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China: Situation of Protestants and treatment by authorities, particularly in Fujian and Guangdong (2005 - May 2010)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 30 June 2010
Citation / Document Symbol CHN103500.E
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, China: Situation of Protestants and treatment by authorities, particularly in Fujian and Guangdong (2005 - May 2010), 30 June 2010, CHN103500.E, available at: [accessed 24 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Protestantism is one of the five officially recognized religions in China (US 10 Oct. 2009, 111; Pew 2 May 2008; HRWF Int'l 2008). Religious groups in China must be registered to be legal (Human Rights Watch Jan. 2010; Freedom House 2009). The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) is the state-sanctioned association that oversees registered Protestant Churches in China (HRWF Int'l 2008; CAA n.d.a). Unregistered religious groups, such as "house churches," are illegal (Human Rights Watch Jan. 2010; CAA n.d.a; HRWF Int'l 2008).

In a 2009 report submitted to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Chinese government indicated that there are approximately 16 million officially recognized Protestants, "with about 50,000 churches and gathering sites" throughout the country (China 24 Mar. 2009, Para. 112). Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF Int'l), a Belgium-based international non-governmental organization (NGO), which monitors human rights (HRWF Int'l 27 Apr. 2008), states that an estimated 50 million people attend unregistered "house churches" (2008). The Pew Research Center reports that there may be as many unregistered Protestants as registered members (2 May 2008). In its Annual Report 2010, the United States (US) Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) states that there may be 40 to 60 million unregistered Protestants in China (US May 2010, 111).

Protestantism in China and treatment of Protestants

Official Protestant organizations and members of registered churches are subject to strict oversight of their religious practices (US 10 Mar. 2010; ibid. 10 Oct. 2009, 110; HRWF Int'l 2008). In particular, the Washington, DC-based Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) states that "Protestants who worship at officially sanctioned congregations in China continue to encounter state interference in the practice and teaching of their faith" (US 10 Mar. 2010). This is done through "theological reconstruction", a process in which the "state-controlled Protestant Church manipulates and modifies doctrine and theology in an effort to eliminate elements of Christian faith that the Communist Party regards as incompatible with its goals and ideology" (ibid.; ibid. 10 Oct. 2009, 132; ibid. May 2010, 110). The US Commission on International Religious Freedom's Annual Report 2010 also asserts that registered Protestants "are not safe from harassment, detentions and arrest due to the arbitrary nature of Chinese law and policy" (ibid.).

Sources note that the treatment of unregistered Protestants may vary depending on their location and on the tolerance of local authorities (CAA 9 June 2010; US 26 Oct. 2009, Intr.). According to the US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report 2009, officials have wide latitude in interpreting what constitutes "normal religious activities" (ibid.). The International Religious Freedom Report states that

[t]he Government permits proselytism in registered places of worship and in private settings, but does not permit it in public, in unregistered places of worship, or by foreigners. The Constitution states that religious bodies and affairs are not "subject to any foreign domination" and affirms the leading role of the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP). (ibid.)

Sources report that many Christian groups, even those which are unregistered, are becoming more public and able to carry out their activities openly (Doyle 18 May 2010; US 26 Oct. 2009, Sec. 2; Hamrin May 2008, 3). According to researcher Carol Lee Hamrin, a specialist on Chinese Christianity, there is "reduced hostility within China to Christianity" (ibid., 1). In 28 May 2010 correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Director of the Global China Center (CGC), a research institution registered in Virginia that focuses on Chinese Christianity (GGC n.d.), stated that Protestants are not specifically targeted for their faith alone, although he acknowledges that exceptions exist and some who openly demonstrate their faith may lose their jobs (Director 28 May 2010). In an opinion article published on the Global China Center's website, the author states that "[e]ven many Chinese Christians themselves would disagree with the notion that they are being routinely attacked for their faith" (Doyle 18 May 2010). He gives examples of cases where Christians have been detained or denied access to Church property, but he argues that many Christians operate more or less freely (ibid.). Likewise, in an article published on the website of ChinaSource, an online resource which assists members of international faith-based communities to work in China (ChinaSource n.d.), the President of the organization states that

[w]hile [reports of persecution] remain a reality of life in China, a survey of the larger picture suggests that they are the exception rather than the rule, and that there may be room for cautious optimism concerning future policy toward China's Christians. (Fulton 6 Jan. 2010)

In contrast, during a 9 June 2010 telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the President of the China Aid Association (CAA), an organization which "exposes religious persecution" against Christians in China (CAA n.d.b), stated that he believed that the level of harassment by authorities had remained generally the same in recent years (CAA 9 June 2010). He stated that authorities have changed tactics; previously authorities would use the excuse of "protecting the social order" to justify their treatment of Christians, but now they use criminal charges (ibid.).

