Although reduced in strength, the Christian new religious movement is still active in China—and still persecuted.
by Massimo Introvigne
We have recently learned of a police operation that destroyed between 2019 and 2020 the branches of the Association of Disciples that had been established in the municipality of Tianjin—or so the CCP said.
The Association of Disciples (门徒会, Mentuhui) is a Christian new religious movement founded by Ji Sanbao (季三保, 1940-1997), a former member of the True Jesus Church, in 1989. It was banned in 1990, included in the list of the xie jiao, and severely persecuted. In 2020, a national campaign was launched against the Association of Disciples, but the attack on the Tianjin branch had actually begun in 2019.
A believer surnamed Han, from Renqiu City, Hebei Province, was identified by the police as the believer who brought the Association of Disciples to Tianjin, where he created nine small branches of the group, including in the city’s districts known as Jinghai, Dagang, and Hexi, between 2015 and 2019. According to the police, he converted at least 24 Tianjin citizens to the Association.
On May 7, 2019, Han, who lived in Junliang City, Dongli District, Tianjin City, was arrested. His arrest was confirmed after the police searched his rented home, and found in his computer 117 audio and video files connected with the Association of Disciples.
On August 25, 2020, the People’s Court of Dongli District, Tianjin City, tried Han under article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, which punishes those active in a xie jiao. Han was sentenced to one year and six months in jail, and fined hundred thousand yuan.
The police also claimed that, based on the names found in Han’s mobile phone, it was able to dismantle and liquidate the Tianjin branch of the Association of Disciples.
Although probably reduced to less than the 350,000 members it had when its founder Ji died in 1997, according to the police by killing himself when attempting to force a roadblock, the Association of Disciples remains a frequent target of the CCP’s anti-cult propaganda. Crackdowns are organized periodically, as the CCP claims that the movement is still active nationwide, notwithstanding the death of the founder, Ji, and of his successor, Yu Shiqiang (蔚世强), who died of cancer in 2001, and the arrest of the third leader, Chen Shirong (陈世荣), who is currently serving a 13-year jail sentence.