Christianity in China is facing a new wave of changes. In March, the Chinese government opened its doors by allowing house churches to register with the government, thus permitting them as legal congregations. The approach broke the decades of government policy on legalizing Christian gatherings in other-than government controlled churches, namely the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the Chinese Christian Council (CCC). Despite the policy change, many house churches are still reluctant to believe the government's intentions to allow greater religious freedom.
In June, Voice of Martyrs (VOM) reported that a wave of persecution took place in the northeast region of China. The police raided over 60 house churches in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin. Over 500 believers and house church leaders were taken into custody and were released after two days of interrogation. Majority of the persecuted were students, professors, and young intellectuals. In addition, VOM reports indicated that the government would be taking more aggressive measures to control the unregistered churches.
One event followed closely by international watch dog groups is the trial of Beijing house church leader Cai Zhuohua, who was sent to trail along with members of his family in July for alleged printing of over 200,000 copies of Christian literature. He was tried on the grounds of "Illegal business and management." Nine prominent lawyers volunteered to defend the pastor, yet the judge allowed only five to enter, and one witness to testify for the pastor. The trial ended with decision for the verdict to be announced at a later date.
However, China took concessions in its severance with foreign religious influence by allowing the consecration of new auxiliary bishops in Shanghai and Xi'an with the tacit approval of the Vatican, a move that brought optimism to some and hopes for more religious freedom, yet the arrest of the Catholic priest in Fujian and 100 Christian students in Hebei immediately ensued dispelled the optimism quickly. The most recent release from China Aid Association reported arrest of two American tourists and raiding of a house church in Shanghai. A newspaper in China revealed that the crackdowns are a part of the government campaign to control unregistered churches that are practicing their faith against government approval.
Whether China is heading toward greater religious freedom continues to be an enigma. Although changes are taking place both politically and socially for the nation, religious persecution has actually escalated in the process. For mission groups concerned for the Chinese inland believers, close observance on persecution should remain at high levels.