Rapids: An update on the growing oppression of the church in China

SUMMARY: At the beginning of 2019, the situation for China’s Christians remain the worst the church has seen since the end of the cultural revolution under Mao Zedong in 1976. The Chinese church in 2019 is facing significant obstacles as they navigate living in authoritarian China with living faithfully to Jesus Christ. While eradication of Christianity in China does not appear to be the end game of the communist government, thought control in the official church, shaping the official church into the image of the atheistic communist world view, and strangling all other forms of Christian practice outside of the official church, seem to be the goal.  Reports are coming out of a new major push between 2018 and 2022 to implement thought reform within the official church to make it more “Chinese” and malleable to the government’s control. In support of this push are plans for a major re-translation and annotation[1] of the Chinese Bible to find commonalities and “correct understanding” of the Biblical text to match the Communists government desired view of Christianity[2]


FULL UPDATE: For many decades, the practical situation for China’s Christians, both registered and unregistered was one of slow, if not glacial, improvement.  40 years ago, beginning in 1978, the president of China, Deng Xiaoping, set in motion a series of reforms that began the opening up of China to the rest of the world.  These reforms slowly impacted the breadth of Chinese society and government that led to the Chinese “economic miracle” of the late 1990’s and 2000’s.  A second order effect of these reforms was the slow perceived improvement of Chinese Christians situation (both registered and unregistered) and Chinese Christian’s ability to practice their Christian faith.  While the religious laws didn’t change in these 4 decades, the enforcement (or rather non-enforcement) of religious regulation ebbed and flowed, at times easing up. The practice of Christianity outside of the official state church was increasingly tolerated in some areas of China by the mid 2000’s (though unofficially).  The unregistered Chinese church existed in an unofficial “gray zone” as the government chose not to enforce the existing religious regulations. 

Not that persecution and repression didn’t exist, but the situation seemed to be gradually improving. One veteran China observer[3] described the evolution as going from a hard authoritarianism under Mao Zedong, to soft authoritarianism under subsequent leaders.  That is until the rise of Xi Jinping to the presidency in late 2012 when China began a return to hard authoritarianism. Xi immediately set in motion a series of major reforms in the government and society as a whole. While some of the reforms were billed as anti-corruption measures, many of them were used by Xi as a consolidation of power, in what has been described[4] as the most massive internal purge of opponents since Mao Zedong during the cultural revolution. The most dramatic power move was the removal of the two term (10 years) limit on the office of the presidency in March of 2018, effectively allowing Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely[5] .

Many of the reforms set in motion by Xi involve increased censorship and public monitoring, including a growing facial recognition network[6] and social credit system by local and national Chinese leaders. Renewed crackdowns against dissent, perceived western values, and religious expression are increasing.   Not only have many of the existing religious laws begun to be once again enforced against the church in China (the removal of the grey zone[7] of religious practice), but beginning in early 2018[8], new religious laws went into effect increasing restrictions on religious gatherings, financing of religious groups, unregistered religious groups, and religious teaching the state deems “extremist”. 

Uighur Minorities congregate in Tienanmen Square, Beijing.

Uighur Minorities congregate in Tienanmen Square, Beijing.

What this has collectively meant is a dramatic reversal of the practice of religion in general in China, and in particular, against the Christian Church, both registered and unregistered.  The increased freedoms and increased tolerance of Christianity in China over the last 40 years has been rolled back to a climate not seen since the end of the cultural revolution in 1976[9]  . In the last 5 years alone over 1 million Uighur Muslims have been sent to reeducation camps[10] in the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang.  Hundreds[11] of unregistered churches in major cities have been closed, demolished, its members scattered, tens of thousands of Bibles confiscated, and in the case of the Early Rain church in Chengdu, 100 members arrested[12]. One estimate[13] put the number of Christian’s detained in China in 2018 at 10,000. Over 1,000 crosses have been forcibly removed from even officially registered three-self churches. There are numerous reports of officials going from home to home[14] removing any Christian symbol and replacing those symbols with picture s chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi.

While it appears that the eradication of Christianity in China is not the ultimate end game, complete control and creating a Christianity in the image of the atheist communist government is the goal. Reports are coming out of a new major push between 2018 and 2022 to implement thought reform within the official church to make it more “Chinese” and malleable to the government’s control. In support of this push are plans for a major re-translation and annotation[15] of the Chinese Bible to find commonalities and a “correct understanding” of the Biblical text to match the Communists government desired view of Christianity[16]. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to conclude that a new major Chinese translation of the Bibles that pushes an atheistic communist agenda will be the only Bible made available to the state sponsored churches through Amity.

All of this information is from publicly available Christian and secular news sources.  In talking to sources inside China, these stories are just the tip of the iceberg and the situation for Chinese Christians is far worse than what is reported by news agencies.  Reports of Christians being forced to sign renunciations of their faith or face prison are abundant. 