Sources report that members and leaders of unregistered religious groups and churches may experience harassment, detention and imprisonment by authorities (AI 2010; US 10 Oct. 2009, 110). Amnesty International (AI) reports that members and leaders of house churches have been beaten and detained by police with some sent to prisons and "re-education through labour" camps (AI 2010). In its Annual Report 2010, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom states that according to the US Department of State, "'thousands' of house churches members [have been] detained for short periods in the past several years" (US May 2010, 111). The Annual Report 2010 also notes instances of police beatings, short term detentions, imprisonment and sentencing to "re-education through labour" camps (ibid., 110-111).

The Annual Report 2010 states that that there were several raids on house churches in Sichuan, Anhui, Henan, Heilongjiang and Hebei provinces in 2009 and early 2010, resulting in detentions and the confiscation of property in some cases (ibid., 111-112). The Annual Report 2010 adds that

[a]ttempts to close unregistered Protestant churches and meeting points and detain religious leaders occurred in at least 17 provinces and two municipalities, with the greatest number of incidents occurring in Shaanxi, Henan, Xinjiang, Shandong, and the municipalities of Shanghai and Beijing. (ibid., 112)

There are reports that church property has been confiscated or destroyed (US 10 Oct. 2009, 137-139; Hudson Institute 20 June 2008; HRWF Int'l 2008). The Annual Report 2010 also states that "officials at various levels have forcibly closed large unregistered religious venues that previously had operated openly" (US May 2010). The Congressional-Executive Commission on China's Annual Report 2009 provides details on cases throughout China of efforts by local authorities to shut or tear down unregistered churches and other meeting places used by Protestants (US 10 Oct. 2009, 137-138).

Several sources report a crackdown against unregistered Protestants in recent years, possibly connected to preparation for the 2008 summer games held in Beijing (US May 2010, 111; MRG Oct. 2009; Freedom House 2009; Hudson Institute 20 June 2008; CSW June 2008, 3). According to the Hudson Institute, a Washington, DC-based research organization with a partial focus on global affairs (Hudson Institute n.d.), "over 600 Protestants were detained and 38 were given sentences [of imprisonment] of over one year" in the year leading up to the Olympics (20 June 2008). According to HRWF Int'l, 1,958 clergy and house church members were arrested in 2008 (2008). In its Annual Report 2010, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom reports that

Pre-Olympic pressure on unregistered Protestants has continued. In [2009], the Chinese government conducted raids and destroyed religious venues, fined and beat religious leaders and confiscated their property, used local zoning laws to seal or close meeting places, and pressured unregistered congregations to affiliate instead with the government-approved religious organization. (US May 2010, 111)

Guangdong and Fujian

Information on the specific situations of Protestants in Guangdong and Fujian provinces was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. In the 9 June 2010 telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the President of the CAA stated that east coast provinces are generally "more open" with fewer incidents involving Christians reported to the CAA (CAA 9 June 2010). However, the CAA President also stated that this did not necessarily mean there were fewer incidents, but rather that they were not reported (ibid.). In addition, in a letter provided to the Research Directorate, originally sent to a Canadian asylum lawyer on 3 June 2010, the President stated:

With specific reference to the provinces Fujian and Guangdong, it is absolutely incorrect to find that there is religious freedom in these provinces. […] [T]he persecution may come and go and not be totally predictable, but it is always present. Even the very threat of a government crackdown is a method of persecution. The house churches in Fujian and Guangdong, like all of China, face the constant and fearful risk of being closed and its members punished. Certainly, these provinces do not enjoy religious freedom while all other parts of China do not. (ibid. 3 June 2010)

