Deep in China’s heartland is a region known as “The Bethlehem of
China,” where, more than a thousand years ago, Western missionaries first
brought Christianity to the area. It is here, in a series of caves hidden in
the hills, where members of China’s underground Christian Church tell
FRONTLINE/World and Chicago Tribune reporter
Evan Osnos how they have kept the religion alive. For years, they moved from
place to place to
detection, until they found safety in these hills.
“When we were in an underground state, we would gather here to meet,” Zhang Yinan, a pastor who’s chronicling the rise of Christianity in China, tells Osnos.
Today, Zhang and the rest of his congregation have left the caves, as Christianity
is beginning to emerge from the shadows in China. But while it is not illegal
to be a Christian, the Communist Party still maintains tight control of where
and how Christians can practice.
“Right now, it’s not completely secret, but it’s not considered public,” a church leader tells Osnos.
Some Chinese Christians have chosen to remain underground, worshipping in what are called “house churches.” As Osnos observes one such Evangelical Protestant service that looks more like a party, he says it is easy to forget that this was just the kind of gathering of Christians that the government tries to prevent – and that the leaders of this house church were risking arrest.
“They’ve tried to catch me several times, but they never succeeded
because God protects me.” says Wang Guiyan, who runs the church. “Christianity
is freedom. But Chinese Christians, they still have restrictions. They are
not completely free.”
Near the end of the service, the congregation gathers around the wife of a well-known church leader, who says her husband has been arrested five or six times. He has done stints of seven years and 11 months in prison and three years in labor camp. Most recently, he was charged with a passport violation. Before that, he was convicted of being a “counter revolutionary” and disturbing social order.
In case after case, the Chinese government gives a variety of reasons other than faith to arrest local house church leaders. Sometimes, they demolish the house churches altogether. But the government’s attempts to control the underground church have largely failed to diminish their faith.
“Looking back at our history, we’ve had the age of the Republic, the age of intense war, the age of intense politics, and the age of intense economics. The next 30 years will be the age of the gospel,” says the historian, Yinan.
In today’s booming China, the age of the gospel already seems to have arrived.
Back in Beijing, Osnos finds the Communist Party’s answer to Christianity – an
official church where Christians are supposed to worship. The Party actually
started the church right after the revolution to put religion under state control.
But in recent years, the official church has grown dramatically, running services
to accommodate more than 4,000 people on Sundays.
Figuring out why this official version of Christianity is tolerated can be a little confusing. One big difference: its pastors are trained and approved by the government. And they adhere to strict rules of worship.
To get the official answer from the Communist Party, Osnos sits down with one of the directors of the State Adminstration of Religious Affairs, Ma Yu Hong.
“The Communist Party officially is an atheist party, and yet there’s
an official Christian Church. How do you explain that?” Osnos asks.
“The Party feels that differences in religious beliefs are secondary to our shared love of the country,” Yu Hong says. “The relationship between the government an religious organizations, it should be said, is very close these days.”
Still, the party remains worried that Christianity, or any rival ideology, could become a threat. In recent years, they have taken a hard line with people they call Muslim separatists – the Uigher ethnic minority in Western China. And they’ve cracked down on Falun Gong, a once-popular spiritual movement whose members the government has branded “enemies of the state.”
“If people use religion to divide the country or engage in terrorist activities, that will absolutely not be tolerated,” said Yu Hong.
On the outskirts of Beijing, Osnos finds one dissident pastor who is openly challenging the government as an outspoken critic of the official church.
“The pastors and ministers are all hand-picked and trained by the government. They’re guided by the Communist Party’s philosophy,” says Zhang Mingzuan. “But they haven’t given their hearts to Jesus. They’ve given their hearts to the country, and the Emperor.”
For a time, Zhang ran his own house church, but today he runs an alliance of house churches all around the country – putting him under government scrutiny.
“In the eyes of the communist party, everybody in my family, me, my wife, my two sons and younger daughter-in-law, we are dangerous people. Our phone is bugged, we are followed everywhere,” he says.
Osnos accepts an invitation to join Zhang as he travels to the countryside to check on a house church in his network. On the long trip there, Zhang tells Osnos that the House Church Movement grew up in the aftermath of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In the 1960s, Mao declared war on China’s past. The Red Guards targeted independent thinkers, closed down churches and burned bibles. Thousands of clergy and church members were treated as counter revolutionaries, shipped to labor camps or even executed. In the decades that followed, underground Christians like Zhang kept their faith alive by meeting in secret.
After eight hours in the car, Osnos and Zhang arrive in the Shandong Province.
