This week, China celebrates 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party. But do not be fooled by the skyscrapers and consumer goods. A hundred years on, China is still a communist nation. And its leaders still hate Christians who refuse to bow to their ideology, writes Dr David Landrum.
As footage of ecstatic East Germans dancing on the ruins of the Berlin Wall spread across the world, it seemed that the writing was on the wall for communism. In nation after nation, one-party socialist governments were being toppled. Even the mighty behemoth Russia embraced a new era of openness, or Perestroika, and attempted to engage more fully with market forces.
Writer Francis Fukuyama proclaimed this to be "the end of history". In other words, liberal democracy was the last ideology standing and would from now on, be the one, the only way to run any nation.
That same year, 1989 was the year of the Tiananmen Square student protests, calling for democracy, free speech and a free press. However, these ended very differently, with a bloody crackdown by the government, which, even today the Chinese authorities barely acknowledge as history.
It seemed that communism, Chinese-style was not going the way of the Polish, Yugoslavian and other Soviet models. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), first founded in 1921, was a sturdier, and wilier beast. Again and again, much like Madonna, it has kept reinventing itself.
To hold onto power, the CCP began to pursue a policy of 'one nation – two systems' where social and political Marxism ran alongside free-market capitalism. Western corporations scrambled to exploit this vast new marketplace. As Brexit was rolled out, China has become our biggest import market, as we spend tens of billions on electrical gadgets, clothes and, ironically, PPE and Covid-testing kits for the NHS.
People often think of China as communist in name only. But do not be fooled by the gleaming skyscrapers and the shiny smartphones. This is, a hundred years later, still very much an essentially Marxist nation. And that should concern us all – especially if we care for religious freedom, which is slowly being crushed by the CCP.
Certainly, we are not in the days of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution, responsible for, at the very least, 45 million deaths, the mass closure of churches and the forced "re-education" of believers. However, the prognosis for religious freedom – as with many other types of freedom – is very poor right now - and getting poorer.
Every year Open Doors publishes The World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 nations where Christians suffer the worst persecution and discrimination. Year after year China has been leaping up the rankings, from number 43 in 2018 to number 17 this year. This is a shocking trend and the sign of a deeper sickness in the party and nation.
China has dramatically stepped up its persecution of Christians and other faiths. For Christians, the new era of persecution involves pastors imprisoned without trial, churches demolished without notice, crosses torn down from churches, worshippers compelled to praise the CCP, and even Bible stories altered to better align with the state ideology.
Recently, Open Doors commemorated Operation Pearl, in which 40 years ago a million Bibles were smuggled into China in one night. Today, access to scriptures remains challenging. There has been a clampdown on the availability of Bibles, while online Bible apps and Christian chat rooms have been closed down. As technology is weaponised by the CCP, cyberspace is becoming a new frontier of control over its own citizens, heralding the era of digital persecution – something that it is exporting to other repressive regimes.
Alongside online censorship, churches are forced to install facial recognition technology, so that the state can log who has attended a service. Mobile phone technology effectively tracks citizens throughout their lives. All of this is integrated with China's 'social credit system' which enables the repression of Christians in a myriad of day-to-day activities such as education, employment and the criminal justice system. It is perhaps not surprising to hear of Christians shutting their mobile phones in their (insulated) microwave oven when they meet to worship.
More recently, with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and greater political and media exposure of China's global economic expansionism, President Xi Jinping's domestic focus on making the CCP synonymous with Chinese national identity has the potential to render any groups or individuals who dissent "enemies of the state".
There is a sting in the tail: the programme to intimidate and diminish Christianity is in large part due to the phenomenal growth of the Chinese church. With very conservative estimates of 100 million believers in China, there are now more Christians than there are members of the CCP. And with church growth running consistently at an annual rate of seven per cent, there is the very real possibility of China becoming a majority Christian nation in a couple of decades. The Chinese establishment are worried – they should be!
As the CCP celebrates 100 years of its bloody and brutal existence, the imperial pretensions of China represent a clear and present danger to all free societies. Meeting this challenge will require significant political resolve. It will also require an acknowledgement that, although the Chinese Communist Party exhibits a smorgasbord of ideologies including capitalism, fascism and nationalism, it remains very much communist at heart - the same dangerous ideology that nations faced in the days of the Cold War when Brother Andrew bravely smuggled Bibles to persecuted believers behind the Iron Curtain.
Inside China, it will be the power of prayer and of the gospel that Christians will need to respond to the iron hand of totalitarianism. After all, it is the Gospel that sets people free – a freedom so dangerous that it challenges the future existence of the CCP. The challenge to Christians in the West is to support our brothers and sisters – spiritually and materially – as a matter of urgency.
Dr David Landrum is the Director of Advocacy for Open Doors UK & Ireland, part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries.