At first glance, Cai Zhuohua's kidnapping and arrest by Chinese security officials were not surprising in a country that routinely harasses Christians. Officials found 200,000 copies of Bibles and Christian literature in a storage room managed by the pastor, who shepherds six Beijing underground churches. But more unusual was how authorities described Mr. Cai's activities: "the most serious case on overseas religious infiltration since the founding of the People's Republic of China."
Such alarmist language made more sense to Bob Fu, president of Texas-based China Aid and a former house-church leader himself, once he saw its source. He received a top-level Chinese government document on religion around the same time of Mr. Cai's September arrest, leaked by a high-ranking and disillusioned Communist Party official. The May 27 directive was top secret. Only 750 copies were distributed among officials. Its purpose: to spread Marxism against "Western" attempts to destabilize China with religion, or "evil teachings."
The document came from the Central Committee, one of the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party. Its date and contents help to explain why a sudden wave of Christian arrests began in June. Officers arrested about 100 Christians a month between June and August, and raids continue. It also helps to explain Mr. Cai's arrest and the severe sentence he may face.
"Every local authority has to follow this order," said Mr. Fu, whose group translated the document and released it on Nov. 17 in Washington. "It was sent by the highest authority." Now he thinks the directive will turn conditions "harsher and harsher" for house-church Christians, members of the long-persecuted Falun Gong sect, and unauthorized Buddhists and Muslims.
Mr. Fu knows harsh treatment firsthand. In 1996 authorities arrested him and his wife for "illegal evangelism." They fled to the United States after two months in jail. But he remains well-connected to the house-church movement, and he once taught English at Beijing's Communist Party school.
Documents such as Mr. Fu's cast a blemish on increasingly smooth U.S-China relations. Just three days before the latest revelation, Secretary of State Colin Powell described relations as the best in "over 30 years." While the United States has leaned on China to goad North Korea into six-country nuclear talks and China has blossomed into its third-largest trading partner, attention to human rights has dipped.
"I would say we've dropped the ball on religious freedom and human rights in China in the last few years," said Joseph Grieboski, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy. "I think there's been a deterioration in active engagement with China."
While carrying out the latest crackdown with one hand, China has ladled on the public-relations gloss with the other. In late October, five months after issuing the orders to spread Marxism, the government said it would allow religious groups more freedom to practice and limit officials' powers. This would be a "paradigm shift," in the words of one religious-activities director.
"Usually what happens is the Chinese government will say people are free to believe whatever they want," Mr. Grieboski said. "Where the government will make the distinction is between belief and expression."
According to the State Department's 2004 religious-freedom report, an estimated 30 million Protestants and at least 5 million Catholics worship in unofficial house churches. Unregistered churches are not allowed to operate, but enforcement of the restriction varies widely from region to region. In some provinces hundreds of Christians gather in homes freely with officials' knowledge. In others, even handfuls who attend a home Bible study attract swift raids and arrests. Persecution and harassment generally occur in provinces that have growing numbers of Christians who are bent on evangelizing beyond their locales.
Such was the case of 34-year-old Jiang Zongxiu of Chongqing City in central China. On June 17 she was handing out Bibles and gospel tracts in a marketplace in neighboring Guizhou Province. Local security officials arrested Ms. Jiang and her mother-in-law. By the next day, she was dead. Autopsy pictures showed her body badly bruised and beaten. Police ordered her body cremated within three days, her husband said, in an attempt to cover up evidence of the killing. Her death, Mr. Fu believes, was a direct result of local officials following the Central Committee directive.
This is not the first time Mr. Fu has revealed secret Communist Party documents. Two years ago he helped obtain seven top official policies dated from 1999 to 2001 that identified "evil cults" and expressed worries over broad ecumenical movements. Most significantly, the strand of documents in the last few years reveals that the younger generation of party officials-including President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao-are just as keen to maintain religious oppression as the old guard.
"It is clear that from the Chinese perspective, U.S. concerns regarding human-rights abuses should remain peripheral to improving ties on security and trade," Preeta Bansal, chairwoman of the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told a congressional panel on Nov. 18. "To acquiesce to this dichotomy would be shortsighted." More effective, she said, would be to integrate human-rights concerns into all policy discussions with the Chinese. And with two-way U.S.-China trade at more than $180 billion last year, giving businesses incentives to promote human rights could have a big impact.
The same week Mr. Fu released his Marxism document, Compass News reported that the Chinese government had issued three more internal directives in August. The first gave orders on how to discipline party officials who become Christians. The second barred involvement with any foreign religious group and ordered crackdowns on Christians in 11 coastal and central provinces. The third prohibited any religious observances on university campuses. "These documents are the implementation of the spirit of the atheist campaign," Mr. Fu said.
The growing suspicion that "Western" or "foreign" powers are using religion as a Trojan horse to sneak undue influence into China is hurting well-known evangelists such as Mr. Cai. China Aid says authorities found particularly troublesome his involvement in a house-church magazine called Love Feast because past issues featured photos of President George Bush along with written accounts of his faith and testimony. But if the president and many Americans are the standard for an "evil cult," then few Chinese Christians are safe from their own leaders.
'Fatuity and superstition'
Excerpts from the May 27 document, "Notice on Further Strengthening Marxist Atheism Research, Propaganda and Education," issued by the Communist Party of China:
"Facing the new task of reform, development and stability, the new demand of the people on spiritual and cultural life, the new situation on targeting the cultic organization of 'Falun Gong' and various pseudo-science and superstition, and the new trend toward Western hostile forces' attempt to 'westernize' and 'disintegrating' China in the name of religion, we need to further strengthen Marxist atheism research, propaganda and education."
"Attention shall be centered on the party cadres and juveniles. And relevant work shall be done persistently and incessantly, with an effort to create healthy social values, and good social environment, under which science and civilization are advocated, fatuity and superstition are opposed, and evil teachings and heterodox are boycotted."
"Aiming at the phenomenon of fatuity and superstition, which exists among some people, we shall strengthen the research, propaganda and education of natural science, particularly the basic knowledge about life, helping people understand the universe, the origin of life, the rule on human evolution, and correctly deal with various natural phenomena, natural disasters, birth, aging, disease and death."
"To publicize Marxist atheism, we shall positively use films, TV programs, books, electronic publications, and other things to people's taste, and firmly ban all illegal publications, which disseminate superstitions and evil teachings."
"We shall firmly implement the party's policy on freedom of religious belief, respect people's freedom to believe religion or not believe religion, and make distinction between religion and superstition."
-Translated by the China Aid Association