“We’re going to see some people who were arrested for having an illegal church. Since they were arrested, they sued the local government. So the church is still functioning but they’re in court essentially trying to ensure its existence,” Zhang says.
Osnos asks one of the church members if he thinks he can depend on China’s courts for help?
“I believe God loves our country. And he loves us. He will give us a fair answer,” the man says.
That night, Pastor Zhang is the guest preacher at the house church.
“The gap is becoming larger in China between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless,” he says. “I believe only Jesus, and not the communist party, can save this country and its people.”
One small congregation at a time, the spirit of the rural house church movement
is now spreading to the cities. In what was once the land of Mao, there are
thought to be as many Christians as Communist Party members. Even China’s
new business class is getting religion.
In the city of Wenzhao, Osnos meets an influential Christian business executive who believes that Christian values are a perfect fit with capitalism.
“Doing business requires trust, and Christian faith places great emphasis on trust and honesty,” he says.
Back at Beijing University, Zhao Xiao, a prominent Chinese economist, explains what he found on his recent quest to discover the secret of America’s economic success: Christian values.
“If my motivation for doing business is for the glory of God, there is a motivation that transcends profits. If I use evil methods to enlarge my company or to earn money, then this is not bringing glory to God,” he says.
Zhao, a Communist Party member, was so convinced by his findings that he converted to Christianity. Then, in a provocative article called “God is My Chairman of the Board,” he urged the Party to embrace Christianity as well.
It is a hopeful view of Christianity’s evolving place in China, but how it will run up against the realities of party rule is still unclear.
A former pastor in the government’s official church, Jin Mingri broke
away last year to start his own church, Zion, in the belief that he could help
define a new way for Chinese Christians to worship. Housed in an old nightclub
building on the edge of Beijing, Zion Church is an attempt to break down the
barriers between China’s official and unofficial churches and bring all
Christians out into the open.
“That’s the direction we are moving towards,” Jin says. “Churches will be given more and more space. This is because reform and liberalization have resulted in a transfer of power to common people. So naturally individuals will gradually be empowered to exercise their religious freedom.”
At the most recent Communist Party congress, President Hu Jintao made an historic move, adding the word “religion” to the party constitution for the first time. He urged party leaders to strike what he called a harmonious balance between church and state.
But not everyone trusts the party’s new friendly face toward religion. Fan Yafeng, a lawyer specializing in religious freedom, tells Osnos that the government’s acceptance of Christianity is strategic.
“To control the Chinese society, the government sometimes chooses to be lenient and sometimes tough,” he says.
As Osnos goes back one more time to see house church leader Zhang Mingzuan, he learns about how Zhang was arrested just a few months ago.
“I was preaching, about 12 o’clock, and people from the Bureau of Religious Affairs came in with the police. I was in the middle of my preaching,” he explained.
“All we’re doing is believing in Jesus, nothing else. If there is no religious freedom, how can the country be in a harmonious state?”
Phenomenal story. In a time of greed and corruption within our own country (USA), it is great to see Christianity breeding a new philosophy of business by implementing truth and integrity. I can only hope that Americans will wake up and revolutionize our culture with those types of values.
What I don't understand is why such a horrible picture of the pastor was chosen to be the main picture on the website. It makes the whole commentary look diabolical. When quite the contrary is true.I really enjoyed the commentary and thought it was very well done.
I am a Chinese Christain, I know it's ture. family churchs are not protected by the law, their pasters can be arrested according to the law only if the local government wanna do it. But thanks to the lord, because of all that we suffered, we can understand more about the pain Jesus suffered. Thanks to God.We believe God is here. Please pray for China, brothers and sisters:))
Buffalo, New York
Today I received a prayer request for a Pastor "Bike". He is the very same Pastor Zhang in this program. He was arrested just before the Olympics started! This shouldn't shock me, and yet it does. You can find out more at The Voice of the Martyrs web site.
Alan Amsted: Thanks for the reference. The Shanghai Scrap blog presents quite a devastating critique of this documentary. The author of that blog has written some excellent articles for the Atlantic which present a nuanced picture of Chinese Christianity, and I respect his opinion.
What most Americans don't seem to realize is that China has had a rough history with religion. In the Taiping Rebellion of the 19th century, some guy went insane, decided that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and launched a revolt that resulted in the deaths of 20 million people. This is not unlike the Wars of Religion that Europe went through in the 17th century.
