China’s state-owned Global Times last month announced a new government ban to go into effect March 1 on the operation of “online religious information services” by “overseas organizations”, but according to Christian persecution watchdog agency Voice of the Martyrs Korea, the text of the new regulations reveals a different target: a major new crackdown on all online activity by Chinese underground Christians.
“The regulations, collectively referred to as ‘Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services’, consist of 36 articles to be enforced by five different government agencies, and in all the articles there are only two minor references to foreign organizations,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “The focus of these regulations is clearly not on foreign organizations but instead on giving the Communist Party absolute control over religion on the Internet in China.”
According to Representative Foley, the new regulations carry forward themes common to previous religious crackdowns of unregistered religious groups under Xi Jinping. “There’s very much a ‘whoever is not for us is against us’ mentality,” says Representative Foley. “Meaning, even though the regulations are dealing with religious Internet content, if that content doesn’t actively promote the Communist Party and if it is not licensed by the Communist Party, then it is considered ‘subversive’, ‘extremist’, ‘fanatical’, ‘cultish’, ‘superstitious’, ‘undermining socialism’—in fact, I’m quoting these words from Articles 14 and 15 of the new regulations. The idea is: All religions must unite behind the Party and its interests, and if they don’t, it may be due to ‘foreign influence’ or to ‘terrorism’ or ‘trickery’—all these are mentioned in the Articles—and it thus must be banned and punished.”
The official Chinese government website which details the 36 articles found in the Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services.
Representative Foley points to Article 3 of the new regulations for a summary as found on the official Chinese government website. Article 3 reads:
“Those engaged in Internet Religious Information Services shall abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations and rules; practice the core socialist values; adhere to the nation’s principle of religious independence and self-government, persist in the nation’s orientation toward the sinification of religion, actively bring about the adaptation of religion to socialist society; and preserve religious tranquility and acquiesence, social harmony, and ethnic concordance.” (Nonpartisan China Law Translate service posted the English translation of this article)
But Representative Foley says that the parts of the new regulations that concern her Voice of the Martyrs Korea group the most are the small details. “We should ask, ‘What is really going to change when these new regulations go into effect on March 1?’ After all, the Communist Party has been blocking independent Christian websites and other religious content on the Internet for some time. But there are new aspects to these regulations, like Article 20, which says, ‘Those providing internet religious information broadcast platform services shall sign agreements with the platform’s registered users and verify users’ real identity information.’ If religious websites have to collect and verify the names and identities of everyone visiting their website, then that creates a very easy way for authorities to figure out who the supposedly ‘dangerous’ Christians are. That’s exactly what we saw in 2019 in the case of the Xiaomai Christian Bookstore in Zhejiang Province. According to our sources, authorities went through the bookstore’s receipts and put together a list of more than 10,000 customers, and then they questioned all of those customers on suspicion of having bought a Christian book by Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church, who they had put in jail. If every Christian website has to make a list of everyone who comes to the website, then whenever the authorities decide that a particular website or preacher is actually a subversive extremist terrorist, then that gives the authorities an automatic list of suspects to interrogate.”
Articles 1-6 of China’s new Internet Religious Information Services law as found on the official Chinese government website.
Articles 14-16 of China’s new Internet Religious Information Services law as found on the official Chinese government website.
But Representative Foley says that she does not detect any fear or concern on the part of Chinese underground Christians as regards the new regulations. “They see it as being just like when God hardened Pharoah’s heart, and Pharoah made the Israelites produce more bricks with less straw,” says Representative Foley. “Ultimately everything Pharoah does, God uses to bring glory to his name and blessings to his people.”
Representative Foley says that Chinese house church network leaders have already found ways around previous government bans on offline and online meetings. “We support multiple house church networks through our Sunday School in a Box project, for example. That project uses self-contained video players and teaching resources so that small groups of Christians can meet together to study the Bible thoroughly in three years, even if they can’t read, even if they aren’t ordained or trained. It’s a good example of how, among underground Chinese Christians, there has really been a return in the last few years back to small lay-led house church meetings.”
Representative Foley says those small house church meetings are grounds for hope, even amidst the impending March 1 crackdown. “You don’t have to be plugged into the Internet or gathered together in a church building to worship the Lord. Wherever the word of God is proclaimed and heard by even two or three people gathered together in Christ’s name—there the church is, and Christ has promised that even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Individuals interested in donating to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the house church Christians of China can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to:
KB Bank: 463501-01-243303
Account Holder: (사)순교자의소리
Please note “China” on the transfer