Spied on and threatened to be expelled or persecuted, religious students and teachers are fighting to preserve their faith in war-like conditions.
by Tang Wanming
Chinese authorities are waging a comprehensive warfare against religion in the institutions of higher education, prohibiting students from practicing their faith on campuses and outside universities. Government-assigned inspection teams frequent schools, forcing their administrations to ensure a total ban on religion and free speech, while student “spies” report on any display of faith and dissent, often resulting in the firing and persecution of professors and students pressured to renounce their faith or face expulsion.
Some universities have implemented wide-ranging plans to suppress religious students and teachers through “ideological transformation work,” after their religious inclinations are determined through listening to their phone conversations, monitoring social media and online messaging platforms or searching their dormitory rooms.
Meeting venues near universities suppressed
Other schools and local governments go even further. The Education Bureau of a county in the southeastern province of Fujian adopted a working plan in June last year, according to which, the crackdown on religious and missionary activities around schools is carried out as part of the nationwide campaign to “clean up gang crime and eliminate evil.”
issued by the Education Bureau of a county in Fujian Province.
On May 5, a meeting venue near a university in Fujian’s Xiamen city was shut down. Most of the church’s members who are students at universities were summoned by their schools and government departments: they were threatened to be expelled if they continued attending church gatherings.
One of the students revealed that school administration and government personnel have repeatedly questioned him regarding his religious beliefs. He is apprehensive that this will impact his graduation and future employment. He doesn’t know what he would tell his parents if he is forced to drop out.
Some students have stopped attending church out of fear.
On May 12, a nearby meeting venue was also shut down after the local police blocked the doors and forcefully registered the ID information of believers that were present at the time. Among them were two students, who were later questioned by the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau.
Last November, a house church meeting place near the Fuqing campus of Fujian Normal University was closed because the national security brigade claimed that it was too close to the school and would attract students to religion. The person in charge of the venue revealed that the church had applied for a religious venue permit a long time ago, but the government kept delaying and never approved it.
“The government doesn’t allow university students to be religious now. Some Three-Self churches don’t dare to accept university students out of fear that this would bring trouble to the church,” said a co-worker from a university fellowship in Zhengdong district of Zhengzhou city, in the central province of Henan.
“What the CCP is doing is unconstitutional. An adult has the right to his or her beliefs,” the co-worker thinks. On November 25 last year, the police raided his fellowship, and seven believers were taken away. Musical instruments and religious materials, including approximately 60 Bibles and spiritual books, as well as more than 1,000 gospel leaflets, worth around 8,000 RMB (about $ 1,160), were confiscated.
The apartment rented for the fellowship was sealed off, so the congregation had to look for another place. The co-worker said that now, they don’t dare to walk to or from their meetings in groups as before, and always make sure that they are not followed. When somebody arrives at the meeting venue and knocks on the door, those inside have to confirm the person’s name before letting him or her in. An acquaintance must introduce believers who are attending a gathering for the first time.
The co-worker feels sad for the students pressured by the government who become so frightened that they do not dare to come to the meetings anymore. “When we went to visit some of them, they were even scared to talk to us,” the co-worker remembered.
Students forced to hold secret gatherings
A student fellowship organized by a professor at a university in Wuhan city, in the central province of Hubei, was also shut down. The school told her that government-assigned teams often conduct inspections at the school, and therefore, she is prohibited from holding gatherings anymore. The fellowship’s believers now meet in random places, like gazebos by a nearby lake.
“Because the Ministry of Education adopted documents demanding to scrutinize ideological issues, all educational institutions are now key targets of supervision and inspection,” said a Christian at a university in Binzhou city of the eastern province of Shandong.
A student at a university in Shandong revealed that the school threatened many Christians to stop attending religious gatherings outside the school. Even occasional exchanges about religion on campus are also prohibited.
“We generally meet in the evening; it’s a bit safer. The teachers go home in the late afternoon, so it is much harder to discover our meetings,” the student explained. Though not always: sometimes, they are discovered by student “spies” – mostly applicants to become Communist Party members, eager to show their loyalty to authorities. In such cases, gatherings are canceled to avoid trouble.