The European attitude of free-religion-within-limits is a better model for China than the American model of anything-goes. Europe has established churches, not unlike China's state-supported churches. America lets you preach whatever you want, even if it's hate speech against gays or Muslims or whatever. But Europe doesn't have religious exemptions for preaching hate. We let all sorts of cults run rampant; the Germans crack down on Scientology (and the Germans are ordinarily very sensitive to any type of limits on freedom).
I do not see any incompatibility between freedom of religion and regulation thereof. Championing China's illegal house churches is a mistake. The Vatican has realized that it is better to deal with the legal churches than the illegal churches. They can see this because they have a centralized hierarchy which is willing to weigh the pros and cons and accept imperfect solutions for the greater good. The simplistic viewpoint of "legal churches bad, illegal churches good" is an unfortunate consequence of American absolutism which descends from our Puritan heritage.
West Milford, NJ
I was very impressed with Christ in China. I'd love to see more of this kind of programming.
I am a Christian and desire to see China reached with the Hope of Christianity.
After viewing the video "Jesus in China" I went to Adam Minters Blog to read "Not Exactly Jesus in China" which I found to be helpful. I was struck by Mr. Minter's insistence that there was little persecution of the house churches in China. I have found many accounts which say other wise. I can see Mr. Osnos has touched a nerve and placed Mr. Minter in a defensive posture. Mr. Minter stats that Mr. Osnos "marginalizes the spiritual life of the tens of millions of Chinese Christians who choose to worship in churches registered". It is the house church movement which marginalizes the registered churches; this includes the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. What we are seeing in China is a Christianity like which we read of in the book of Acts. One of the characteristics of the house church movement is there willingness to put aside personal comfort and at times suffer prison to spread there faith. What Mr. Minter does not see but his conscience is telling him, the Christianity we see the world today is not true Christianity. Where is Jesus in China? The Chinese government has this figured out, and they aren't putting out the welcome matt.
Thanks for the report. I have been following this for a few years. I think we are seeing what happened in South Korea.
Great video. I wish more people were talking about this while China is getting attention during the olympics
This was a great video for revealing what is happening in China regarding Christianity. I was surprised it did not further reveal the actual atrocities that have taken place to some of the house church leaders and their families or congregations who never returned from prison.
This report was so awesome and its great to see the fire of the Holy Spirit spreading across China. This is especially impotant to me because, God willing, I will be there someday helping my brothers and sisters in Christ to spread the love of the Lord Jesus. Amen!
People say and do things out of ignorance or hatred, but I pray that even those with that kind of attitude towards God may be saved.
As a student of China for the past 27 years and having lived and worked with Chinese, your report was excellent. Of course, there are other dimensions and angles that you could explore. But all in all, this is perhaps the best reporting around. I'm passing it on.
I am encouraged in my Christian faith by this wonderful report.
What frustrates me most about this story is that it neglected to mention the TRUE church of Hong Xiuquan, Jesus' little brother, in the middle of the nineteenth century. This church is so underground, that it is lost to even history. We would have been better off if both Chinese and Western powers had accepted the true revelation and joined the Taiping Revolution. All other Christians today are merely worshipping false idols. I pray to Shangdi that they realize the errors of their ways.
What a wonderful blessing to see the church in China full of life with leaders fearless to preach Christ. To see so many young people in the meetings, does this old mans heart good. Many Thanks. Jesus has won and always will.
We're seeing the Great Harvest right before our eyes.
This is one of the biggest miracles preceding Jesus' Return.
New York, New York
As a volunteer for Voice of Martyrs (a Christian organization that has served the persecuted church for 41yrs) I thank you for this story. I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the people I have been praying for for years. Thank you so much for being a voice for millions who suffer severe persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. I would like you to do a follow up exposing what happens when these underground pastors are arrested and sent to re-education through labor camps.The barbaric interrogation and torture needs to be exposed to the world.
Way to go God! You did good getting about 100,000 of 'em with that last earthquake! We pray to Jesus that you get the rest!
It's sad to see religion spread it's tentacles, even in places like China. I'm amazed that some book from 2000 years ago by primitive man would have such a impact today. Science has debunked religion.
I'm really glad that for the first time in a long time, Media is not biased against Christianity. I feel that Media tends to highlight fake Christians (unrepentant sinners who claim to be Christians while raping boys, or committing financial fraud). For the first time in a long time, especially in this feature, media is being unbiased and balanced. Showing Christians and how they really are, and not highlighting the fakes. Thank you.
Hello Chinese brothers and sisters (If you can read this), We are praying for you. Keep up the good fight. And remember "He who the Son sets free is free indeed!"
This was an excellent story!
