Sons of Heaven

The Economist reports on growing number of Christians in China and the political impact it might have on China someday:

Zhao Xiao, a former Communist Party official and convert to Christianity, smiles over a cup of tea and says he thinks there are up to 130m Christians in China. This is far larger than previous estimates. The government says there are 21m (16m Protestants, 5m Catholics). Unofficial figures, such as one given by the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in Massachusetts, put the number at about 70m. But Mr Zhao is not alone in his reckoning. A study of China by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an American think-tank, says indirect survey evidence suggests many unaffiliated Christians are not in the official figures. And according to China Aid Association (CAA), a Texas-based lobby group, the director of the government body which supervises all religions in China said privately that the figure was indeed as much as 130m in early 2008.

If so, it would mean China contains more Christians than Communists (party membership is 74m) and there may be more active Christians in China than in any other country. In 1949, when the Communists took power, less than 1% of the population had been baptised, most of them Catholics. Now the largest, fastest-growing number of Christians belong to Protestant “house churches”.

Formally, the Communist Party forbids members to hold a religious belief, and the churches say they suffer official harassment. The president of the Beijing house-church alliance, Zhang Mingxuan,was thrown out of the capital before the Olympic games and told he was unwelcome when he returned. In early June, the state government of Henan arrested half a dozen house-church members on charges of illegally sending charitable donations to Sichuan earthquake victims. CAA claims harassment of house churches is rising.

This story comes in conjunction with the first Chinese tour group to Israel where New Testament sites are attracting Chinese tourists. Alison Klaymon reports from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency via the Jewish Exponent, “Destination Israel: China Launches First Official Tours.”

See the photos posted by People’s Daily where the official story presents no religious component.

At the same time, Beijing has denied bishops a trip to the Vatican, see Times of India “China Denies Bishops trip to Rome: Vatican”:

China’s 8 to 12 million Catholics are split between the officially approved church and an “underground” one loyal to the Pope. The lack of participation by the mainland bishops came as a surprise because there had been signs of an improvement in relations this year. A bishop from Hong Kong represented Pope Benedict at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in August and in May China’s national orchestra played for the Pope at an unprecedented concert in the Vatican.

Benedict has made improving relations with China a main goal of his pontificate and hopes diplomatic ties can be restored. China says before restoring ties, broken off two years after the 1949 Communist takeover, the Vatican must sever relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. The synod, at which the bishops will be discussing scripture, will see a first when Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen becomes the first Jew to address such a Vatican gathering. The rabbi of Haifa, Israel, will lead a one-day discussion of Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures on Oct. 6.

See also related recent ban on religious music.


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