The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Beijing Fears Insidious College Missionary Plot

For all the discussion of the West’s Islamophobia, it’s fear of Christianity that most bedevils politics in the world’s largest country. Earlier this week we reported on China’s violent oppression of one (admittedly bizarre) Christian cult, but its attitude towards mainstream Christianity isn’t much better. A government memo leaked earlier this month suggests that Beijing is concerned that Christian missionary groups on Chinese campuses are actually secret tools of foreign governments looking to turn the Chinese against their government. The Washington Post reports:

The 16-page notice — obtained this month by a U.S.-based Christian group — uses language from the cold war era to depict a conspiracy by “overseas hostile forces” to infiltrate Chinese campuses under the guise of academic exchanges while their real intent is to use religion in “westernizing and dividing China.”. . .

Government officials did not respond to requests for comment and did not confirm the document’s authenticity. But university records and official postings on college Web sites show that after the notice was issued—on May 15, 2011—many campuses began adopting the stricter restrictions it proposed.

If China’s rulers are really interested in protecting their students from exposure to Christianity, their wisest course might be to send them to elite and elite-wannabe universities in the U.S. (Oh wait…Xi’s daughter is studying at Harvard. Maybe they have figured that part out already.)

But in all seriousness, judging from what I’ve observed on my visits to Chinese universities over the years, the biggest sources of Christian proselytization on campus aren’t foreign teachers or students; they’re the Chinese themselves. With up to 100 million belonging to house churches, and with Christianity increasingly becoming an urban and even intellectual presence in China, this is hardly surprising.

Published on December 20, 2012 5:07 pm