This is a very done work, Mr. Osnos carefully documented his work, and faithfully narrated in its essence of what Christianity is all about in China. The persecuted house churches, which is non-Three Self Church. They do not want to join them because the house church leaders know too well that the Three-Self Church is not a true, living, and active in missions, evangelism, and does not honor to the Lord Jesus Christ as the head of the Churchã€,See Colossians 1:18. To join the Three-Self Church will be committing idalatry, say the leaders.
I just returned from China after serving there as a "missionary" for a year (of course, this wasn't officially my job as that would be illegal in China). I thought that this segment was very well done. In response to the comment from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jesus is relevant today because He saves souls. This fact is infinitely more important than the nuclear crisis with Iran and the other situations that you cited (as important as those are). On a practical, political level, Jesus is still extremely important because Christianity (and competing worldviews) affect how people view the world and how they relate to other people - as individuals, communities, and nations. Whether you believe in Him or not, Jesus has a tremendous impact on global politics, greater than any other force in history.
Great presentation! I watch your documentaries and others in PBS to see another points of view of what is happening around the world. I believe the mainstream U.S media is extremely self centered, just like mainstream U.S society. This report has affirmed some of the suspicions and beliefs I have ponder upon for a long time. I hold the view that the reason this country has been able to achieve the level of success economically and socially is because of the values permeated by Christianity thru its formation. I believe this has been true not only in the U.S but in all other cultures which have embraced the teachings of God thru the Bible (I would love to see a full excerpt of Xiao's study). As a Christian, I am also interested in learning about other Christians around the world; this has been shaped by my heritage. I grew up as an Evangelical Christian in Mexico. In the begging o the 20th Century when the evangelical movement began in Mexico; my grandparents, among others, suffered a similar type of repression under a society ruled by the Roma Catholic Church. In many occasions my grand had to bunker down in their house because their fellow villagers wanted to lynch them while where worshiping in their "House Church." The reason? leaving Catholicism. One difference is that in Mexico the government many occasions helped the evangelical church, by enforcing the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and the separation of church and state. In others the Evangelicals were not so fortunate. Lately there have been reports about how in the villages of southern Mexico, indigenous converts to evangelical Christianity are being killed by their tribes. Yet this should not come as a surprise. This has been the way the Gospel of Jesus Christ has spread from the beginning, and it will continue to be so... There is no doubt China is rising as a world power. What is happening in to Christians China is similar to what happened to the Christians during Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd century, this is! why thi
s article extremely relevant today
Thank you for the excellent report on Jesus in China. It was extremely well done and gripped my interest. I appreciate the open and bold reporting.
Being a believer in Jesus and agreeing with the fact that Jesus is the answer for all societies, this was an encouraging message to hear today. God's children are everywhere. He will always have his people in a land to save and preserve it. Thanks for doing this story.
San Diego, CA
Evan you have done a great job of portraying the current reality of the church in transition. We have just come back from China and I can say our experience was very similar to what you have portrayed. I would have liked to meet with you while we were there, maybe next time.
Brooklyn, New York
God is working in China and our brothers and sisters there need our continual prayer and support. This story was excellent in showing the progress and as well as the obstacles that Christian there still face.
Thank you PBS for this well done documentary on the issues facing Chinese Christians today. Thank you Evan Osnos for the care you took in research and presentation. Your thoughts on how Christianity is effecting the worldview of Chinese people in various strata of society is very interesting. We'd love to see a follow up documentary... things are developing so quickly in China. What will the situation look like in 2010?
How refreshing to hear an unbiased report on the growth of Christianity and how it is impacting individuals, business and culture. This is journalism at its best. Americans would do well to listen to the insights of foreigners regarding the correlation of Christian values and successful business principles.
Enlightening and accurate! I've been in China for several weeks and have attended both registered and house churches. I've inquired of Chinese Christians with great interest, their perceptions of their "religious freedoms". Interestingly enough most believe they have religious "freedom" - depending on how you define it. I believe your reporting captured the essence of Christianity in China, but it fell short by not mentioning the "rift" that has formed between the registered and unregistered house churches. While there appears to be doctrinal unity, there is division in how each views as the appropriate church-state relationship. The registered church feels more "persecuted" by the house churches than by the state because of the house churches' criticism of their "duplicitous" loyalty to the state; the house church on-the-other-hand, feels the registered church is perhaps even hindering the spreading of the Gospel by falling under the state umbrella.
Rancho C ucamonga, CA
Great job!. It is very encouraging to hear that Christianity is spreading in China.
