As millions of American shoppers fill stores looking for last-minute bargains, millions of people half-way across the world prepare to celebrate Christmas in secret. According to news reports, China has become the world’s largest producer of Christmas goods, yet the people of China are not free to worship as they see fit. How ironic that many of the modern Christmas symbols are made in a country where millions are persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Trying to keeps its strangle-hold on the people, the communist party opposes anything that could challenge its power including religious movements such as Christianity. But the Chinese government is not winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the common people. During 50 years of Communist rule, the Christian Church in China has grown from around one million believers in 1949 to 70-80 million today. The influence of the Christian gospel grows with each attempt by the Chinese communist party to stamp out authentic Christian fellowships.
The problem has become so bad that even mainstream news agencies are recognizing the issue. The Agence France Press and the Associated Press both carried stories highlighting “China’s dilemma with Christianity.” On one hand, China wants to sell goods into the U.S. market, including Christmas products. But it does not want to give the Christian church enough room to pose any significant threat to the current ruling government. The Chinese government can’t appear too unfriendly to Christmas or Christian beliefs because it might stir a backlash against Chinese goods.
The Agence France Press (AFP) wrote, “Millions of Christians who belong to ‘underground churches’ will celebrate Christmas shivering in farm fields or quietly singing hymns in parishioners’ homes, praying the Chinese police will not hear. China’s embrace of Christmas as a tool to boost consumer spending and its continuing suppression of Christian worship outside government control stand in especially sharp contrast this year.”
The Chinese government bulldozes churches, harasses peaceful citizens, imprisons and tortures religious leaders, and even kills some Christians. At the same time, they try to put on a good face to the American public so that they will keep on buying products made in China from Wal-Mart, Target or Sears. Persecution goes well beyond just Christians. People in China desiring to worship practically any major world religion face obstacles or even outright government persecution.
The AFP article claimed that underground churches attract far more believers than the official Christian church recognized by the Chinese Communist Party. Hua Huiqi, a Beijing-based Christian activist, explained that he went to patriotic churches for five years, but never felt moved. He said, “They are always toting the government line. When I went to underground churches and heard the sermons, I was in tears,” Hua said. “They spoke with passion about their belief.”
While Americans revel in their freedom, Hua will celebrate this Christmas at an underground church in Beijing’s suburbs. Others will rent rooms in restaurants under the guise of holding banquets or use their offices.
Christopher Bodeen of the Associated Press wrote, “But for members of China’s unofficial Christian congregations, this is a season of fear as communist authorities crack down on unauthorized worship, detaining activists and bulldozing churches.” One leader of an underground church was quoted as saying, “Everyone is scared now. This Christmas will be tougher than usual.”
Bodeen went on to write, “The contrast between the crackdown and the Christmas celebrations highlights Chinese authorities’ desire to isolate religious dissenters while exploiting the holiday’s commercial potential… China’s government allows worship only in government-monitored churches, temples and mosques. But tens of millions of believers belong to unauthorized churches, where clergy and members are frequently harassed and detained.”
During this holiday season, remember those around the world that do not enjoy the same freedoms that you do. Lift them up in prayer and consider standing up for whatever beliefs you have. No matter your particular faith – most Americans can agree that the policies of the Chinese government are atrocious. Consider writing your elected officials or even better boycott products made in China. Contact major U.S. companies, especially retailers, and encourage them to pressure the Chinese government to allow for greater religious freedom. Next time you go shopping look for the made in China label and ask yourself, ‘Can I buy that in faith?’