Preacher Geng Zejun, of the Church of the Rock in Shizuishan, was detained in December and formerly arrested last month.
by Ma Wenyan
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR) is a remote area in Northwest China. It takes its name from the Hui, Chinese-speaking citizens of China who are traditionally Muslims by religion and are considered as members of an “ethnic” minority. Today Hui Muslims are roughly one third of the NHAR population. There is a small Christian minority, which includes less than 2% of the population.
Traditionally, Hui have been represented as the “good” Muslims loyal to China and the Communist Party, in opposition to the “bad” Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. Recently, however, with the stricter control of religion under Xi Jinping, some Hui mosques in the NHAR have been destroyed an others “sinicized” by eliminating architectural features that looked Arabic rather than Chinese.
These measures generated widespread protests in the region. Protests were also social, as communal land belonging to rural Hui communities was confiscated within the framework of new economic projects. The Muslim religion was the main social force inspiring local resistance against land grabbing.
These events generated additional distrust of the local CCP against religion. Although the tiny Christian communities were not involved in the land protests, they were all put under surveillance, and whatever tolerance might have existed for missionary activities and house churches not affiliated with the government-controlled Three Self Church disappeared.
One recent example of this intolerance concerns the Church of the Rock, a house church in Huinong district of the prefecture-level city Shizuishan, the second largest city in the NHAR, located in the north of the autonomous region, near the border with Inner Mongolia.
While the context made the community extremely cautious, and worship services were conducted in a comparatively isolated bungalow, on December 5, 2021, one such gathering was raided, and Pastor Geng Zejun was detained together with his wife and several other devotees. Pastor Geng got fifteen days of administrative detention for “disturbing the social order.” His wife and four other Christians got 10 days.
After they were released, however, they continued their meetings. On January 4, 2022, Pastor Geng was called by the police for questioning. He did not come home, and his family was told that he was kept in detention for “organizing illegal religious gatherings.”
On January 25, he was formally arrested. He is currently detained in the Shizuishan City Detention Center, and should face trial together with five devotees who have been released on bail.