In an ironic turn of events, the improving religious climate for Chinese Christians in the 1990‘s and 2000’s brought many prominent western churches, missions organizations, western leaders, and International Bible Organizations to begin cooperating with the official Chinese state sponsored church and adopting the official government line of the church. This was in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  What this meant practically was an unspoken agreement to work only with the Chinese State sponsored church and deny the existence of the unregistered Chinese church.  The Chinese government’s denial of persecution was adopted and Bibles were provided only through the state sponsored printing press in Nanjing, Amity Press.  As the situation began to once again worsen for the Chinese Church in 2012 (though it never really went away), many of these influential voices in western Christianity are now closed to the plight of the unregistered church and many registered churches in the name of maintaining a favorable view with the Chinese government. It can be jarring to read some of these organizations and leaders take on current events in China that seek to explain away and deny the increase in persecution or need to stand beside the Chinese church (i.e. see HERE[17]). Even the secular press reports are more faithful to the actual on-the-ground situation than some of the body of Christ in the west.   

Our desire at Biblia Global is not to seek a change in the government of China or even attack those rulers.  God is the one who appoints kings, rulers, presidents, and governing systems (c.f. Romans 13:1, Daniel 2:19-21). We desire to share the current reality of the Chinese church and the suffering our brothers and sister live under, even when some in the western church deny this reality.  The situation has been changing fast the last 5 years and much misinformation within western Christianity exists.  Additionally, the need for Bibles in China continues to be staggering, and the challenge of getting Bibles to Christians there continues to become more and more difficult.  Fewer and fewer organizations are involved in this work, to the point that the number remaining can be counted on one hand. Biblia Global and our partners continue to work to get Bibles into China through multiple methods, including the old-fashioned method of carrying physical Bibles into the country on volunteer’s backs.  Yes, Bible smuggling still exists into China, yes is still needed, and yes, it is still relevant! Very few organizations are still involved in this work, which has made the spiritual opposition greatly increased. We have put together this helpful MYTH VERSUS FACT for Bibles in China infograph.

Finally, please pray:

  • For the physical and spiritual protection of the work getting Bibles to Christians in China.

  • Pray for the physical and spiritual protection of those individuals, organizations and their families who are involved in this work. 

  • Pray that the Lord will greatly increase the funding for this work and the funding for the Bibles covertly given to China’s Christians.  There may be a day coming when the door shuts for good on this work, but pray that the door would stay open for years to come.  If the reports on a re-translation of the official Bible provided to the official registered church are accurate, the old translation of the Bible that Chinese Christians are asking for may be all the more important!

Each Bible can be printed and delivered for between $1.80 - $2.75. On average, $22 will pay for the printing and delivery of 10 Chinese Bibles, $227 will pay for the printing and delivery of 100 Chinese Bibles. 100% of your donation goes to the actual printing and delivery of each Bible.


[1] Lily Kuo, “In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture” TheGuardian.com; available from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/13/china-christians-religious-persecution-translation-bible?CMP=share_btn_fbl ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[2] Samuel Smith, “China Trying to 'Rewrite the Bible,' Force Churches to Sing Communist Anthems” ChristianPost.com; available from https://www.christianpost.com/news/china-trying-to-rewrite-the-bible-force-churches-sing-communist-anthems.html ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[3] Robert D. Kaplan, “A New Cold War Has Begun” ForeignPolicy.com; available from https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/07/a-new-cold-war-has-begun/ ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[4] “Ma Jian: China's ex-intelligence chief jailed for life” bbc.com; available from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-46692071 ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[5] Tom Phillips, “Xi Jinping’s power play: from president to China’s new dictator?” TheGuardian.com; available from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/04/xi-jinping-from-president-to-china-new-dictator ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[6] Paul Mozur, “Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras” NyTimes.com; available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/08/business/china-surveillance-technology.html ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[7] Joann Pittman, “Bibles in China: The Gray Zone Shrinks” ChinaSource.com; available from https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/blog-entries/bibles-in-china-the-gray-zone-shrinks?fbclid=IwAR1xOkcWM4Qxv976CK4PMihgvDs00z7ofVZPu2EwcXdydiy_WgOtczIeybc ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[8] “China tightens regulation of religion to 'block extremism’” Reuters.com; available from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-religion/china-tightens-regulation-of-religion-to-block-extremism-idUSKCN1BI1IH ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[9] Bradford Richardson, “'Human rights disaster': China's persecution of Christians at highest level since Mao” WashingtonTimes.com

[10] Sigal Samuel, “China Is Treating Islam Like a Mental Illness” TheAtlantic.com; available from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/08/china-pathologizing-uighur-muslims-mental-illness/568525/ ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[11] Lily Kuo, “In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture”

[12] Mimi Lau “100 Christians snatched in overnight raids on underground Chinese church” Scmp.com; available from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/2177263/100-snatched-china-church-raids-overnight ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[13] Mimi Lau “China shuts leading underground Christian church, third this winter” Scmp.com; available from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2178216/china-shuts-leading-underground-christian-church-third-winter?fbclid=IwAR1HwA8Cf7a4S0N7QyKC-B80MtSGrqSw0mUgGoz6KHGwGMQGpz0hxFt8mwo ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[14] Lu Guang, “Religious Symbols Removed From Homes in Henan” BitterWinter.org; available from https://bitterwinter.org/religious-symbols-removed-from-homes/ ; accessed 12 February 2019.

[15] Lily Kuo, “In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture”

[16] Samuel Smith, “China Trying to 'Rewrite the Bible,' Force Churches to Sing Communist Anthems”

[17] Alex Anhalt, “The true state of the Chinese Church” MnnOnline.org; available from https://www.mnnonline.org/news/the-true-state-of-the-chinese-church/ ; accessed 12 February 2019.