Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power by force in 1949, all religions and spiritual beliefs were one of its main targets of repression. In its obsession to break with the faith-based tradition of the Chinese people and impose atheism, the CCP had no choice but to resort to violence, terror, and murder to achieve its goals.
Catholicism is no exception and for decades the millions of Chinese faithful have had to endure the violence of the gigantic state apparatus of communism obsessed with denigrating and oppressing religions, seeking to force citizens to distance themselves from the Divine.
The Italian Franciscan friars were the first to arrive in the distant lands of the East in the middle of the 13th century where they were well received by the authorities of the then Yuan dynasty.
Such was the good reception that Friar John of Monte Corvino, when he arrived in the city of Beijing in 1294, was ordained bishop under the authorization of Emperor Timur himself, founding in 1299 the first Catholic church in China.
During the following centuries the Franciscans continued to arrive in China and spread the Catholic religion throughout the territory, coexisting peacefully with local beliefs and customs.
In 1952, the Communist regime of Mao Zedong expelled the Christian missionaries and restricted the spread of Christianity throughout the national territory. Subsequently, the CCP intervened in the Chinese Catholic Church, giving rise to what it called the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), basically a Catholic church that operates to this day under the orbit and censorship of the CCP.
Previously, under the argument that “religion is the opium of the people”, Mao had temples and churches destroyed, their leaders assassinated and sacred scriptures burned.
The “underground” Church vs. the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association
Millions of Christians in China have suffered terrible persecution since the advent of communism, especially during the years of the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976.
In this context, the faithful have been divided between those who want to follow the traditional Christian belief and those who accepted the rules and censures of the CCPA.
The CCPA since its inception eliminated any relationship with the Vatican and other Catholic authorities outside China. Therefore it does not recognize the authority of the Pope, much less his right to appoint bishops. Therefore, it has become one of the many institutions of state control, which places at its discretion the authorities (bishops and priests) and has even dared to modify the sacred scriptures for its own benefit, seeking to establish that the Party must always be above faith in God.
For its part, the so-called “underground” church has continued in communion with the Vatican and following the Catholic tradition, although, as its name indicates, from the underground and under constant persecution by the intelligence system of the CCP.
The Vatican never recognized the bishops and other authorities of the CCPA, but everything changed with the arrival of Pope Francis. In 2018, the interim agreement between Beijing and the Vatican for the appointment of bishops was signed. While the terms of the agreement have been kept secret, as reported by Catholic media, the CCPA proposes several priests for the position of a bishop, from which the Pope then selects one for the appointment.
After the controversial rapprochement between Rome and the Chinese Communist regime, the Vatican encouraged the underground clergy to join the state or official church, implying in some way recognition of the CCP’s authority over ecclesiastical affairs, the Catholic news agency UCA News reported.
Most underground clergies have refused to be under CCPA orders, leading to a wave of arbitrary arrests and disappearances.
Critics point out that giving up the right to appoint bishops has formally deprived the Vatican of any moral leadership over Chinese Catholics. Moreover, it is a blatant betrayal of Catholics in the “underground” church, who have remained faithful to traditional beliefs despite being intensely persecuted by the Chinese regime for decades.
Since the signing of the agreement with China, many priests have reported harassment by civil authorities because they have refused to join the CCPA. There have even been dozens of reports showing that the CCP has demolished churches that, despite having “associated” with the CCPA, do not comply with the regulations imposed by the regime.
“Legal” Christianity in China currently functions like all other religions that are authorized; they can only and exclusively function as long as their adherents accept the process of sinicization of their beliefs that guarantee their loyalty to the Party.
The CCP imprisons, exploits, tortures and murders Christians for practicing their faith
The Communist regime has classified Christianity, without much foundation, as a “dangerous” belief imported from abroad, one of the so-called “hostile Western forces” that have infiltrated China. As a result, religious affairs authorities frequently persecute domestic churches that are not registered with the state-backed CCPA.
Recent investigations indicate that the CCP is using methods similar to those implemented with the Uighurs in Xinjiang and Buddhists in Tibet to persecute, imprison and torture Christians into abandoning their faith in God.
Christians belonging to the “underground” church in China reported being victims of routine beatings, indoctrination, and solitary confinement inflicted by the Chinese Communist regime in clandestine detention centers specifically assigned for this purpose.
A report published in April 2021 by Radio Free Asia (RFA) reveals CCP efforts to detain Christians in secret mobile facilities and pressure them to renounce their faith.
A member of a Christian house church in Sichuan, who asked to be identified under the pseudonym Li Yuese, said he was detained for 10 months after a raid on his church in 2018.
