Even entertaining friends at home may be treated as a suspicious religious activity by the Chinese authorities; believers from official churches are no exception.
The practice of people reporting each other is as rampant in today’s China as it was during the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese authorities are especially keen on mobilizing local “spies” to report on believers by setting up reporting boxes, hotlines, and websites. This is done not only to report on “unauthorized” religionists and their activities: Even believers from the government-approved Three-Self Church are reported if suspected of organizing illegal religious activities in their homes. A meeting of friends to play music or a housewarming party in China are now treated as such.
Reported for playing music with neighbors
On December 26, 2018, a member of a local Three-Self church from a village in the Kuandian Manchu Autonomous County, under the jurisdiction of Dandong city in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province, invited five fellow villagers to her home. As part of their time together, they played the traditional Chinese string instrument erhu and other instruments, and the hostess also sang some hymns in praise of the Lord.
Since the house of the hostess has previously been used as one of the church meeting venues that was shut down in July 2018, it has been under constant surveillance by informers hired by the local government. One such informer, a local Communist Party member, immediately reported about the gathering to the authorities. A village committee staff member contacted the group and prohibited them from getting together for any reason whatsoever, even to chat. He emphasized that they should not be talking about belief in God. The official also warned that if they were found meeting together again, the hostess would be fined 80,000 to 100,000 RMB (about $12,000 to $15,000), and the others – 10,000 RMB (about $1,500).
To avoid getting her friends and family in trouble, not only did the hostess stopped inviting guests to her home but also kept the house gate locked every day to prevent people from entering. She was so frightened that she even didn’t dare to help her neighbors when they needed help.
One local villager said indignantly, “This country has no hope. They were just having a gathering for fun, and yet, were reported for this. By contrast, those who live a debauched life of dining, wining, whoring and gambling, or even kill or commit arson—no one does anything about them. All the government does is poke their nose into people’s business.”
Having a housewarming party or visiting a friend? You may be arrested
On December 1, 2018, nine Three-Self church believers gathered for a house warming party in Xiushui county, under the jurisdiction of Jiujiang city in southeast China’s Jiangxi Province. They sang songs and said a few prayers for the wellbeing of the household. An informant reported them, and the local police station immediately dispatched officers to arrest the Christians, six of them were elderly, in their sixties and seventies.
Earlier that year, on June 28, a Three-Self Church member from Wulin town, in Yangming district of Mudanjiang city of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, was hosting three friends at her home when the village secretary suddenly stormed in. He claimed that someone had reported that the three guests belonged to a xie jiao organization.
The believer emphasized that the other three were just her friends who had merely come over for a visit. The explanation didn’t help: seven police officers soon rushed in and arrested all four of them.
At the police station, the police officers repeatedly interrogated the three guests about their beliefs, and criticized the Three-Self believer, questioning her as to why she didn’t report to the government that the guests were coming.
The believer asked, “Who doesn’t have friends and relatives? Do I need to submit a report whenever I invite my friends to my home as guests?”
Following the interrogation, the police confirmed that the three friends were “ordinary Buddhists,” and all four were released later that afternoon.