Even little keepsakes with religious content are becoming off-limits to people of faith in China, as authorities punish those who make and distribute them.
by Wang Yichi
Distributing small items with verses from the Bible, like hand fans or napkins, has been an integral part of the evangelization processes for Christians in China. But not anymore. As suppressive measures against all religious materials and activities not approved by the CCP intensify, it has become dangerous to make and share such innocent tokens of faith.
In July, two house church deacons in Zibo, a prefecture-level city in the eastern province of Shandong, were arrested for buying and distributing hand fans with Christian content. The police confiscated over 200 fans and a church account book found in the home of one of the deacons, fining him 9,300 RMB (about $ 1,390) for “illegal evangelism.”
In April, a house church preacher from Hengshui city in the northeastern province of Hebei posted a message online about hand fans with religious content he had ordered. The next day, officials from the local United Front Work Department and Public Security Bureau came to question him.
In July last year, authorities in Heilongjiang’s Daqing city arrested a house church pastor after searching his home for buying hand fans with Christian content. All other religious materials—booklets, cards, and leaflets—found in the pastor’s home were also confiscated. The pastor was questioned if he had had contacts with foreign countries and was pressured to sign a statement promising to stop organizing religious gatherings and distributing religious materials.
“Because the text ‘Only Jesus can save us’ was printed on the fans, the officials asked the pastor why only Jesus, not the Communist Party, can save him,” a congregation member said. “They told him that he believes in a ‘foreign religion’ that is hostile to the government.”
In June last year, a house church director from Linfen city in the northern province of Shanxi bought 5,000 hand fans with Bible verses. Before long, the government shut down the company he ordered from, and the police found his order records. They questioned him about the fans, demanding him to take back every single one he had distributed. Soon after, his church was shut down.
In August, a Sola Fide house church in Jixi, a prefecture-level city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, ordered over 20,000 packs of paper napkins with Bible verses printed on packages. The next day the napkins were brought to the church, local police officers and Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau officials came to investigate the venue.
A church member told Bitter Winter that the officials and police officers searched the church and the deacon’s house. The deacon and a church member were taken to the police station to be interrogated about the napkins and the sources of the church money. Both were put under police surveillance after their release. A few days later, the packages were burned publicly as “unapproved religious materials.”
A house church member, who owns a business in the central province of Henan, was fined in September merely for offering a customer her hand fan with religious messages to cool off on a hot day while she was in her shop. As it later turned out, the customer was a government mole, sent to infiltrate the woman’s church. Subsequently, the hand fan was used as evidence to fine the believer and her church 13,000 RMB (about $ 1,940) collectively for “holding religious activities in a non-religious activity venue.” The church was soon closed down.