Fifty million Chinese Christians have experienced persecution in China following the enforcement of new religious affairs regulations in March 2018, according to Open Doors.
The charity for persecuted Christians ranks China at 27 out of the top 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian, a jump of 16 places.
The Chinese government is cracking down on Christians and other religious minorities, aiming for the 'sinicisation' of religion – making it fit smoothly with the Communist line and increasing loyalty to President Xi Jinping's ideology. There are plans to 'contextualise' the Bible to fit with Chinese culture. Some churches have been told to fly the Chinese flag higher than the cross and to sing the national anthem before services.
Open Doors' Head of Advocacy, Zoe Smith, said: 'The increase in persecution of religious groups in China – particularly the Christians and the Uighur Muslims – is seriously concerning. The current climate is so severe that some older Chinese pastors have shared with Open Doors their worry that persecution in China will soon be comparable to that suffered under Chairman Mao.'
Outspoken and influential churches are bearing the brunt of the revised regulations, particularly in Henan and Zhejiang provinces where there are major house church networks, as an example to the rest of the country.
Open Doors has received reports from inside China that landlords are being pressured by local authorities to terminate rental contracts with churches. Some are being fined crippling amounts for petty offences such as inadequate fire safety equipment. There are strict guidelines for crosses displayed on churches. Many local authorities have in the past turned a blind eye to these regulations but are now enforcing them harshly.
Authorities have increased harassment of pastors making once normal activity more difficult. Many are worried about the effect it will have on their congregation. Churches have been raided, their Bibles and Christian material confiscated and pulpits defaced.
In order to stop the growth of a new generation of Christians, children's church, youth groups and camps are forbidden. Churches have even been ordered to place signs at their entrance forbidding anyone under 18 from entering.
Many churches are defiant in the face of these new regulations, while others are taking precautions. Others are still meeting but have split into multiple smaller gatherings. One group of Christians in a major city left to go back to their respective home villages where they are now starting churches.
Chinese Christians fear that the laws may still be tightened or enforcement may become more severe.
Britain's foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt named China as a country of concern in launching a review of UK policy on Chrisitan persecution last week.