OpinionMeister

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Christianity in China

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on the spread of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, both official, state-controlled churches and underground churches, in China. Link. (subscription required)
SHANGSHUI, China -- From a factory in this small city, Su Xueling's company churned out blocks of instant noodles that are a fast-food staple across this country.

But these noodles had a mission. Stamped with the company's brand, "Gospel Noodles," they announced Ms. Su's faith in a country that frowns upon religion. Ms. Su then used her modest profits, as well as government connections, to start a seminary that trained hundreds of evangelical preachers to spread Christianity across China.

"I wanted to do something to pay back God," says Ms. Su, 46 years old. "So I decided to run my business to spread my religion."

Using private profit to spread religion may seem unremarkable in places like the U.S., where freedom of religious expression is a given. But in China, government regulations limit the circulation of Bibles, proscribe the public display of religious symbols and forbid public proselytizing. Ms. Su's decision was a bold step that set her on a collision course with China's communist government, which is trying both to accommodate the rise of Christianity -- and control it.

A wave of religious revival that washed across the largely poor countryside in the 1990s is pouring into the cities, sweeping up entrepreneurs, professors and business professionals. In a nation of 1.3 billion people, Protestants and Catholics now number more than 45 million, in the conservative estimates of foreign scholars and missionaries, up from six million 25 years ago. Protestant groups account for the largest share of the growth.

With social standing, entrepreneurial flair and money, these new converts are less cowed by government authority and are becoming a force in Christianity's rise in China. The situation is stretching the boundaries of official tolerance and loosening the Communist Party's influence over a growing population.

President Hu Jintao told a closed-door gathering of the party elite in September that religion represents a leading threat to communist rule, along with democracy activists, according to people briefed on the speech. The government's information office says that characterization isn't accurate, but wouldn't elaborate, saying the speech wasn't for public circulation.

In a dictatorship, especially a totalitarian one, there must be no intermediary groups, only the government and the people. The inability of the Soviets to destroy or fully control the Catholic Church in Poland played an important role in its eventual loss of that satellite, and the beginning of a row of dominoes that led to its own demise.

Churches and seminaries being funded totally outside of the government's sphere is a step that is totally incompatible with a totalitarian dictatorship. At the least, the Chinese government, if they cannot stop these developments, will be forced to become a "merely" authoritarian dictatorship, which allows leeway to its people in all aspects of life other than political. When the Communists control the government, but non-governmental churches control the people's souls, the Communists' days will be numbered.

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