Last December, more than 100 adherents to the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu were detained in a crackdown on the underground congregation, including the pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong. Jiang was accused of inciting subversion of state power, but was released last month after six months in detention. Her husband remains in police custody. One Early Rain congregant, Liao Qiang, fled China with his family after the crackdown and is now in Taiwan, where he gave an account of the government persecution of his church to the Associated Press:
The 49-year-old arrived in Taiwan last week after fleeing China with five family members. He and his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, described living under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their prominent but not government-sanctioned church in December.
[…] Liao and Ren’s account is the first detailing what has happened since the detentions began at the Early Rain Covenant Church. It shows the determination of the Chinese government — and the lengths it has gone — to eradicate a congregation that has long been a thorn in its side.
Early Rain’s pastor, Wang Yi, who remains detained, has been critical of Xi and the party. He has made a point of holding a prayer service on June 4 each year to commemorate the 1989 bloody crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, an anniversary that China’s government has sought to wipe from memory.
Ren told The Associated Press that she had to report her whereabouts to police using social media whenever she went out. She was told her safety couldn’t be guaranteed if she disobeyed. [Source]
Another unsanctioned church has also been targeted by authorities, according to ChinaAid:
Jiangsu authorities have banned Dao En Presbyterian Church, a major unregistered Christian congregation operating within the city of Xuzhou. The banning came after the church had undergone much official harassment.https://t.co/M3izgK2gxy pic.twitter.com/ghHUnQMptk
— ChinaAid (@chinaaid) July 2, 2019
The crackdown on Early Rain and other underground churches has come amid a broader political campaign to “Sinicize” religion in China, during which Christian churches have been demolished and church activists have been detained. The campaign has also imposed new political demands on Buddhists and Muslims in China; most notably, more than one million Uyghur Muslims have been detained in internment camps where they undergo political and cultural indoctrination to eradicate their beliefs. This crackdown on major religions is part of a “two-prong approach” alongside promotion of Chinese folk religions, as Ian Johnson has written. Within this dynamic, adherents to various religions and spiritual practices in China have found some space to express their beliefs, as this photo essay by Liz Hingley in the Guardian shows.