherings in Northern provinces were broken up by police who declared them illegal. Officers took worshippers’ names and ordered them to pray instead at government-approved churches. “But we categorically refused to do so,” one family church staff member told RFA. “They want to control us.”
In a separate interview, Yang Fenggang, director of the Center of Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in Indiana, told RFA that even established and approved churches are no longer safe due to the government’s fear of an increase in Christian influence.
“That’s why they gave the order to demolish churches, because they think it will slow the development of Protestant Christianity in China, or even halt it altogether,” he explained.
Yang told RFA reporters that the government’s campaign to curb Christianity will likely have little effect, however.
“According to current trends … by 2030 there will be more Protestants in China than there are in the United States,” he said. “China will become the country with the biggest Protestant population in the world.”