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CHINA: The Land of the State Church, “Black Jails,” and Forced Abortions

Catholicism in China

Public Domain

Harry Wu - published on 05/21/13

The persecution of the Church in China in its many dimensions and what must be done

The complicated relationship between China and the Catholic Church is historically rooted in old missionary expeditions and has had an enduring impact on Chinese culture through the centuries. The legacy of pioneering Jesuits in dynastic China, who arrived in there as early as the 16th century, spawned revolution and nourished the souls of countless Chinese. Wary of this transformative force, the Chinese Communist Party sought to tightly control the spread of Christianity in the wake of economic reforms implemented in the early 1980s that exposed China to international influences. Despite such efforts, Catholicism has emerged as a powerful movement in a culture yearning for spiritual fulfillment after decades of communist rule decimated China’s rich traditional religious foundations. Although Catholicism has enriched the lives of tens of millions of Chinese converts, Catholics who proclaim allegiance to the Vatican over officially sanctioned churches face intense persecution.

The political turmoil that ravaged China during the 20th century created the conditions for the current Catholic revival. This return to faith arose out of the spiritual void that engulfed China following the brutality and madness of Mao Zedong’s various political campaigns, which exposed the moral bankruptcy of Maoist ideology. Today, one would be hard-pressed to find genuine believers in Maoist thought, the ideological foundation of communist China, among even Communist Party members. The Communist Party was, however, successful at decimating China’s indigenous religious traditions; one would likely also have difficulty finding devout Taoists, Buddhist, or Confucian adherents in modern China. The resulting spiritual vacuum has left over a billion Chinese without any firmly rooted religious or ideological convictions. Many have attempted to satisfy this inner void by clinging to vague conceptions of nationalism or the pursuit of money. A growing minority, however (some put the number as high as 80 million), has turned to Catholicism and other Christian denominations.

Chinese authorities initially viewed the Christian revival as both a rival political movement and an opportunity to exert control over adherents. In an attempt to control the rise of Christianity and the belief system of converts, the Communist Party established two organizations tasked with managing Christianity in China: the China Christian Council and the Catholic Patriotic Association. These two organizations dictate church teachings and control the appointment of religious clergy, all of whom must swear allegiance to the strictly atheist Communist Party. It is illegal to belong to a church not governed by either of these organizations. Needless to say, relations between the Vatican and the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Church are strained.

This state of affairs presents Chinese Catholics with a tremendously difficult decision: align oneself with the official state institution or illegally worship at a Church expressing allegiance to the Vatican. More than a mere crisis of identity, Chinese Catholics who choose to worship at an underground church face potential persecution. Local police often destroy churches, harass practitioners, and even throw religious believers in psychiatric hospitals or infamous ‘black jails.’ Recent crackdowns demonstrate that local police across China will not hesitate to exploit their authority to incarcerate individuals without providing evidence of criminal wrongdoing in order to fulfill central government mandates to maintain political stability.

Ultimately, the Chinese Communist Party fears Catholicism
because it serves as a potential rival source of power that preaches a message in stark contrast to its hollow ideology of nationalism, greed, and the devaluing of individual worth. The Catholic Church’s unyielding commitment to promoting the inherent dignity of every life conflicts with Communist Party’s family planning policies, which serve as the justification for performing forced abortions on women who disobey the one-child policy. Rather than serving as a source of strength and legitimacy, widespread adherence to the four cardinal virtues would threaten the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, urging people to demand social justice by the grace of God. These fundamental differences have prompted the Communist Party to view the Catholic Church as a potential existential threat that must be contained.

In response to the decimation of native religious traditions and the hollowness of the Communist Party’s ideological foundations, the Chinese are increasingly turning to teachings first brought to the mainland by courageous Jesuit priests centuries ago. In the face of widespread repression, many adherents exhibit the same degree of fortitude displayed by these early priests by simply praying the rosary at their local church. In light of this reality, I urge my fellow Catholics to pray for our brothers and sisters facing religious persecution in China.

Harry Wu is Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation and Laogai Museum.

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