Facebook Twitter 新浪微博 腾讯微博 Wednesday 3 June 2015
English>>People's Daily Online Exclusives

Merry Christmas, 100 million Chinese!

By David Ferguson (People's Daily Online)    09:56, January 06, 2015

As it is the season of goodwill, I was intending to give my tiny band of faithful readers a rest from important issues of grave political import, and simply wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

However, it seems that this might not be such a good idea. It appears that the whole of China, at the instigation of the almighty CPC, has called down a curse on Christmas and all its evil works. At least, it appears that way if you follow the guidance of the Western media.

What actually happened was that while the rest of the country focused on buying a Christmas tree, looking at pictures of Santa, and maybe giving each other gifts, an obscure college in the countryside around Xi'an told its students to stop celebrating Christmas and attend their lectures instead. Furthermore, four students from somewhere dressed themselves in traditional Chinese garments and scrawled a placard urging their fellows to give more attention to proper Chinese festivals rather than over-commercialised foreign imports.

I knew about these two trivial incidents before most of my western friends, as they were widely publicised on China’s Wechat, where large numbers of people made good-natured jokes about them. It was not until the western media picked up on the story that I realised that the events were in fact all part of a dastardly nationwide campaign to consign the whole Christmas, Santa, and Jingle Bells business to the fiery pits.

I was therefore grateful to the Guardian’s religious correspondent, Loose Canon” Giles Fraser, for explaining it all to me. The Christians and their Christmas, according to Giles, have “scared the bejeezus” out of China’s leadership.

I am constantly being told by the western media that China’s leadership are ‘terrified’ of things. They are terrified of social unrest. They are terrified of the growing demands for freedom from the country’s burgeoning middle-class. They are terrified of a rebellious peasantry, who are only waiting for the sign before they pull their pitchforks out of the thatch and start jabbing at people in the streets.

For a group of people who go around in such a constant and abject state of terror, I am impressed by the bold front that the CPC leaders always manage to present to the public, coming across as remarkably chipper lot.

But the reason they are so particularly terrified of the Christians is, Giles tells me, that there are now “more Christians in China than members of the Communist Party”! 100 million of the blighters, to be precise. And what’s more, they’re “rapidly expanding”. “Exponentially”, in fact. Well that certainly puts things in a different perspective.

Even so, and despite the impeccable churchly credentials of Giles and his sources, I feel inklings of scepticism. You see, 100 million Chinese is 1 in 14 of the population. Which is rather odd. Because in almost ten years that I’ve been spending time in China, I’ve encountered thousands of Chinese, but I’ve never once met a practising Christian. For anecdotal completeness, I should acknowledge that I did once meet a girl who wasn’t a Christian, but who told me that she was thinking of becoming one. So that’s, um… nearly one.

It gets even odder, if you think that there are about 700 million Chinese living in rural China who have never heard of Jesus, because there has never been anybody to tell them about him. How did 1 in 14 of these people possible manage to become Christians?

Or perhaps they didn’t. Maybe a much smaller percentage of these people are Christians. Let’s hypothesise that say, only about one in twenty of the Chinese who have never heard of Jesus are Christians. That’s still a fairly healthy thirty million or so. And it works out quite neatly, because it means that the other seventy million Chinese Christians are spread among the urban population at a rate of almost exactly 10 percent. A nice round number.

But it makes it even odder, because it now means that in the places where I mostly hang out, one in ten of the population are Christians whom I’ve never encountered. Urban Beijing for example. Population, 16 million. Christians, one point six million. Number of Christians I’ve met, none.

“Ah yes,” I hear Giles say. “But this is all anecdotal.” And I agree. But I think anecdotal evidence is too often despised by the rational thinker, when in fact it can be the key which unlocks a door that opens onto much more useful information.

Let’s take a different city as an example. Let’s take Jilin City in Jilin Province. Jilin is probably the city that I know best in China, as it’s where my wife and her family come from. They have been there a long time, and they are very widespread, and they have lots of friends, and they know lots of people. The metropolitan city has a population of 2 million. So, two hundred thousand Christians. And yet, oddly, even in Jilin I’ve never met a single practising Christian. None of our family, or our friends, or any of the other people we know are Christians. I’ve never once heard of anybody talking about being a Christian, or talking about anybody that they know being a Christian.

I’m not saying there aren’t any Christians. There are lots. One of Jilin’s oldest and most iconic buildings is a 19th century Christian church. And I’ve seen the Christians worshipping in their churches every Sunday. I’m happy to see them christianing away to their hearts content, oblivious to the fact that at any moment they’re going to be dragged off to a Gulag, or tortured, or have their organs harvested.

The problem is that there are only about half a dozen churches in the city. So if you added up all their congregations, you would have a couple of thousand Christians. Still leaving you with a shortfall of a couple of hundred thousand.

Giles, of course, has the answer to this. “It’s because,” he informs me, with all the advantageous perspective of someone who has never been to China, “they are House Christians. They practise their faith in secret, in small congregations that meet in people’s homes…”

All right. Let’s set aside any obvious or logical questions, like “Why they would want to do that, when they could perfectly easily be gathering in one of the churches that have been built for that very purpose?” Let’s take the argument at face value.

Unfortunately, this is where pedants like me become rather aggravating with our nitpicking. Because the vast, vast majority of homes in Jilin are rather small apartments. It would be hard for a congregation of more than ten to gather there. However, once more in the spirit of goodwill, let us err once again on the side of generosity, and assume that in fact twenty Christians are sardining themselves into each ‘House Church’.

That means that there are ten thousand House Churches spread around the small city of Jilin. Ten thousand House Churches, and I have never encountered a single person who has ever heard of a single one of them, in ten years.

Giles is now becoming a little less sure of himself, but still he insists... “It’s because they’re all top secret!” he tells me. “Nobody knows about them. That’s the whole point!”

Fair enough Giles. But in that case you’re going to have to explain to me how these Christians manage the simultaneous feats of keeping themselves so secret that nobody has ever heard of them, and at the same time, as you put it, “growing exponentially”.

I know. It’s a miracle. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Liang Jun,Bianji)

Add your comment

We Recommend

Most Viewed


Key Words