Is Xi the new Lord and Saviour of China?
The oppression of Christians in China takes many forms. Now poor Christian villagers are urged to “replace religious artefacts in their homes with posters of the Communist Party Leader if they want to benefit from poverty-relief efforts”. Thus Nectar Gan reported in South China Morning Post, an English language Hong Kong based paper.
She wrote that “thousands of Christians in an impoverished country in rural southeast China have swapped their posters of Jesus for portraits of President Xi Jinping as part of a local government poverty relief programme that seeks to ‘transform believers in religion into believers in the party’”. The county in question is Yugan in Jiangxi province known both for its poverty as well as the large number of Christians. According to official data “more than 11 percent of its 1 million residents live below the country’s official poverty line, while nearly 10 percent of its population is Christian”.
As efforts are made to alleviate poverty, “many believers have been told to take down the images of Jesus, the crosses and the gospel couplets that form the centrepieces of their homes and hang portraits of Xi instead – a practice that hearkens back to the era of the personality cult around late chairman Mao Zedong, whose portraits were once ubiquitous in Chinese homes”. The pressure exerted on these poor Christians seems to be paying off for the government at least in some cases. One report indicated that “more than 600 villagers ‘voluntarily’ got rid of the religious texts and paintings they had in their homes and replaced them with 453 portraits of Xi”. In another area, more than 1,000 portraits of Xi had been distributed and all had been hung in homes. Elsewhere believers with gospel couplets or paintings of the cross on their front doors have had them forcibly torn down. The believers “didn’t want to take them down. But there is no way out. If they don’t agree to do so, they won’t be given their quota from the poverty relief fund”. Officials insist that Christians “still have the freedom to believe in religion, but in their minds they should [also] trust our party”. To that end, crosses are also being removed from churches in this area of China, following the pattern of cross removals elsewhere.
The attempt to replace trust in the gospel with trust in the Communist Party was blatantly expressed by one official’s comments as reported by Gan. “Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour…. After our cadres’ work, they’ll realise their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.” Another report stated: “the officials successfully ‘melted the hard ice in their [Christian] hearts’ and ‘transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party’”.
In some respects, Christians in China are in a position similar to that of Christians almost two millennia ago. The Roman Empire got nervous when Christians affirmed “Jesus is Lord!”. He is the highest authority and is to be worshipped and not the emperor. Today, the Chinese Communist Party challenges that confession by insisting that the authority to be obeyed is Xi Jinping, the President of China.
China fears the growing number of Christians. But there is relatively little they can do. According to a Reformatorisch Dagblad article, Fenggang Yang, an expert on the situation of Chinese Christians, does not think there will be a return to the open persecution of the days of Mao Zedong. It did not help and the number of Christians has continued to grow. He predicted that by 2030 China will have more Christians than America.
The Son of God continues to gather his people in China, He cannot be stopped. He is Lord!
By Cornelis Van Dam (Professor emeritus of Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. This article was also published in Clarion, March 23 2018).
Sources used: Nectar Gan, “Want to Escape Poverty? Replace Pictures of Jesus with Xi Jinping” (Nov 14, 2017) on the website of South China Morning Post; Mark Wallet, “Christendom China niet meer to stuiten” Reformatorisch Dagblad November 15, 2017