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(Discern Report)—China might have the third largest Christian population in the world. Or it might not. Depending on who you ask and, more importantly, how you ask, China could have as few as 20 million Christians or as many as 130 million.
Obviously 20 million is hardly a “few”, but compared to China’s population of 1.4 billion, it ‘s barely a blip. Still, that’s more Christians than most European countries, these days, and whereas Europe is becoming less religious, China is becoming more so. And that’s just on the low end. If China actually does have 130 million Christians, that means its Christian population is larger than any European nation’s total population. That also puts its Christian population in third behind Brazil, with 180 million, and the United States, with 213 million.
But a 110 million gap between the low and high ends is ridiculous even when you take into account China’s massive population. That’s because counting Christians in China is actually pretty damn hard due to the differences between Eastern and Western perspectives on religion. It’s too complex a topic to really get into, but the gist is that a person in China can practice Christianity and/or worship Christ without necessarily considering themselves a Christian.
Another reason it’s hard to count Christians in China is that the Chinese government really, really doesn’t like them.
According to the Pew Research Center:
Counting Christians in China is difficult for several reasons. Officially, only churches authorized by the government are allowed to operate. But, in reality, many Christians worship in unauthorized venues known as “underground churches” (dixia jiaohui 地下教会) or “house churches” (jiating jiaohui 家庭教会). These Christians may be reluctant to reveal their identity. Likewise, members of the Chinese Communist Party, who are prohibited from holding a religious affiliation, might not disclose their Christian affiliation.
Just this week, the South China Morning Post reported that “Beijing’s top political adviser”, Wang Huning, has called on Christian groups within the nation to ensure strict management of their religious affairs. What “strict management” means in this context is that Christians keep Xi Jinping happy by altering their religion to be more Chinese, more patriotic, and more socialist.
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According to the South China Morning Post:
He called on the leaders to guide Protestant figures and believers to be patriotic and to enhance their identification with the nation, Chinese culture, the party, and socialism with Chinese characteristics.Leaders of Christian groups “should adhere to the direction of sinicisation of Christianity” and “interpret the doctrines that conform to the development and progress requirements of contemporary China, the core values of socialism and the excellent traditional Chinese culture”, Wang said.