Beijing’s fear of faith
Lent began last week, and like clockwork, China’s communist government ramped up its persecution of the country’s Catholics. Every holy season, Beijing and local cadres bulldoze churches and round up believers to remind Christians that there are severe consequences to faith in the officially atheist People’s Republic. Christmas, for example, is a particularly popular time to arrest priests. For millions of suffering Chinese trying to worship freely, martyrdom at the hands of the state isn’t a relic of past ages; it’s a fact of everyday life.
What instigated the latest crackdown was the death on Ash Wednesday of 95-year-old Bishop Andrew Hao Jinli of Xiwanzi, who shepherded believers in the underground church in the rural northeastern province of Hebei. Security forces were mobilized to block the flock from paying last respects and attending his funeral. In the past two weeks, pro-democracy dissidents have been arrested in Hebei. As popular protests topple and threaten authoritarian regimes across the Middle East, communist officials clearly don’t want to take any chances by allowing any concentration of disgruntled Chinese to build up.