They are not allowed to have their places of worship or join Chinese. Besides, they have been placed under surveillance and are targeted in secret investigations.
by Gu Xi
CCP’s vigorous crackdown on places of worship with foreign ties under the pretext of “preventing foreign infiltration through religion,” also impacts the lives of international students in China.
A group of over 80 African students from a city in the northeastern province of Liaoning told Bitter Winter that they had had a hard time to find a place for practicing their faith.
In September, the person in charge of the Three-Self church that they originally attended received a government order, prohibiting foreigners from participating in gatherings at the church.
The students couldn’t understand the government’s reasoning. “We just want to have a place to congregate,” one of the students was discontent.
“In our hearts, we were unwilling to see them leave,” a Chinese believer at the church said. He also revealed that at an “anti-religious infiltration” symposium held by the local government in August, the officials questioned the person in charge of the church if they were carrying any foreign-related activities. The international students were driven out of the church soon after.
The government also pressured or threatened other Christian meeting venues. When the African students asked to be allowed to attend gatherings at another Three-Self church, they were turned down as well. To date, they still haven’t found a suitable congregation venue.
Over 40 African students at a university in the central province of Hubei are in the same situation. Since October last year, the government-controlled meeting venue where they attended gatherings, received repeated threats from government officials who demanded the church’s director to drive out the international students.
The students now are forced to worship in secret, disguising their gatherings like birthday parties.
One of the students said that he doesn’t understand how the government can claim that there is “freedom of belief” in China. “I don’t understand why China’s rulers won’t allow foreigners to hold religious gatherings,” the student was puzzled. “This has forced us to practice our faith in hiding.”
Amid the increasing crackdowns on religious groups with foreign ties, international students and teachers are subjected to even stricter control. Bitter Winter has obtained documents issued by universities in the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Henan, and elsewhere, all of which required to intensify oversight over international students and teachers and investigate their religious status. Also, the documents call for strict reviews of the hiring procedures for foreign teaching staff and schools’ foreign-related academic exchange activities.
An administrator at a university in Jiujiang, a prefecture-level city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, said that on the surface, the government treats African students quite decently, but in reality, it secretly monitors them. “If any people are discovered to be too close to them, both parties will be watched and investigated. But most African students are completely unaware that they’re being monitored,” the administrator explained.
“As soon as African students are discovered attending gatherings at house churches or spreading the gospel to other students, they will be expelled from the school immediately,” the administrator continued, adding that the school has already expelled one African student for preaching the gospel to Chinese classmates. The student was later deported to his home country.
In September, a South Korean professor, who has previously worked at a university in Jilin’s Yanji city, was not allowed to return to China because in October 2018, after raiding a Christian meeting venue on the city’s Chaoyang street, the police found out that he and other South Korean teachers were attending the church. Some of the teachers were later deported.