Chinese believers in an unregistered church (China Daily)

Several recent articles in the authoritative website China Daily have prompted observers to wonder if the Chinese government may be softening its traditionally tough stance against Christians.  The official government daily has published a number of positive articles about Christianity during the last six months and while it must be remembered that they may merely be part of a ‘charm offensive’ (particularly since none of the articles were published in the Chinese language version of the paper), they are published in an official government organ and will have been scrutinised by censors.

The most significant of these articles (25th December) concerned an official report for the government in which the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists (CASS) estimated that there are now over 70 million Chinese who are members of unregistered churches.  Add these numbers to the Catholic Church and the official Three Self Patriotic Movement church and this is the first time that there has been an official estimate that there are now over 100 million Christians in China.  In 1979, when the TSPM church was relaunched after the Cultural Revolution, there were only about one million.   One western commentator remarked that it is unthinkable that an article like this has slipped past the censors unnoticed, and therefore this must be an indication of a change of government policy.

Miao Christian choir (China Daily)

Another article (17th March) talks about how house churches are thriving in Beijing.  It states that there are now over 50,000 Christians in Beijing, and as the registered churches are often overcrowded, many people are joining smaller unregistered churches where they can connect more effectively.  The article even quotes Cao Zhongjian, an expert on religion in China at CASS, as saying “The authorities have a much more open attitude toward discussion and debate on house churches.”  This has led to freedom for the churches to acquire premises or rent permanent locations.  This is all a far cry from even a few years ago when reports of serious oppression of Chinese Christians were commonplace.

Other publications include a positive article about influential Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, reference to a thriving church in Shanghai, a report about a village in Yunnan province where 80% of the villagers are Christians, and (amazingly) the testimony of how a young Beijing believer found Jesus after being given a Bible by a colleague.

Chinese choir (China Daily)