Even in China's Sea of Humanity,
70 Million Unregistered Christians Still Stand Out
by Dan Fefferman
China poses an instructive dilemma for those concerned with religious freedom. The world's largest country with nearly 1.5 billion people, China has made undeniable progress over the last 20 years in allowing its people economic freedom and some measure of other human rights.
Yet, although China has moved away from doctrinaire Marxism, it has not broken radically from its totalitarian past, as have the nations of Eastern Europe. Nowhere is this more apparent than in China's record on religious freedom.
One has only to go as far as a movie theatre to learn of China's ruthless war to force militant atheism on the highly spiritual and non-violent Tibetan people. Seven Years In Tibet chronicles the saga of the Dalai Lama in a style which only a decade ago would have been written off as red-baiting. This is one time when political correctness has a refreshing ring of truth.
Although China's constitution gurantees "freedom of religious belief," the US State Department declares that in practice the government "has sought to restrict all actual religious practice to government-authorized religious organizations and registered places of worship."
Religious groups that have declined to register with the state are deemed counter-revolutionary. In some cases, their leaders and members have been imprisoned. Authorities reportedly raided and closed hundreds of "house-church" groups, both Catholic and Protestant, from 1996-97. The State Department estimates unregistered Christian worshippers to be between 30-70 million.
Even while Chinese leaders glad-handed with US politicians, movie stars and investment bankers last month, a flood of legislation rose in the halls of Congress-ranging from barring US travel for Chinese officials who engage in religious persecution to increasing the number of US diplomats in China to monitor human rights.
China is a huge country where one person often gets lost in a sea of humanity. While China's relative indifference to individual rights may be understandable to a degree, the rights of tens of millions of Christians-not to mention Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and other religious people-can certainly not be ignored.