How many Christians live in China

"China wants to keep the number of Christians small"

pro: China's score on the World Tracking Index has increased from 57 to 70 since 2018. How did that happen?

Markus Rode: On February 1, 2018, a new religious ordinance came into force in China. It provides for a strong control and restriction of all Christian activities in the country. Since then, the freedom for Christians to live their faith has been increasingly restricted. In the last year alone, more than 5,500 churches and ecclesiastical institutions were closed or destroyed.

Xi Jinping has only been President of the People's Republic of China since 2013, but is already considered the most important politician since Mao. What is his role in persecuting Christians?

No other politician since Mao has seized as much power as Xi Jinping. He rules like a dictator and aims to maintain and expand this power. In order to strengthen the communist system, he wants to force all citizens of the country under this system. Christians in particular, who have not bowed to the communist regime in the past, are in the crosshairs of the digital surveillance techniques with which the communist party wants to gain access to their personal areas of faith and life. Those who do not obey Xi's directives can expect to be detained in re-education camps.

The "Sinization", as Xi wants it, means the adaptation to the Chinese culture. Christians suffer from it. Does the Christian Faith Not Match Chinese Culture?

Since the Cultural Revolution under Mao, the number of Christians has exploded. With more than 90 million, there are more Christians in the country than members of the communist party. Since Xi Jinping cannot simply eliminate 90 million Christians or put them in prison, he is trying to change the faith of Christians and the churches so that they become part of communist ideology - this includes a new translation of the Bible, interpreted by the regime according to communist guidelines. Crosses in the churches have to be removed and replaced with portraits of Mao and Xi. The national anthem must be sung at the beginning of the service.

For many years, parts of the members of the Communist Party and the authorities realized that Christians are valuable citizens of the country; they are honest, hard-working and reliable and often socially committed. But Xi sees them as a threat to his position of power. He demands complete submission. However, because Christians worship Jesus as their Lord and God, they are considered enemies.

According to official figures, 2.5 percent of the Chinese are Christians, which corresponds to just under 35 million. Open Doors speaks of at least 90 million. How is the information obtained?

More than two thirds of Christians in China belong to the unregistered house or underground churches that emerged at the time of the great persecution of Christians, when Christians under Mao had to secretly live their faith. There are also the state-registered churches of the Protestant three-self movement, and the Catholic Patriotic Association. Apparently only the members of the state churches are taken into account in the official figures. The regime wants to keep the number of Christians small.

Is the communist leadership afraid of too great a Christianity?

Christians remained loyal to Jesus even under the greatest persecution. Their number has even increased. The regime tries to stop this growth. In the future, according to the new “social credit system”, every single citizen will be screened and evaluated completely digitally. In this way, the regime wants to gain access to people through rewards or sanctions in order to control their attitudes and thinking in its own way. For example, pensioners in several provinces were written to with the threat that their state pensions would be severely reduced if they continued to profess Jesus. Children and adolescents under the age of 18 in particular are forbidden to take part in Christian events, as the opportunity to shape them is greatest at this age.

There are increasing reports of government surveillance programs in China that look like something out of a science fiction film. What techniques does the government use?

Surveillance in China, for example, is almost ubiquitous with millions of cameras and is constantly being expanded and optimized. This is also experienced by Christians, who are forced to install cameras in their worship rooms. Now biometric facial recognition software is to be used more and more there. That doesn't sound like science fiction to me, but like the preliminary stage of the fulfillment of the prophecy from Revelation 13: 16-18. There it says that people have to have a sign made on their right hand or forehead, without which nobody can buy or sell.

Is the communist leadership afraid of too great a Christianity?

Christians remained loyal to Jesus even under the greatest persecution. Their number has even increased. The regime tries to stop this growth. In the future, according to the new “social credit system”, every single citizen is to be digitally screened and assessed. In this way, the regime wants to gain access to people by means of rewards or sanctions in order to control their attitudes and thinking in its own way. For example, pensioners in several provinces were written to with the threat that their state pensions would be severely reduced if they continued to profess Jesus. Children and adolescents under the age of 18 in particular are forbidden to take part in Christian events, as the opportunity to shape them is greatest at this age.

