CHINA'S CHRISTIAN FUTURE
by Yu Jie
At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when the Communist party defeated the Nationalists and founded the People’s Republic of China, Christians in China numbered half a million. Yet almost seventy years later, under the Chinese government’s harsh suppression, that population has reached more than sixty million, according to Fenggang Yang, a sociologist at Purdue University. The number grows by several million each year, a phenomenon some have described as a gushing well or geyser. At this rate, by 2030, Christians in China will exceed 200 million, surpassing the United States and making China the country with the largest Christian population in the world.
The beginnings of this immense growth can be traced back to two moments in contemporary Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 and the Tiananmen Square massacre instigated by Deng Xiaoping in 1989. Countless innocent lives were lost as a result of these two cataclysms, and the people’s belief in Marxism-Leninism and Maoism was destroyed. These events opened up a great spiritual void, and the Chinese began searching for a new faith.
When the Cultural Revolution ended, it was as if my parents’ generation had just woken up from a dream: It turned out the man they had worshipped as the Red Sun itself was nothing but a cruel and petty dictator who led a wanton and dissolute life. My father was an engineer and Communist party member. He told me when the plane carrying Vice Premier Lin Biao, once heir apparent but then branded a traitor to Mao, mysteriously crashed into the Mongolian plains in 1971, his belief in Communism shattered along with it.
My own awakening came on June 4, 1989, in the midst of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Sixteen at the time, I listened with my family to reports of happenings that night secretly on BBC and VOA radio. When sounds of screams, cries, and gunshots poured through the speakers, all the political propaganda drilled into me at school, like “Without the Communist party, there would be no new China,” turned to dust. The night of June 4 opened a chasm between the Chinese regime and me. I swore I would never serve a government that opens fire on an unarmed and defenseless people.
Years later in Beijing, I met the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of Chinese democracy activists made up of the parents, relatives, and friends of victims of the massacre. Professor Ding Zilin, the mother of one of the victims, gave me a copy of a book she had compiled, Interviews with June 4 Victims. On the title page was handwritten: “If my son were alive, he would be like a brother to you.” Her son, Jiang Jielian, was only a year older than I was. Had I not been in the faraway province of Sichuan but in the heart of the democracy movement in Beijing, could he have been me?
After Tiananmen, Deng Xiaoping thought the key to keeping the regime in power was to make a select few wealthy. He made their economic dream of getting rich come true while sacrificing the political dream of many to live in a free society. Like a drug, however, money’s hold on people could only last so long. Man cannot live on bread alone. Beyond his material needs lie spiritual ones as well. Government leaders sensed a crisis, too. They started rummaging through the Confucianism and Buddhism they had tossed out, hoping to reclaim the former moral authority of these traditions for the party.