According to annual reports by the CAA, in 2007 there were two cases of "persecution" by authorities involving 4 people in Guangdong province (CAA Feb. 2008, 13), one incident involving more than 60 people in 2008 (ibid. Jan. 2009, 18) and eight incidents involving over 300 people in 2009 (ibid. Jan 2010, 22). The CAA also reports that a house church in Pingtan in Fujian province was demolished in 2006 (ibid. Jan. 2007, 13). Corroborating information on these events could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 2010. "China." Amnesty International Report 2010. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

China. 24 March 2009. Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 9 of the Convention: Thirteenth Periodic Reports of States Parties Due in 2007. (CERD/C/CHN/10-13) [Accessed 21 May 2010]

China Aid Association (CAA). 9 June 2010. Telephone interview with the President of the Association.

_____. 3 June 2010. Letter to asylum lawyer from the President of the CAA provided by the China Aid Association.

_____. January 2010. Annual Report of Persecution by the Government on Christian House Churches within Mainland China: January 2009 - December 2009. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

_____. January 2009. Annual Report of Persecution by the Government on Christian House Churches within Mainland China: January 2008 - December 2008 (The Year of the Beijing Olympic Games). [Accessed 28 May 2010]

_____. February 2008. Annual Report of Persecution by the Government on Christian House Churches within Mainland China: January 2007 - December 2007. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

_____. January 2007. Annual Report on Persecution of Chinese House Churches by Province from January 2006 to December 2006. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

_____. N.d.a. "The House Church Movement." [Accessed 3 June 2010]

_____. N.d.b. "ChinaAid." [Accessed 28 June 2010]

ChinaSource. N.d. "Welcome to China Source Online!" [Accessed 28 June 2010]

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). June 2008. China: Persecution of Protestant Christians in the Approach to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

Director, Global China Center (GCC)[Virginia]. 28 May 2010. Correspondence.

Doyle, G. Wright. 18 May 2010. "Are Chinese Christians Being Persecuted?" (Global China Centre, GCC) [Accessed 28 May 2010]

Freedom House. 2009. "China." Freedom in the World 2009. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

Fulton, Brent. 6 January 2010. "Policy, Implementation, and Shifting Official Perceptions of the Church in China." (China Source) [Accessed 1 June 2010]

Global China Center (GCC). N.d. "About Global China Center." [Accessed June 28 2010]

Hamrin, Carol Lee. May 2008. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. "China's Protestants: A Mustard Seed for Moral Renewal?" (Commissioned by American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research) [Accessed 28 May 2010]

Hudson Institute. 20 June 2008. Nina Shea. "Testimony of Nina Shea before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Task Force for International Religious Freedom on Religious Freedom in China: Analyzing the Impact of the Olympics."

_____. N.d. "Mission Statement." [Accessed 29 June 2010]

Human Rights Watch. January 2010. "China." World Report 2010: Events of 2009. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF Int'l). 27 April 2008. "About Us." [Accessed 23 June 2008]

_____. 2008. Freedom of Religion in China in 2008. [Accessed 31 May 2010]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). October 2009. "China Overview." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 1 June 2010]

Pew Research Center. 2 May 2008. Brian J. Grim. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "Religion in China on the Eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics." [Accessed 3 June 2010]

United States (US). May 2010. US Commission on International Religious Freedom. "People's Republic of China." Annual Report 2010. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

_____. 10 March 2010. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). "Official Protestant Church Politicizes Pastoral Training, ‘Reconstructs' Theology." [Accessed 28 May 2010]

_____. 26 October 2009. Department of State. "China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau)." International Religious Freedom Report 2009. [Accessed 28 May 2010]

_____. 10 October 2009. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Annual Report 2009. [Accessed 31 May 2010]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact two academic specialists on Christians in China were unsuccessful. Two other specialists on Christians in China were unable to provide information within the time constraints of this Response.

Internet sources, including: Amity Foundation, Amity News Service (ANS), Australia - Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT), Beijing Information, China Partner, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Chinese Government's Official Web Portal, Christianity in China, European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi), Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy (Hong Kong), International Christian Concern (ICC), Ireland - Refugee Documentation Centre (RDC), Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Kingdom (UK) Home Office, United Nations (UN) Refworld.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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