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China’s Christians Seize Internet Opportunities

January 3, 2013 by Open Doors in General

China

Chinese Christians are sharing their faith on Weibo – China’s giant, state-regulated, social network – and some are beginning to challenge the censor by speaking out against religious persecution.

When Christian band Rainbow Come appeared on China’s equivalent of “The X Factor,” Christians used social networking to generate votes for the band so their music could reach more Chinese. Within a few days, thousands of votes had been posted for Rainbow Come, according to China’s Gospel Times, propelling them this month to a leading position in the seventh round of “Chinese Dream” on Zhejiang Television. Even in China, which has officially banned Facebook and Twitter, social networking has become a powerful force. 

In the place of these established, but unregulated sites, Chinese authorities have permitted Weibos – microblogs. Since its inception in 2009, China’s leading microblog company, Sina Weibo, has exploded to 400 million users, and the number is constantly rising. Rival companies also claim hundreds of millions of subscribers. 

According to the China Internet Network Information Centre, 40 percent of China people are now Internet users, and most of these are microbloggers. To put that in perspective, there are more microbloggers in China than the populations of Britain, Germany, France and the United States combined, by some margin. 

Outreach 

Many Chinese Christians have also embraced blogging. Some are beginning to share their faith on Weibo, and a few are reaching substantial audiences. According to the website, Christians in China, one of the leading faith bloggers is Pan Shiy, a real estate billionaire who “frequently shares prayers on Sundays with his six million plus followers.” Christians in China claims, “China’s microblog has become the new frontier of China’s Christian movement.” 

Chinese Christians are starting to use social media to mobilize prayer, and even to discuss religious freedoms. Many wonder, however, if China’s ever-watchful authorities will allow Christians to rally support against religious persecution in their own land via these monitored and regulated social networks. China still ranks among the top 50 worst persecutors of Christians on the annual World Watch List published by Open Doors. Though China is well aware that social media was used to powerful effect to muster protesters during the Arab Spring, it still permits these microblogs. 

As with Twitter, Weibo postings are restricted to 140 characters. That restriction is less limiting than it sounds, because in written Chinese, 140 characters are equivalent to 70 or 80 words in English – enough to spark a debate or begin to tell a story. 

Weibo users can also post pictures and video clips to their Weibo pages. They can include links to the Chinese equivalent of YouTube – Youku – where the band Rainbow Come can be seen performing. 

An earlier indication of growing boldness among China’s Christian community came in August, when a picture was posted on Weibo of a young man standing in a public square holding a placard with a Gospel message. Christians on Weibo praised him for his courage and commended him for the example he was setting. 

His example emboldened other believers. Another picture was posted of a little girl, holding a yellow sign surmounted by a cross, proclaiming, ‘Believe in Jesus and receive eternal life.’ She was holding the banner aloft in a public square in Shenzhen, while her parents shared their faith with passers-by. According to the Gospel Times, 20 people responded by committing their lives to following Jesus. 

The girl’s father later thanked the Christian online community for its encouragement, saying: “[You have] given me great strength. May the gospel arise in China and save the country and people from their sin. May God receive all the praise and glory.” 

Another Weibo blog displays a map giving the location of churches across China. According to Christians in Communist China, the country has 14 million ‘registered’ believers, whose churches are under the control of the atheist state. Yet more than five times as many Christians risk suspicion, surveillance and arrest by choosing to worship in unregistered, and therefore illegal, house churches. 

Persecution 

Postings about the lack of religious freedom for Christians in China are also beginning to surface. In July, Shanghai’s newly-ordained auxiliary Bishop, Ma Daqin, resigned from his post in the state-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. He stepped down immediately after his ordination, in a gesture described by the BBC “as a challenge to Chinese state control over Catholic churches and clergy.” 

The government’s response – closing his Catholic seminary – met with a flurry of protests on Weibo. On Dec. 14, Bishop Ma was stripped of his title by the government, and he is believed to be under house arrest.

Christians have also posted messages on Weibo in support of Shouwang Church, the largest unregistered Protestant congregation in Beijing, which the authorities have repeatedly refused permission to buy or rent premises. Members have been worshipping in the open air since 2011, and have faced harassment and arrest. 

Meanwhile, Chinese Christian band, Rainbow Come, is celebrating their rise, courtesy of their supporters on Weibo. Band leader Zhao Bingheng posted on Weibo, that winning “Chinese Dream” was not the band’s main aim. He states, “The biggest value of this whole thing is to see your support and know that in Jesus Christ we share the same goal . . . so we can learn to serve each other and care for each other and thus accomplish His greater glory!” 

Father God, we praise You for the amazing way that Christians in China can grow in their faith and share You with others through the internet. Protect those who are taking risks, and may many come to know You through their efforts. Strengthen them in the days ahead, and encourage them to continue in boldness. In the name of Jesus who is gathering His church from all corners of China and around the world. Amen

Orignal Source: Forum 18

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