Underground in China
During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese Christians were fired from their jobs, expelled from schools and imprisoned. Their homes were plundered, and they were publicly humiliated. They faced torture and inhumane conditions in hard labor camps. Their countrymen rejected them, and they were falsely accused as American spies, counterrevolutionaries and criminals.
Today, the number of underground house churches in China is rapidly growing. China has experienced the fastest growing church movement in history.
Yet the persecution is not over. Christians are still regularly arrested and sent to prisons and labor camps. The U.S. State Department included China on its list of “Countries of Particular Concern”: nations designated as top violators of religious freedom.
All churches are required to register with the government, otherwise known as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Those that refuse to register are considered subversive to the government.
For many Chinese believers, the demands required to register their churches are completely unreasonable. The 1994 “Measures for the Registration of the Places for Religious Activities” stipulate that applicants must demonstrate that they possess a permanent location, regular membership and legal source of income. For many believers, especially those in rural areas, these requirements make it impossible for them to meet together because of insufficient funds.
Other measures passed in 1996 and 2000 permit the CCP to determine the qualifications of pastors, limit the ability of believers to communicate with other Christians in various parts of the country and inspect the meetings.
The state also has the right to determine whether church doctrines are valid. In some instances, local officials have invited believers to register and then arrested them at the government offices for engaging in "illegal" religious activities.
Christians who decide to register are monitored closely by government officials. But most opt not to register. In fact, unregistered house churches far outnumber registered churches.
The estimated number of unregistered house churches members is more than 90 million—nearly 7 percent of China’s population—compared to the 20 million who attend government-sponsored churches.
The members of unregistered churches congregate regularly in the homes of individual believers, as well as in barns, factories or caves. Meetings are held with great secrecy and few outsiders are permitted to visit them. Meeting locations constantly change.
During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards confiscated and burned all Bibles. Chinese Christians have not yet recovered the loss.
Some who managed to hide their Bibles from the guards hand copied them for others to read. Today, copies of God’s Word are scarce and the most pressing need of Chinese Christians.
Most underground churches possess only one Bible.
In 1980, the government allowed the establishment of the China Christian Council (CCC) for the purpose of publishing Bibles and Christian literature. But production is limited by the government and falls strikingly short of the needs of the millions of Chinese who become Christians each year.
In addition, the CCC refuses to allow other Chinese publishers to print Bibles, and threatens to arrest them for doing so.
On March 1, 2005, the Chinese government enacted the Religious Affairs Provisions, which increased the penalty for printing and distributing religious books without prior government approval.
But this has not stopped small publishers from secretly doing short print-runs of illegal Christian titles and Christian magazines to satisfy the demand of knowledge-seeking believers. Some house churches also operate underground printing factories.
With funds sent by Christian Aid, native missionaries purchase Bibles in small batches so as not to alert the attention of the authorities. In 2005, Christian Aid also supplied funds to print and distribute 10,000 copies of a Bible commentary written by a Chinese pastor.
Underground Bible institutes
As is the case with churches, Bible institutes are also required to register with the CCP. But registration means government interference. Christian professors are suddenly forced to incorporate political indoctrination and false doctrine into government-approved curricula.
And since many professors refuse to comply with these regulations, they have chosen to teach in one of the hundreds of underground Bible schools throughout China.
As of 2012, Christian Aid has helped to establish 50+ Bible institutes in China — the first of which was founded in 1990.
Christian Aid has also partnered with a Chinese ministry leader who has helped to plant more than 600 underground Bible training centers in China. For 21 years, he worked to complete the most comprehensive theological curriculum available in Chinese. Christian Aid supplied the funds for the printing cost of the training material, which is being provided to more than 600,000 Chinese Christian workers.
Christianity’s historical image in China
What causes the CCP to view Chinese believers as the enemy?
This animosity toward Christianity seems to have less to do with the essence of Christianity and more to do with its perceived association with invasive "Western" culture.
In the early 1990s, the official press published concerns that Christian activity might generate opposition to the regime and eventually undermine communist rule in China.
China’s historical experience with "Western" countries has been one of victimization and exploitation.
When the British imported Indian opium to China, Chinese officials were opposed. But after their defeat in the Opium wars, China was forced to sign a treaty that allowed free opium trading and the admission of Christian missionaries. As opium and foreign missionaries poured into the country, the two were inevitably and unfortunately linked.
Christianity began to take root as hundreds of zealous missionaries labored throughout the country to establish churches, Bible institutes, hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages during the latter half of the 19th century.
Many Chinese, however, were vehemently opposed to the infiltration of this “foreign” religion, and sought to purge the nation of all foreigners. Thus began the infamous Boxer Rebellion of 1900, which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Christians.
The sacrifices of those martyrs greatly boosted church growth in the years that followed, and the number of Christians grew rapidly in the early 1900s. Intense periods of growth followed the Japanese invasion in 1937, as well as the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
By the time Mao Zedong took over China in 1949, the country was home to less than 800,000 evangelical Christians. When the communist government expelled all 6,000 foreign missionaries from the country in 1950, true believers banded together for mutual support, undivided by various “Western” denominations. To this day, Chinese Christians resist denominationalism.
Severe persecution of Christians peaked during the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976. The Red Guards, most of whom were teenagers, rebelled against anything that represented authority, education and religion. Many tortured and killed Christians, the wealthy, and even their teachers and parents.
When traditional churches were closed down, many denominational believers joined the underground house church movement.
It is unlikely that the CCP will retract its repressive regulations against Christians, but the growing number of evangelicals ensures that government officials will be increasingly less able to strictly monitor Chinese believers.
In the meantime, the Christians who refuse to compromise by joining government-approved churches, or contaminate their faith by adding false doctrines to their Bible school curriculums, need our prayers and support for Bibles and underground training schools. Chinese believers have risked everything to serve Christ. Let us not forget them.