Last week the Heritage Foundation hosted an event on the growing religious persecution in China. Panelist Bob Fu, the founder and president of the U.S.-based Christian human rights group China Aid, spoke about high levels of Chinese Communist oppression in the Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, home to the country’s Uighur (or Uyghur) minority.
He also pointed out that China’s oppression of religious freedom is affecting Christians in the country, particularly those in the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, known as the Jerusalem of China. Tibetan Buddhists have also long since lived under the thumb of the CCP’s policy of religious intolerance.
In late February a large group gathered in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the life of Li Baiguang, a well-known human rights lawyer and advocate for Christians in China. Li died on Feb. 25 under suspicious circumstances after being admitted to Chinese Military Hospital No. 81 complaining of minor stomach pains. This was not the first time that Li’s life was under threat and serves as indicator that an even greater intolerance for religious minorities seems to be yet another consequence of the recently consolidated power of Xi Jinping.
China’s hostile behavior toward religious minorities has only surged since Xi took power. In May 2015 and April 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reiterated its commitment to the “Sinicization” of China’s religions, which is the CCP’s attempt at both secularizing and subjugating religious thought and practice to the control of the party.
Sinicization runs concurrent with a decision made in October 2017 at the 19th Party Congress to write “Xi Jinping thought” into the Chinese constitution (a move similar to those made previously by Mao and Deng Xiaoping). And this February, Xi removed term limits on the Chinese presidency, clearing the way for him to rule indefinitely.
In Xinjiang province, communist party officials are “mandated to stay in every household of Uighur families from two to five days every month” to monitor their activity and ensure their loyalty to the government, Fu told the Heritage audience. He explained that China is sending Uighurs suspected of Islamic extremism and political dissent to “mind transformations centers” where they are forced to eat pork and “are mandated to wear specially designed earphones and listen to 24 hours of propaganda from the communist party.”
Kristina Arriaga, the vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), confirmed that the Xi administration is dismantling crosses from churches across China. Fu also reported that CCP officials burned or destroyed some 2000 crosses in the city of Wenzhou and sentenced many of the pastors to up 10 years in prison.
The U.S. Department of State’s annual International Religious Freedom report has designated China as a country of particular concern since 1999, the first year the report was issued. Open Doors USA’s World Watch List also ranks China among the world’s 50 worst persecutors of Christians.