by Paul Davenport
LONDON (Compass) -- Last July, authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui moved to discourage Christian work with young people through an article that appeared in the local Anhui "Xinan Evening News."
The August 7 article, headlined, "Illegal Private 'Summer Camp' Banned," read:
"Recently, a peasant in Dongzhi county, under the pretext of holding a 'summer camp' in his home, privately spread religion among young people. On discovery by local police, this was prohibited.
"From 5-11 July, a certain villager Li of Zhaotan township took advantage of the summer vacation to organize more than 60 young people from Nixi, Huayuan and other rural districts and towns to hold the so-called 'Year 2000 XX Religion Summer Camp' at his home. During this period, Li 'enrolled students' to a set timetable and conducted examinations for those who attended. On the afternoon of 11 July, after the sub-branch of the Public Security Bureau at Zhaotan got to know about this, they immediately organized the people's police to go there and stop it.
"Afterwards, the Dongzhi county Public Security Bureau and Religious Affairs Bureau fined this Li according to the relevant laws and regulations. -- Our Own Reporter, Bao Xiaochun."
The article deliberately did not mention which religion committed this "crime" of holding a summer camp for young people. And many Chinese readers will have assumed it was one of the extreme cults banned by the government in recent years.
In fact, a reliable and detailed report from a Christian house church source in Dongzhi county confirmed that the camp was run by evangelical house church Christians.
The source stated that there are many Christians there, including many children. Sunday school work has been carried out for some time, although by law it is banned by the Chinese government for all children under the age of 18. Many of the children have become Christians and have made a good impression on the local people by their good behavior to the extent that many non-Christian families have sent their children to Sunday school, which does not charge.
Last summer, Sunday school teachers in the area held a five-day camp for several dozen children. However, on their return home they were so excited on the bus that the noise drew the attention of the local police. Through the children, the police soon found out about the camp and began to interrogate some of the teachers, including Mr. Li. The police accused them of being a cult such as Falun Gong or the "Established King" sect.
The teachers stated clearly that they were Christians with no connection to any cult. The police then told them -- in a clear violation of the Chinese Constitution -- that they were not allowed to believe in Christianity.
Eventually, the teachers were allowed to return home but warned they could be fined or arrested. Although the camp had been completed successfully, the article was placed in the local newspaper to show that police had acted in accordance with government regulations and to warn Christians in Anhui province who could read between the lines.
One young couple involved in the camp were warned that they might be sentenced to prison for 3-5 years. They were too poor to pay a fine, so they fled to another province. The police then arrested an older teacher, aged in her fifties. However, she had a very good local reputation, and villagers and even the local Communist Party officials rebuked the police, saying: "There are so many criminals in society, why don't you arrest them instead of good people? What crime has she committed?" Seeing popular opinion was against them, the police released the teacher.
It is instructive to compare the Communist Party newspaper report with the facts as reported by the local Christians. This is not always possible in China because of censorship, which makes this report particularly valuable.
We may conclude:
>> Not everything in the Mainland Chinese press should be taken at face value; it is often distorted.
>> The authorities continue their campaign against the growth of the church but seek to cover their tracks.
>> In many cases, public opinion (which would have been solidly anti-Christian in the early days of Mao) is now often in favor of persecuted Christians because of their consistent lives and service to the community.
It is a major scandal that Christian Sunday school and youth work to more than 400 million Chinese children under the age of 18 is still prohibited by the Communist Party. And even where, as in this case, the law is partially ignored, Christians may still suffer the consequences.
Copyright Â© 2001 Compass Direct News Service.
Used with permission.