There are increasing reports of government surveillance programs in China that look like something out of a science fiction film. What techniques does the government use?

Surveillance in China, for example, is almost ubiquitous with millions of cameras and is constantly being expanded and optimized. This is also experienced by Christians, who are forced to install cameras in their worship rooms. Now biometric facial recognition software is to be used more and more there. That doesn't sound like science fiction to me, but like the preliminary stage of the fulfillment of the prophecy from Revelation 13: 16-18. There it says that people have to have a sign made on their right hand or forehead, without which nobody can buy or sell.

German politicians must not fall silent

What does this mean for Christians in China?

Since 2017, the government has closed many churches and their institutions; last year that was more than 5,500. Pastors are being monitored and pressured to stop serving. Quite a few were arrested. Church growth should be limited by all means. Several large house churches have closed their Sunday services, and Christians are meeting again in small groups. As one Christian described it: “This new era of control and intimidation is also an opportunity for the Church. Christians must learn to respond to persecution in the spirit of the Bible. The younger generation has never seen such pressure before. We also need to learn to follow Jesus in small groups. It is as if God is recalibrating the foundations of the church to prepare it for a period of further growth amid increasing persecution. "

German entrepreneurs and politicians regularly warn China to respect human rights. They do business with them anyway - also because they want to keep jobs in Germany. Do you understand that? What do you want from politics in relation to China?

The German and Chinese economies are so closely intertwined that it is hardly possible to dismantle these relationships. It is crucial that the economic power of China does not exert such a great influence on our politicians and government that their voices become ever quieter or fall silent.

It is therefore all the more important, especially in the dynamic of increasing persecution, to point out the increasing situation of persecution in a much louder and more targeted manner and to demand compliance with religious freedom. Because, as an economic power, China has a great interest in being in a good position in the global community.

What can Christians in Germany do to support their fellow believers in China?

Many Christians in China remember persecution from the Mao era. They have learned to intensify prayer in the toughest persecution. That is why they ask us to pray with them. To do this, we need to stay informed about their situation. For this purpose, Open Doors has made current prayer requests and relevant information available on the website. It is also helpful to write to politicians and thank editors for supporting articles.

Thank you for the interview.

What does this mean for Christians in China?

Since 2017, the government has closed many churches and their institutions; last year that was more than 5,500. Pastors are being monitored and pressured to stop serving. Quite a few were arrested. Church growth should be limited by all means. Several large house churches have closed their Sunday services, and Christians are meeting again in small groups. As one Christian described it: “This new era of control and intimidation is also an opportunity for the Church. Christians must learn to respond to persecution in the spirit of the Bible. The younger generation has never seen such pressure before. We also need to learn to follow Jesus in small groups. It is as if God is recalibrating the foundations of the church to prepare it for a period of further growth amid increasing persecution. "

German entrepreneurs and politicians regularly warn China to respect human rights. They do business with them anyway - also because they want to keep jobs in Germany. Do you understand that? What do you want from politics in relation to China?

The German and Chinese economies are so closely intertwined that it is hardly possible to dismantle these relationships. It is crucial that the economic power of China does not exert such a great influence on our politicians and government that their voices become ever quieter or fall silent.

It is therefore all the more important, especially in the dynamic of increasing persecution, to point out the increasing situation of persecution in a much louder and more targeted manner and to demand compliance with religious freedom. Because, as an economic power, China has a great interest in being in a good position in the global community.

What can Christians in Germany do to support their fellow believers in China?

Many Christians in China remember persecution from the Mao era. They have learned to intensify prayer in the toughest persecution. That is why they ask us to pray with them. To do this, we need to stay informed about their situation. For this purpose, Open Doors has made current prayer requests and relevant information available on the website. It is also helpful to write to politicians and thank editors for supporting articles.

Thank you for the interview.

The interview was conducted in writing.

The questions were asked by Nicolai Franz.