The CCP is clamping down on anything religion-related for children – be it a kindergarten on church property, a Sunday school, or training of future clergy members.
by Yang Xiangwen
Since the new Regulations on Religious Affairs came into force in February 2018, the CCP has been prohibiting all religious activities for minors, no matter who is organizing them: even state-approved churches are not allowed to have children in them. In the name of “separating religion from education,” authorities throughout China use an array of methods to ensure that children don’t have any contact with faith and are raised as obedient atheist followers of the Communist Party.
Kindergartens ordered to move from church property
In March 2019, the Religious Affairs Bureau and Education Bureau in Taiyuan, the capital of the northern province of Shanxi, demanded two kindergartens to move out of Shagou Catholic Church, which belongs to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). Officials declared that the privately-owned kindergartens, called “Tongxin” and “Qihang,” cannot remain on the church property because this violates the national policy which prohibits minors from entering places of worship and doesn’t allow educational institutions to be associated with religions.
“The government doesn’t let kindergartens to be even near a temple or a church. If we don’t move out, Religious Affairs Bureau officials will scrutinize us every day, and we will not be able to enroll new students,” a teacher who works in Tongxin kindergarten told Bitter Winter. He believes that by removing educational institutions from church properties, even state-approved ones, the government wants to eliminate any chance for children to have any exposure to religion.
“The investment to the kindergarten amounts to hundreds of thousands,” the teacher continued. “The owner has suffered huge financial losses because the number of newly-enrolled students is reducing.”
Young postulants forced to flee
“Every time government officials come for an inspection, we have to go into hiding. We have experienced this many times, too many to count,” a 16-year-old postulant in an unregistered Catholic “minor seminary” in the northern province of Hebei told Bitter Winter.
Although the seminary was set up by a church that belongs to the CPCA, it is still not allowed to involve minors in training activities. Therefore, the local authorities continuously monitor the seminary, making sure that no children are present there.
“When we were warned that provincial officials were coming for an inspection, we hurriedly packed our clothes and other belongings and had to flee to another church,” the postulant remembered. “Because of the speedy escape, we had to leave many things behind. In the new place, we lived in cold rooms without heating. On the fifth day after getting there, Religious Affairs Bureau officials discovered us. This time, a group of over 50 young postulants had to flee, covering on foot many miles. It was an exhausting journey; we all had blisters on our feet.”
The young believers continue to live as fugitives. Every day they have to pack their clothes and bed linen, so they are ready to escape at any time. The postulant said that this way of life feels like “engaging in guerrilla warfare.”
“The CCP claims to the world that there is religious freedom in China. In reality, there is no freedom at all,” the postulant finished his story. Regardless, he treats the persecution as a test to his faith, which he is not willing to give up.
Sunday schools and youth clubs shut down
In July, a CPCA church in Hebei’s Xingtai city started a youth club, but it was closed by the government the same day. Even though the club was moved to another venue the next day, the church priest soon received threats from the city’s Religious Affairs Bureau, Public Security Bureau, and local government, demanding him to dismiss classes immediately. Attempting to intimidate the church and club members, the police stormed into the new venue and took photos of all who were present at the time. Consequently, the authorities criticized the priest and sent him for “ideological education.”
The same month, requested by congregation members, a state-approved church in the Diocese of Baoding in Hebei’s Laishui county organized a Bible study class for children during their summer holiday. However, before their 14-day course was finished, government officials discovered the class and dismissed it.
Congregation members from state-run Catholic churches in Hebei’s Xian county and Baoding city reported to Bitter Winter that several Sunday classes for children were closed down on orders from the local governments.