The CCP continued cracking down on unregistered Protestant venues in this northeastern Chinese province, arrested and fined believers and clergy members.
by Wu Haiping
The so-called gray market, which encompasses places of worship that are neither legal nor explicitly banned, is the largest segment of religion in China and is continuously suppressed by the CCP. Last year, at least 162 such venues were shut down in Jilin, a northeastern province neighboring North Korea.
According to several internal Jilin government documents, in 2019, the province kept on track thoroughly implementing President Xi Jinping’s directives on religious work: ascertaining information on religious venues through secret investigations and shutting them down. They spent considerable time collecting and sharing experiences from across the country on rectifying house churches. The government also issued multiple documents last year to intensify crackdowns on Christian groups, in particular those house churches that are associated with South Korea.
Consequently, numerous house church venues were shut down in major prefecture-level cities: 49 in Siping, 23 in Liaoyuan, 21 in Baishan, and 25 in the provincial capital Changchun.
In November, over 50 personnel from the National Security Brigade, Public Security Bureau, and Religious Affairs Bureau broke into a Sola Fide house church venue in Liuhe town, administered by Tonghua city. They took away the preacher and dispersed over 60 congregation members.
“They threatened to dismiss me from my job if I continued holding gatherings and said that Xi Jinping wants believers throughout the country to worship the Communist Party,” the preacher said indignantly.
On September 29, the local bureaus of public security, religious, and civil affairs joined forces to raid a house church venue in Longjing, a county-level city in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. The police confiscated the church’s 3,000 RMB (about $ 420) donation money and about 50 Bibles, registered personal information of over 30 congregation members at the scene. They also took away the church director and the owner of the venue for interrogation.
“They threatened to arrest or fine us if we continue our gatherings: The church director could get a fine of 50,000 RMB [about $ 7,000], and the venue host—between 20,000 and 200,000 RMB [about $ 2,800 to 28,000],” a congregation member told Bitter Winter.
The government also demands regular citizens and members of state-run Three-Self churches to report on house churches. A Three-Self pastor told Bitter Winter that the director of the Tonghua Religious Affairs Bureau asked all clergy members and directors of local Three-Self churches to not only report on house church venues but also on “kangtou gatherings (炕頭聚會)”—a unique form of family gatherings, very popular in northeastern China. During such assemblies, people sit together on a kang—a kind of heatable adobe or brick bed—to keep warm.
In July, personnel from the Zumin township government in Dongliao county, administered by Liaoyuan city, destroyed a large kang, which could accommodate about 200 people, in a local charismatic house church venue to prevent believers from gathering. The officials said that it was “a lenient punishment” compared to demolishing the venue.
In late February, a house church venue in the Changyi district of Jilin city was reported by its neighbor. As a result, over ten congregation members were detained for 15 days and fined 20,000 RMB (about $ 2,800).
According to a government insider from Jilin, the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau issued a document in February, demanding religious affairs departments in all localities to “rectify” house churches. Local officials are ordered to investigate house church venues and collect information on when they were established, who is in charge of them, and how large the congregations are. This, according to the superiors, was needed to lay the foundations for a future unified suppression operation. Unregistered seminaries, training classes, kindergartens, regular and Sunday schools run by house churches are also investigated and will be closed down. Religious activities online are to be suppressed, and control and transformation through education of directors and congregations of the closed house churches strengthened to prevent them from resuming religious activities.