Fears of Uprisings Prompt China’s Easter crackdown

Following this weekend’s crackdown on the underground Shouwang Church in Beijing, the second in as many weeks, the Globe and Mail puts the events in the broader context of the large-scale crackdown on dissent in China and the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Arab World:

Only officially sanctioned churches are considered legal in China. In practice, however, semi-underground “house churches” – so named because they are not allowed to own property and instead often gather in private homes – have been widely tolerated and allowed to flourish in recent years. The house church movement now has an estimated 60 million members, compared with 20 million who belong to the official organizations, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestants and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association for Catholics.

Sunday marked the second straight week that police prevented members of the Shouwang church from praying in a public location. The church, which has about 1,000 followers, said it was forced to hold the services outside after being evicted from the restaurant where they gathered every Sunday for more than a year. Shouwang’s leaders say the restaurant had been under official pressure to close its doors to the church, and claimed other prospective locations had refused their rent money for the same reason.

“It was a sleepless night. I pray for those [church members] who went outside today,” said one member of the Shouwang congregation who was kept under house arrest Sunday. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said the church would try again to hold an outdoor service on Easter Sunday. “This won’t stop until we have an indoor site for congregation.”

Meanwhile, the leader of another prominent Beijing house church told The Globe and Mail he has been under regular surveillance and an off-and-on informal house arrest for most of the past two months.

The New York Times also writes about Shouwang and the crackdown on dissent:

The move against Shouwang, as well as other house churches, coincides with the most expansive assault on dissent in China in years, one that has led to the arrests of high-profile critics like the artist Ai Weiwei, but also legions of little-known bloggers, rights lawyers and democracy advocates who have disappeared into the country’s opaque legal system. The crackdown, now in its second month, was prompted by government fears that the Arab revolts against autocracy could spread to China and undermine the Communist Party’s six-decade hold on power.

Although many congregations continue to hold services unhindered, in recent weeks the pastors of two large unofficial churches in the southern city of Guangzhou have been detained and their congregations rendered homeless. In Shanxi Province, a house church organizer said the police attacked him with electric batons, and religious leaders in places like Xinjiang in the far west and Inner Mongolia in the north have reported increased harassment, according to China Aid, a Texas-based Christian advocacy group. Last year, the organization reported 3,343 instances in which house church members or leaders were detained or beaten, a 15 percent increase over 2009. Bob Fu, the group’s president, said such incidents were part of the latest government campaign to try to force house church members into state-run congregations.

“I’m not optimistic a peaceful solution will be found to this crisis,” he said. “The government’s moves are forcing nonpolitical churches to commit acts of civil disobedience, which the government is not likely to tolerate.”

Meanwhile, China’s Catholic Church is taking moves to beatify one of the earliest Christian missionaries, in what is being seen as a conciliatory gesture aimed at the Vatican, with whom relations have been tense:

The news that scientist Paolo Xu Guangqi was on the path to beatification brought “hope” and “joy” in what was otherwise a period of tension between the Vatican and China’s official state Catholic church, the Holy See said.

Guangqi (1562-1633) was a disciple of Jesuit Matteo Ricci and converted to Christianity under the Ming Dynasty. His story should give Catholics in China confidence in confirming loyalty to the Vatican, Lombardi said.

“Chinese people, whether they are Catholics or not, will be better able to understand that there is no contradiction or risk in being both Chinese and catholic,” he added.

“This layman, a highly cultured imperial official of some rank” was known as “a great and faithful servant of his country and his people,” he said.

Shanghai’s bishop, Aloysus Jin Luxian, who set the beatification process in motion, plays an important reconciliatory role in the Catholic community.