China's secret police, in an anti-Christian campaign, have been apprehending Christian preachers whom they apparently regard as effective, such as the Protestant Evangelical Pastor John Cao. A permanent resident of the U.S., Cao is being held in the regional jail in Kunming (pictured), the capital of Yunnan Province. (Image source: Babak Fakhamzadeh/Flickr cc-by-nc 2.0)
In addition to trying to pin the blame for the coronavirus pandemic on the United States, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Party Chairman Xi Jinping is executing an anti-Christian campaign, the intensity of which has not been seen since Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s.
Persecution against Christians was reignited in earnest after the 19th CCP Congress in 2017. The state's drive against Christian symbols, churches, and clerics seems to have become justified under the CCP's "Sinicization of China's Religions" initiative. The CCP appears determined to secularize religious thought, suborning it to serve state interests. Its anti-Christian project seems designed primarily to sever all international links that religious people have, whether those ties are Christian or Muslim.
Beijing is deploying the assets of the CCP's security agencies against Christianity, in part, by establishing a regime of punitive measures, such as mandatory and intimidating facial ID screenings, restrictions on dissemination of religious tracts on the internet, and loss of "social credit" points that can result in the expulsion of the children of Christian parents from schools. Communist secret police have also been apprehending Christian preachers whom they apparently regard as effective, such as the Protestant Evangelical Pastor John Cao.
Pastor Cao, a permanent resident of the U.S., was arrested on March 5, 2017 after he crossed the border from Myanmar (Burma) to China's Yunnan Province. Cao and his assistant, Jing Ruxia, were charged with allegedly organizing the illegal crossing of national borders, despite decades of similar movement from parish schools in Wa State, Myanmar to the Christian faithful in China. Cao, initially detained in a local jail near his arrest site, was later transferred to the regional jail in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. Pastor Cao has served three of his seven-year sentence and is in declining health. Appeals for his release have been rejected by Chinese authorities.
Cao's American-born wife, Jaime Powell, and his sons, Amos and Benjamin, who live in North Carolina, have been working with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and International Christian Concern to draw attention to the pastor's unjust imprisonment. Prior to his sudden arrest, Cao had been permitted to cross national borders, for instance while assisting earthquake victims in 2008 and 2015, in Sichuan Province, China and Nepal, respectively.
Consequently, Pastor Cao's arrest in 2017 appears to be a result of a political decision by Beijing to crack down harder on Christian "house churches".
The CCP has also been pressuring Christians to join the state-affiliated "Three-Self Patriotic Movement," which ensures that believers attend CCP politically-approved activities and receive sermons by state-compliant clerics. Failure to comply can lead to potential harassment; and with the faith leaders, to incarceration. Other state-controlled religious organizations include the "China Christian Council" and the "Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church."
China's totalitarian system seems to perceive any movement that permits citizens to feel allegiance to any entity other than the state as a threat. Communist cadres, evidently not content with coercing the external conformity and behavior of their citizens, appear to want to control their people's thoughts as well. Beijing is now re-writing Christian scripture and printing other tracts to render religious beliefs politically aligned with state policies.
The Ministry of Interior has established a punitive framework that involves forcing Christians to attend re-education classes. Other recalcitrant believers are subject to economic punishments such as being ineligible for financial assistance from the state. Still others, especially those who have shown zealous religious proselytizing activity, are incarcerated in China's archipelago of prisons.
The regime's anti-Christian campaign does not yet seem to have approached the magnitude of the state's suppression of the Uighurs; at least, there is no evidence of massive internment camps for Christians, yet. This difference is possible because Christians are ubiquitous in China, whereas Muslim Uighurs are largely limited to Xinjiang Province in China's remote northwest. However, the incarceration of Pastor Cao and other Christian clerics indicates that the CCP's apparatus is determined to crack down on Christians as well. Some Communist Party bureaucrats have already banned people below the age of 18 from being baptized.
The state's most intense anti-Christian campaign can be seen in Zhejiang Province, where one estimate suggests that at least 15% of the population is Christian. "De-crossing" of buildings in Zhejiang from 2014 through 2017 exceeded one thousand structures. Other provinces with a substantial concentration of Christian believers include Anhui, Hebei, and Henan Provinces. Beijing is also experiencing a growth of Christianity. In the capital's Haidian District, where a church has been attracting thousands of worshipers.
The American Center for Law and Justice, chaired by the attorney Jay Sekulow, through its "Be Heard Project," urges all people concerned about freedom of conscience to sign petitions and otherwise pressure the Chinese government to release Pastor Cao, allowing him to return to his family in North Carolina. "China Aid" director Bob Fu, who monitors human rights violations in China, calls upon citizens to write letters to Pastor Cao to keep his spirits up. The sheer volume of mail would also let Beijing know that Cao's persecution remains a serious concern to the "Free World."
John Sanqiang Cao
No. 416 Si Wa Lu
Wang Da Qiao,
Dongjiao, Panlong District
Kunming City, Yunnan Province
China Zip Code 650216
People's Republic of China
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.