Action Alert: China, Church, and Human Rights

April 1992


Crackdown on Religion. At least since 1989, the year both of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the attempt by underground bishops to form an episcopal conference, Chinese authorities have dealt increasingly harshly with the churches not under state control, both Protestant and Catholic. Over this period, some twenty bishops have been subjected to one or another form of arrest, detention, or harassment. While most of the bishops and others arrested in connection with the clandestine bishops' conference appear to have been released, observers agree that China is presently engaged in its toughest crackdown on religion in years. 

Why now? The main reason is the key role of religion in the changes in Eastern Europe and the evident fear that the Chinese churches, which have grown dramatically in recent years, might play a similarly "destabilizing" role. The realities, however, are very different. The government says there are nearly 4 million Catholics and 5 million Protestants affiliated with the registered churches; overseas estimates run as high as another 5 million Catholics and another 15 million Protestants, mostly in unregistered house churches, but even these larger figures are just a drop in the ocean, less than a percent of the total, and with no history comparable to that of the church in Europe. 

USCC Policy. For several years, USCC has urged the Administration to condition granting Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status on China's compliance with certain conditions, including observance of religious freedom and ending coercive population policies. While the Congress has also favored such conditions (the House overwhelmingly), a veto-proof majority in the Senate continues to elude us. In its recent meetings, the Committee on International Policy has urged increased attention by the Conference to the problem of religious freedom in China. 

Campaign of Letters. We would like to encourage a sustained action of steady, quiet, respectful but firm pressure on the Chinese authorities, both directly and through our elected representatives, on the issue of religious liberty in China. 

Who to Write:

  1. Your Representative and Senator.

    The MFN question is up again and so this is an especially good time for the Congress to hear our concerns on the religious liberty question. Members should be urged to find opportunities to raise the issue with the Administration, and to take it into consideration when they next vote on extending MFN to China.

  2. The Chinese authorities.

    One place to start would be the ambassador to the US: His Excellency ZHU Qizhen, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, 2300 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008. (Address either as Your Excellency or Dear Ambassador Zhu.)

What to Say: A short and respectful note is enough. The point is that they hear from concerned US citizens who find the state attempt to control churches and interfere in religious matters troubling and unacceptable. As a particular instance of this, you might refer to the recent death (during Holy Week) of 84 year old Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan, who had been imprisoned for over 30 years for his refusal to break ties with the Holy See. 

Tone is important. Rather than simply denounce the imprisonment of clergy and denial of religious freedom to our co-religionists (both those in the Patriotic Association and in the "silent" or underground church), we want to stress our disappointment that Chinese Christians are still being discriminated against, even persecuted, and our hope that this may soon change. 

Specific Cases: Inquire about Bishop Peter LIU Guandong, 72, the Vatican appointed bishop of Yixian diocese in Hebei, arrested in 1989 and administratively sentenced to 3 years "re-education through labor" for his role in the formation of a bishops' conference. Also, Bishop Paul LIU Shuhe, and Bishop Peter CHEN Jianzhang, similarly sentenced for "re-education," supposedly released, but their whereabouts remain unknown.

Also, two laymen, ZHANG Youshen, a 65-year old retired editor, sentenced on July 2, 1991 to three years for writing an unpublished article on the Catholic Patriotic Association, and ZHANG Weiming, a Catholic intellectual arrested in December 1990. 

Resources: For excellent background on a range of China/Church issues, subscribe to the newsletter of the United States Catholic China Bureau, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ 07079 (Fax: 201/761-9759). 

For solid data on Freedom of Religion in China, write Asia Watch for a copy of their 1992 report by that name: Publications Department, Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104.