September 1, 2014:
In China the government is now taking on Christianity, treating some practitioners as potentially dangerous to the state. Christianity has been in China for centuries and currently is about five of the population and growing fast. In some provinces where Christians are prominent (lots of churches) and numerous the government is shutting down churches and arresting clergy and prominent Christians for the least infraction of the law. This effort is most visible on the North Korean border, where foreign Christians (some of them ethnic Koreans or Chinese) have been assisting North Koreans who have escaped from North Korea. Another hotspot is the southeastern city of Wenzhou, long known as a “Christian city” (because about 15 percent of the population is Christian) where local authorities are shutting down dozens of Christian churches.
Even before the communists took over in the late 1940s Chinese governments had long seen religion as a constant threat. What is especially alarming is any religion that attracts too many members and become more visible, especially as critics of the government. Some Christian sects are doing this and now comes the usual government response.
While Chinese are free to worship any way they want, the government picks religious leaders and imposes discipline. Thus the ongoing war against Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism. Both of these religions refuse to accept government control and are persecuted for that. This included sending thousands of practitioners to slave labor camps and often using some of those prisoners for organ donors. These victims never survived this process. But the persecution has not wiped out these two movements, and this, government officials know, sets a dangerous example for other Chinese. Throughout Chinese history governments have been overthrown by religious movements that harnessed and directed mass discontent.
China began going after Falungong in 1999 after thousands of Falungong practitioners silently demonstrated by standing and staring at a government building. Falungong was developed in the 1980s as a combination of Buddhist practices and ancient Chinese (Taoist) philosophy. It is basically very spiritual and that includes ignoring the government. The Chinese government does not like to be ignored and despite fifty million or more Falungong practitioners in China, the government has been arresting, jailing and killing them by the thousands each year since 1999. China even tried using diplomatic pressure against Falungong, especially in the case of small and poor nations. China insisted that these countries expel or suppress Falungong activity in their country (usually by Chinese migrants or tourists.) This has often backfired. At times, the police seem to be more diligent in going after unruly religious activists, than in taking down corrupt officials and businessmen. Chinese notice this, but most don't care.
In 2006 the governments’ ongoing campaign to crush the Falungong religious movement had extended to the United States where several raids on pro-Falungong writers by thugs who appeared to be Chinese took place. The U.S. government did not react well to this sort of thing and the Chinese backed off. Meanwhile Falungong only wanted to be able to practice their religion openly. Because police continue to hunt down members and arrest them Falungong has gone underground but is still very much around. And so are thousands of police assigned to stamp out the organization. China expects religious groups to be very responsive to government wishes. Falungong refuses to submit.
There is some truth to Chinese claims that Falungong survives because of foreign support. The Falungong leader lives in the United States, as do many of his key aides. Then, back in 2010 the U.S. government donated $1.5 million to an Internet freedom group GIFC (Global Internet Freedom Consortium), whose main function was producing software that enabled Chinese Internet users to get around Chinese government censoring software. GIFC was one of several similar groups. But what really got the Chinese steamed, and angry at the United States, was that GIFC was supported and heavily staffed by members Falungong. The Chinese also accuse Falungong of being behind several hacker attacks on the Chinese government and Chinese communications (as in control signals for communications satellites.) Falungong has used hacking and Internet based efforts to embarrass the government and China has not been able to stop this sort of thing.
The last thing China wants is any religion in China constantly demonstrating that it cannot be destroyed and can still fight back.