October 2, 2019 - 12:12pm

In 1999, the Chinese Communist Party banned the Falun Gong, an ancient spiritual and meditation technique practised by many tens of millions of people around the world. You may have seen some of its followers in the park, with their distinctive slow moving exercises and breathing regulation techniques. They don’t seem especially politically threatening. Nor does their general philosophy of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. A blend of Buddhism and Taoism, Falun Gong grew strongly in the 1990s, prompting the Communist Party to fear its potential as a threat to its hegemony, hence the ban and subsequent crackdown.

Last week a lawyer, Hamid Sabi, acting for an independent tribunal set up to investigate human rights abuses in China reported to the UN the continued use of organ harvesting from the Falun Gong and Ulghar Muslims:

Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.
- Hamid Sabi

Beijing denies all this. But given the historic suspicion with which the Chinese Communist Party treats all things religious, it is unsurprising that Christians in China are getting especially nervous about how the Hong Kong protests, amongst whose leadership Christians figure prominently, will impact them. And reports continue to emerge of a crackdown on Christians who refuse to join state-approved churches, like the CPCA. This, for instance, from a few days ago:

According to a churchgoer in the Diocese of Yujiang in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, a priest who refuses to join the CPCA received news in early September that the government was planning to arrest him in order to “prevent the underground Catholic Church in mainland China from uniting with the Catholic Church in Hong Kong.” Since then, he had no choice but to go into hiding; he cannot use his mobile phone and doesn’t dare to return to his residence.
- Tang Zhe

Officially, there are over 40 million Christians in China. Unofficially, the figure is probably closer to 100 million and growing – more than the members of the Communist Party itself. And that mathematics makes the Chinese authorities uncomfortable.

Recent history suggests these are extremely dangerous times for the church in China.

Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.