A woman looks at Dongguang Church in Shenyang, northeast China. The regulation of religious groups in China is more influenced by political factors than anti-religion sentiments, says Richard Mouw. (Photo: Open Doors International)

According to Richard Mouw, Christians in China are not facing increased persecution as much as a growing pressure to conform to Beijing’s policies.

In an article for the Religion News Service, he writes that, after years of travelling to and within China, he has observed that “friendliness toward religion has been a matter of official policy in recent years. In 2007, the government’s 17th Party Congress called for religious groups ‘to actively participate in building up a harmonious society’.”

Although there are incidents where pastors are placed under house arrest or the police disrupts church services, the “regulation of religious groups” is more influenced by political factors than anti-religion sentiments, says Mouw.

In trying “to control the forces that have been unleashed by the expanding market system”, he says President Xi Jinping is performing a difficult balancing act between competing forces within the Communist Party, while also trying to stop the rise of Islamic extremism in certain parts of the country.

Given this situation, Mouw says “it is important for the Chinese president to keep the pressure on elements in the culture that could make him look weak. Thus his message to religious groups: ‘Don’t do things that will make me impose more restrictions’.”

Christian human rights activist released

Meanwhile the Chinese Christian human rights activist and leader of the New Citizens’ Movement, Xu Zhiyong, was released from prison on Saturday morning (15 July), having served four years forgathering a crowd to disturb public order”, reports Reuters.

Xu was in good health and has no plans other than to be home with his family, his lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said.

Zhang said he had informed Xu about recent developments during his imprisonment, including the death of fellow activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Zhang told Reuters Xu was “upset” upon hearing the news.

Xu, a lawyer and prominent activist, was convicted after he campaigned for children’s rights and against corruption.

He first gained prominence in 2003 for helping families affected by contaminated baby formula, and migrant workers without access to healthcare and education. His New Citizens’ Movement attracted hundreds of people, and his conviction was condemned by human rights groups and diplomats.