As one who grew up in Hong Kong during the cultural revolution and witnessed the awful abuses of Mao Tse-Tung, I am watching with concern the return to one man rule in China under President Xi Jinping. His smiling visage hides a level of ruthlessness that almost always accompanies “one man for life” rule. China and Russia and the failed state of Zimbabwe all demonstrate the dangers of unchecked power.
- China is on the leading edge of facial recognition technology and is running some pilot programs in a few cities that they hope will allow them to keep track of the movements of its population and in particular individuals who they are concerned about.
- China is punishing multi-national corporations who speak up about things China does not want in the media by shutting down their web sites, requiring executives to abjectly apologize and holding them hostage to doing things their way. In essence they are further stifling free speech.
- China has started to demand that foreign corporations accept political officers from the party on their paid staff who would have veto power over employee placement and promotions. Of course the concern of a political officer is not the well being of the company or its competitiveness but the interests of the party.
- China has been demolishing large churches in some cities under less than legal pretexts to ensure that the church knows who is in charge.
- There has been the appearance of slogans (Mao loved slogans) to the effect that people need to put their trust in Xi Jinping rather than in Jesus. Of course this puts Xi Jinping in his own evaluation as superior to Christ.
- Increasingly employment and promotions are tied to party loyalty and those who don't give the party primacy (Christians give Christ primacy) are being discriminated against, denied employment or promotions.
- Don't be fooled by the anti-corruption campaigns in China. Here is the truth. Almost all senior (and many not so senior) leaders are corrupt. When you read about a wealthy business person or political figure being charged with corruption it almost never has to do with corruption but about removing from power those individuals who are a threat to the senior leader in power. Corruption charges are simply a pretext for getting your enemies out of the way while those who bring the charges are usually as corrupt as those who are charged.
- China is making it much harder for those who are in country for mission purposes and they usually know who those individuals are. Visas for new personnel are often being denied. China is nothing if it is not pragmatic and those individuals or organizations who give them something they want are tolerated until their threat to the powers that be becomes greater than their positive contributions.
- China works very hard to block internet sites that they believe are a threat to them. These can be religious, political or simply sites that promote free speech and the candid exchange of opinions. Tech savvy young people often find a way around these efforts, however.
Remember that there is often a direct correlation between the accumulation of power and resistance to the church. Xi Jinping knows that Christians give ultimate allegiance to Christ rather than to the party, or more importantly, him. Thus the church and those who are committed to its growth are seen as threats and will be marginalized by those in power. This is having and will have a direct impact on mission efforts within China, both for the west and for the Chinese church.
Having said this, a few caveats are in order. China has more Christians then perhaps any other nation on earth today while at the same time being one of the largest people groups remaining to be reached. In addition, while mission efforts from the outside may be impacted by the current politics within China, it will not impact the growth of the Chinese Church no matter how hard authorities try. Even in the terrible days of the cultural revolution, the church continued to grow and it will in the years ahead.
Further, citizens of China are travelling abroad like they never have in the past which means that they are not isolated any longer. My final caveat is that while these trends are present, the situation varies in different parts of China. What is clear to me is that what we have been used to in terms of missions in the past several decades is undergoing a fundamental shift. The next several decades will likely be significantly different than the past several decades.