People of faith who receive subsistence allowances from the government face a hard decision to choose between religion and sustaining their livelihood.
by Han Sheng
At six in the morning on a Sunday in August, an elderly Protestant was standing outside a Three-Self church in Shangqiu, a prefecture-level city in the central province of Henan. In his seventies, the man who has difficulty moving, left his home at two at night to get to the church on foot in time for the Sunday service. He has to take the long journey each Sunday because the government recently closed down the church in his village.
“I leave home early also because my subsistence allowance could be revoked if village officials catch me going to church,” the elderly believer explained. Since last year, officials repeatedly visit him at home, threatening to take away his social benefits if he doesn’t stop practicing his faith.
“Officials told me to stop believing in God because the government, not Him, gives me money,” the man recalled. “They tell me to be thankful to the Communist Party for taking care of me.”
Households receiving social benefits are subjected to continuous government control and unannounced home inspections by local officials, who check on them and remove religious symbols, replacing them with images of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong.
“The government bars me from believing in God, but I do it in secret as the Lord is in my heart; I will never give up my faith,” the believer said firmly. A portrait of Mao Zedong was recently hung in his house.
One day in May, a local official, accompanied by two police officers, came to the home of a 70-year-old Three-Self Church member in Henan’s Kaifeng city. He was ordered to put his Bibles, hymnbooks, and other Christian publications in a basin filled with water.
“They threatened to withdraw my impoverished household status, for which I receive benefits, if I attend gatherings in secret,” the elderly believer said. Government subsidies are the primary income for the man and his wife, who is partially paralyzed. Last year, the couple had to replace cross images at home with Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping portraits.
An elderly Three-Self Church member from Xinyu city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi was subjected to four inspections in two months. During the first one in November 2019, government officials tore off five religious calendars and posted a portrait of Xi Jinping, instructing the woman “to believe in the Communist Party and depend on Xi Jinping for food.”
A few days later, the officials returned to search the woman’s closets and drawers and confiscated a few Bibles. After another couple of days, they broke into the house while the woman was singing hymns and took away the hymnbook she borrowed from fellow believers.
In December, the woman came home carrying two religious calendars but did not have time to hide them as village officials rushed in and threw them into a bin. The distraught believer took the calendars out, but the officials ripped them to pieces.
A 70-year-old believer from Henan’s Nanyang city told Bitter Winter that since 2018 when he applied for impoverished household benefits, his village head repeatedly visits him at home to inquire whether the man continues attending worship services.
A couple from a Sola Fide house church in Henan’s Dengzhou city were disqualified from impoverished household benefits for refusing to tear down cross images in their home. The believers were left without income, and all religious symbols were still removed from their residence.
A paralyzed house church member from the eastern province of Shandong, in her 70s, lives with her disabled son. Her subsistence allowance was revoked because she said “thank God” to government officials during a home inspection.
“The village Party secretary told us that we no longer qualify for any poverty alleviation benefits,” the believer’s son said with sadness.
Buddhists are also subjected to similar persecutions, as images of deities are replaced with those of Xi Jinping.
“Generally, only portraits of deceased people are displayed in Buddhist residences,” a member of an impoverished household from Jiangxi Province explained. “Xi Jinping is still alive, but he wants to be treated as a deity.”