A 'seismic shift' in China's approach to religion has led to a massive rise in persecution of Christians and other faiths, according to one of the main human rights charities.
China Aid, in its 2016 Annual Persecution Report, describes a 'deviation' in the Chinese government's ideological approach to religion.
Christians are being persecuted 'at a frequency unseen since the Cultural Revolution', says China Aid.
Persecution cases went up by more than 20 per cent last year compared to 2015, number of people detained increased by nearly 150 per cent, arrests went up 11 per cent, those sentenced increased by a third, abuse cases went up more than 40 per cent and the actual number of people abused increased by nearly 70 per cent.
The persecution of Christians were stepped up at China's national conference of religious work in April last year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping stated then that Christianity and other religions must 'persistently following the path of Sinicization'.
As a result of this, many departments in central and provincial governments have already begun increased attempts to prevent independent religious thought - such as banning reincarnation for Tibetan Buddhists.
Even before this, however, dozens of churches had crosses forcibly removed or were demolished.
In one horrific case, a Christian woman died after she and her husband were buried alive by a bulldozer as they attempted to protest their church demolition in Henan. Many are being detained. Just one example is the two women still in detention simply for hanging a cross in their home.
According to China Aid, underlying the persecution is an assumption by China's government that 'other countries are using foreign-based religions to undermine their authority.'
'This forces religious practitioners, especially Christians, to choose between comprising their deeply-held beliefs and risking being treated as violators of the law,' says the charity.
Increasingly in recent months, house churches have been targeted in an attempt tp coerce them to join China's official church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, or face closure.
'This data illustrates China's alarming regression into a more Maoist regime, and conditions are expected to worsen this year as the revised regulations on religious affairs go into effect nationwide. These new regulations seek to further limit religious activity and indicate a catastrophic potential to place more Christians behind bars,' said the charity.
Bob Fu of China Aid said: 'The key findings of what happened last year and the reports from these first two months of 2017 have shown the situation of religious freedom is rapidly deteriorating. We call upon both the persecuted faithful in China and the international community to be increasingly vigilant and persevere in facing this harsher year. China Aid will continue to walk closer with the persecuted and oppressed faithful in China by exposing the abuses, encouraging the abused, and equipping the leaders.'