China may be one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a Christian. The destruction of churches and crosses in China’s Wenzhou province, a heavily Christian area sometimes called “China’s Jerusalem”, is a one cause for alarm. But as the Economist has pointed out, relatively few Chinese Christians have been personally affected by persecution. Recently the Financial Times published a helpful overview of the topic that casts Wenzhou as the Chinese government’s “pilot project” in persecution:
So what has prompted this “pilot project” to rein in the rising influence of Christianity in China? The Zhejiang campaign comes in the context of a much broader policy of repression, which has seen scores of moderate intellectuals and critics detained and a harsh crackdown on all forms of dissent since President Xi Jinping came to power two years ago. Some analysts point to Xi’s prominent promotion of “Chinese” religions and traditions such as Buddhism and Confucianism and say the current anti-Christian campaign is related to his mistrust of the west and perhaps even a secret belief in Buddhism. […]Beijing’s intention is not to suppress Christianity or religion altogether – an impossible task even if it was the goal – but to slow its very rapid rise and bring it more under control.
The author argues that the destruction in Wenzhou may be motivated by the Chinese government’s increasing anxieties over the caliber of converts Christianity has been attracting. In the 20th century, many Christians were poor and rural; now elite urbanites are also drawn to the faith. These trends could be increasing the paranoia the Communist party might feel toward a religion that it has traditionally viewed as a competitor.But whatever the motivation, if the kind of persecution being tried out in Wenzhou does go national, the Chinese government may find that it has only strengthened the faith. As the FT notes, and as we have argued before, Christianity in China could ultimately thrive in persecution. Christians have an ancient saying often used in connection with the early church under Roman rule: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” So far Chinese trial persecution campaigns have been bloodless, but the basic point stands: cracking down on Christianity might just end up abetting its expansion. Read the whole thing for a rich, detailed analysis of the state of Christianity in China.