A Chinese official accused “anti-China forces” in the West of using Christianity to subvert the country’s political power and said worshippers must follow a Chinese form of religion.
China’s officially atheist government, which oversees religious groups through state-sponsored institutions, has tightened its grip on all faiths in recent years.
“Anti-China forces in the West are attempting to continue to influence the social stability of our country through Christianity, and even subvert the political power of our country,” Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the state-backed National Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee, which oversees the Protestant churches, said on Monday.
Speaking at the annual gathering of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a largely ceremonial advisory body, Xu described the introduction of Christianity in China as “accompanying the intense colonial aggression by the West”.
Only by incorporating Chinese culture into Christianity would the religion become something Chinese people could identify with, said Xu.
For those who “subvert national security in the name of Christianity, we support the country in bringing them to justice,” he added.
His remarks come days after the US envoy for religious freedom, Sam Brownback, said the Chinese government was “at war with faith”, persecuting Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and Falungong practitioners.
In China, Protestants are split between unofficial and state-sanctioned churches, where Communist Party songs also feature in the order of service.
Over the past year, unofficial “house” or “underground” churches have faced increasing pressure, with some church members detained under subversion charges.
In December, the pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church, a prominent unofficial Protestant congregation in southwest Sichuan province, was detained in a police raid under charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” according to the church.
In September, Beijing officials also shut down Zion Church, one of China’s largest unofficial Protestant churches, for operating without a licence in the capital — before ordering it to pay back 1.2 million yuan (US$170,000) in rent and removal costs.
Catholics — who are similarly split between official and underground churches — Muslims and Buddhists have also faced increasing pressure to toe the party line.