“It was a mobile facility, which could just set up in some basement anywhere,” Li Yuese said, adding, “It had its own working group of the (CCP) political and legal affairs committee, and they mainly target Christians who are members of house churches.”
He also described his confinement in a windowless room for nearly 10 months, where he suffered beatings, insults and was “mentally tortured” by staff, going so far as to self-harm by throwing himself against a wall.
Finally, when he was released he was very ill, with edema all over his body and a weight gain of 10 kilos due to diffuse edema, a type of swelling caused by fluid retention throughout the body. There are many accounts similar to Yuese’s.
Three women members of the Church of Almighty God (IDT), which is banned in China, spoke to Bitter Winter media and reported that after being detained they were forced to work 13 to 15 hours a day.
One of the prisoners said that she was often unable to meet the imposed target of creating 250 artificial flowers per day and was penalized for “sentry duty” for four to six hours almost every night. The lack of sleep caused her serious health problems.
According to testimony, in addition, the artificial flowers contained highly toxic hazardous materials and heavy metal elements such as vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, and lead, which produce adverse health effects on workers. “The gum in the artificial flowers smelled very bad and the procedures generated a lot of dust, so my hair, clothes and face were covered with dust,” one of the witnesses told Bitter Winter.
As a result, all the workers had similar symptoms such as sore throats, irritated eyes, and loss of smell and taste.
In addition to the exploitation to which many believers are exposed, they are subjected to long days of compulsory indoctrination where they are persuaded by various methods, usually violent, to abandon their faith and replace it with worship of the Communist Party. This mechanism is also repeated in the forced re-education camps where millions of Uyghurs and Tibetans are imprisoned.
Thousands of Catholic believers are sentenced to prison under the Chinese Communist regime simply for attending religious activities or keeping materials associated with their faith in their homes. Others, less fortunate, disappear from any record once they are detained and their relatives have no way of tracing them to at least know their state of health, sometimes for five, six, or even 10 years at a time, or in the worst cases, they have been missing for even longer.
According to published statistics, there are between 60 and 100 million Christians in China, divided into Protestants and Roman Catholics. Less than half of them participate in regime-sponsored churches, the rest operate clandestinely in houses, forests, and uncrowded spaces.
The Chinese Communist regime replaces Christian symbols with Communist emblems.
Those who practice the Christian faith in China and decide to do so by the “legal” way, that is, following the doctrine imposed by the CCPA, the government-controlled church, are following a “Divine” belief controlled by an organization that stands out for its radical atheism, few things are so paradoxical.
Such was the intervention of the CCP in the Chinese Christian religion that it has managed to radically modify traditional customs and rituals, which were replaced by patriotic and communist ideology.
Several churches of the Three Autonomies (evangelical church under state control) in the eastern province of Shandong, received an order from the Religious Affairs Bureau, prohibiting parishioners from singing worship or spiritual songs. Instead, participants would only be allowed to sing Hymns publicly compiled by the Two National Christian Councils of China, whose lyrics promote the political and secularized content of communism.
The director of the Qingdao Three Autonomies at the time reacted angrily, saying, “The hymns published by the government only promote political, secularized content. All believers are not willing to sing them,” Bitter Winter reported.
He then cited the lyrics of one of the songs as an example: “China is beautiful; China is great; China’s sons and daughters love China…Bless China, O Lord.”
He further stated that such stanzas have no intention of praising the Lord but the country, further saying that in essence, they are no different from modern folk songs far removed from religion: “Isn’t the government involved with dishonesty and deceit?” he said.
At the same time in Heze City, the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs convened a meeting of Christian representatives to demand that all churches establish “Christian cultural activity centers.”
In these cultural activity centers, the CCP seeks to carry out activities as diverse as the presentation of musical shows, Chinese plays, painting, calligraphy, fashion shows, and photography, with the excuse of incorporating local cultural characteristics into Christian traditions.
In this way, one can see how pulpits that once served to preach the gospel have now become propaganda for the communist party or are places that offer entertainment and dispersion activities.
In the city of Dazhongcun, believers reported that the regime had crosses taken down from numerous Three Autonomies Church temples, with the city government reportedly hiring a crane and several workers to do the job. Other religious symbols and phrases were also removed from the buildings.
Most controversially, the symbols and crosses were replaced by communist flags and signs such as the red star or the hammer and sickle.
According to reports, the growing number of religious Christians in the region alerted the government, which decided to carry out the controversial actions in an attempt to intimidate parishioners and church authorities.
