The most important thing to remember about China with regards to Christian persecution is that it’s a huge country with a population of over 1 billion people—over three times more people than the United States. But the Chinese government, ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, works hard to make sure nothing in the country is a threat to the absolute authority of the Party—and its chairman, Xi Jinping.
How this looks, in reality, can vary drastically from place to place. In some regions, Christians might experience no real threats, because the government doesn’t view them as a large enough force to present a serious alternative to their authority. But then in other places, persecution as blatant as tearing down crosses from churches makes every Christian in the area fearful of the government.
For years, many churches in China have existed as “gray churches”—which means places of worship that are technically unregistered, but have generally been able to go about their mission and worship without government interference. Under Xi, the Chinese government has begun to crack down on these “gray churches,” pushing them to either grant the Chinese state more influence or to shut down. In one instance, a large Protestant church in Beijing (Zion Church) was forced to shut down after it refused to allow closed-circuit TV cameras in its building to monitor congregants.
Even registered churches, which are government-sanctioned and regarded with suspicion by many Christians in China, are facing challenges. Some have experienced increased harassment. Both Catholic and Protestant state churches were required to draft a plan to show how their churches can grow in compatibility with the Chinese state.
These shows of force are not limited to Christians—the Chinese government has placed thousands of Uyghurs (an ethnic minority who are majority Muslim, with some Christian members) into “re-education camps.”
2. New laws mean new pressures for churches in China.