The CCP turns Jesus into a murderer
Undoubtedly one of the most aberrant acts of the CCP in its attempt to “sinicize” Catholicism, was the alteration of the content of the bible to highlight certain issues and hide others that go against the communist ideology.
The bible, according to Catholics, is a compendium of teachings that were transmitted from generation to generation with a divine origin that should be unalterable. Only the impudence of regimes lacking in values such as the CCP allows them to modify its content for their own benefit.
In China, the Western Christian Bible is forbidden. Believers can only have access to its version “edited” by the government.
In September 2020 it came to light that the authorities of the Communist regime altered a Bible story, quoted in academic books, to depict Jesus Christ as a murderer, reported the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News).
The texts, published by the government-owned China University of Electronic Science and Electronic Technology, expose the adulteration of a well-known biblical passage, showing Jesus killing a woman who was committing adultery.
According to the UCA News report, what the authorities did was to change the ending of the famous Gospel story, where, in the original, Jesus intervenes when a crowd cites the law as their justification for stoning the adulteress to death.
“He who has never sinned, let him cast the first stone,” Jesus tells the angry crowd in the well-known Bible passage found in John 8:3-11.
Then, according to the Bible, those accusing her left, one by one, and finally, Jesus refuses to condemn the woman:
“Jesus stood up again and said, ‘Woman, where are they, has no one condemned you?'”
“‘No one, sir,’ she replied.”
“‘Neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus said.” ‘Go, and from this moment sin no more.'”
However, the modified Chinese version for vocational students reads:
“When the crowd disappeared, Jesus stoned the sinner to death saying ‘I am a sinner too.’ But if the law could only be executed by flawless men, the law would be dead.”
A Christian vocational teacher named Matthew Wang confirmed to UCA News that the distorted story was indeed in the academic material, which was reviewed by the Textbook Review Committee for Moral Education in Vocational Secondary Education.
While there are numerous modified passages, particularly this example demonstrates the CCP’s interest in imposing the idea that the Law is a supreme order in China, and respect for it, even above Divine laws, is crucial for normal and smooth development for the communist regime.
An interesting analysis of the issue by Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist specializing in the study of new religions, points out that the distortion of the biblical passage is part of the process of “Sinicization” promoted by the Chinese regime, which, the sociologist clarifies, does not mean incorporating more Chinese cultural aspects into Chinese Christianity, but diluting Christianity so that it is not a threat to the values of the CCP, Bitter Winter reported.
Christmas is one of the main festivities of the Catholic calendar, widely celebrated around the world, both in the West and in many Eastern regions. China is no exception and since the Catholic religion was established, its followers have celebrated the birth of Jesus.
However, the regime’s authorities have implemented strong measures in recent years to discourage Christmas celebrations. Lately, several cities, schools, and government institutions have ordered citizens not to celebrate the holiday and instead concentrate on promoting traditional Chinese culture, the British media The Guardian reported in a report.
In many cities, the regime has banned the decoration of cities with Christmas decorations and even forced commercial establishments to withdraw from sale all kinds of products alluding to Christmas.
In Changsha, in the central province of Hunan, the education bureau issued a directive to schools not to celebrate “Western festivals” such as Christmas, including putting up decorations, posting related messages or exchanging gifts.
The regime’s argument for targeting Christmas is that Western festivities allegedly harm Chinese cultural tradition. This is highly paradoxical since the Communist Party’s own atheistic ideology is against any Chinese tradition, based precisely on the belief in God/Gods and in a future beyond the earthly.
What is the Vatican doing for Christians in China?
Much criticism has arisen against the Vatican and its current leader Pope Francis, not only for not condemning the CCP’s proven persecution of Christians but also for establishing secret ties and agreements with the victimizer of history.
A recent headline in the traditional British newspaper, The Spectator, read: “Pope Francis must resign”.
The article rightly refers to thin to some of the CCP’s demands.
In the meantime, the content of the agreement remains secret, the Vatican has still not condemned the Communist regime for its atrocities, and thousands and thousands of Christians are today persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for pretending to practice their faith in China. The Vatican is silent regarding the persecution, not only of Catholics but also of other religions and spiritual beliefs by Chinese communism. It particularly condemns the secret agreement signed in 2018 and renewed in 2020, despite the fact that numerous bishops and Catholic authorities around the world, including the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, tried to contact Pope Francis to discuss the matter but were not received.
Vatican officials have justified the agreement on the grounds that the gap between the underground and official churches had to be closed for the sake of China’s faithful and that this could only be achieved by giving.