I enjoyed much of the special story on Christianity in China. I was distressed, however, that several items were factually incorrect. As a Christian minister I have preached in several Chinese churches which are registered with the government. Certainly their freedoms do not compare with ours,but neither are their services conducted as you stated, under strict rules from the government. I have, in fact, never been told of a single rule I had to follow when I have preached in those churches. I have also visited the national seminary in Nanjing and several regional seminaries, and have found pastors being trained by their respective educational institutions, not the government. Change is occurring rapidly in China, so rapidly that even many Chinese Christians do not know what is going on. There is much understandable mistrust and suspicion. No one knows if these changes are for real or if they will last, but if we wish to encourage religious freedom in China, and if we wish to encourage human understanding between our people, we must fairly report what is going on.
Very good effort, GOD bless you and your team.
San Jose, CA
I found this program very educational regarding China's return to Christianity. It seems that some are spinning it to show an economic benefit for embracing the 'western' religion. In fact, Christianity was embraced by the 'west' at the same time it was embrace by China through middle Eastern monks from Mesopotamia. Centuries before the west 'brought' Christianity to China, China had churches and monasteries worshiping Christianity. The patriach of the Chruch of the East was actually Chinese (Mar Yobalaha). I felt that the program neglected to mention the long history of Eastern Christianity in China. This is important to make sure that it is not interpreted as a western influence.
How can someone look to the now floundering Western economy and find that Christian values can be attributed to its success and not realize that the success of China's economy and the East Asian Tigers are in fact due to Confucian values of hard work? This article fails to realize many aspects of Chinese culture and fails to address the perspectives of the everyday Chinese that live in China by following a stereotypical and outdated view of the Chinese bureaucratic system and merely focusing on a government vs. other ideology stance.
Jesus is irrelevant today. There are far more important stories out there to report on: global warming, the coming U.S. confrontation with Iran, the ongoing tragedy in Iraq, the Palestinian/Israeli crisis, the global credit collapse, massive crop failures, growing world hunger, etc. What does Jesus have to do with the real world problems we are facing today? How will Jesus help us? If he could've done anything, he would have done it already. What's he waiting for?
I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS WONDERFUL STORY THAT HAS BLESSED MANY OF MY FRIENDS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. THEY ARE TRULY GOD'S DIVINE PLEASURE AS THEY LAID THEIR LIVES DOWN FOR THEIR LOVE FOR JESUS CHRIST. WE WILL CONTINUE TO PRAY FOR THEM AND MAY THE PRESENCES OF OUR GOD BE WITH THEM DAILY. THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE REAL CHRISTIANS AND LOVED BY OUR GOD. WE ALL NEED TO LEARN FROM THEIR EXPERIENCES IN CHINA. AMERICA NEEDS TO STAND UP WITH THEM AND INTERCEDE AS ONE WITH THEM IN CHINA. GOD'S BLESSING TO ALL OF THEM THERE.
There is a devastating critique of this program at the Shanghai Scrap blog under the post title "Not Exactly Jesus in China." Osnos was clearly taken in by highly biased, right-wing sources who didn't give him a complete picture of Chinese Christianity. Shame.
Enlightening. Wow. Thank you for this report. It really sparked something in me.
Please pray for China. There are still so many seeds to be planted.
I pray for all Christians around the world, and especially for the China underground church! Thank you so much for this wonderful report, that was very well done! You did a beautiful job of presenting the Church of Jesus Christ in China!
San Francisco/Bay Area, CA
Thank you for this interesting report on Christian churches in China. One of the comments here made a valid statement in that some of the pastors are not necessarily well-trained to become leaders of the church. This IS one of the issues Chinese churches must resolve as it tries to free themselves from the rein of the Communist government. However, I disagree with the comment that one must be professionally trained in order to become pastors/leaders of the church. There are MANY great leaders in Christian history that are uneducated, including those contemporaries of Jesus Christ. The fact that they are not well-educated does not disqualify them from being leaders of the church.
I also want to comment that one of the house churches you visited would be considered a cult by many Christians, especially by those who are either working closely with the missionary workers in China or by other Christian ministries whose aim is to reach out to the mainland Chinese. Again, this is one of the typical issues that have been around places where the Christian faith is thriving and spreading.
Thank you again for your coverage on this topic. I really enjoy watching it.
I was very pleased with this presentation. It documented well the divide between Christian house churches and the official patriotic church in China. It also indicated a recognition by many Chinese that trust of fellow citizens is needed. This trust was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and devastated their culture. I am involved with Chinese students (attending a major U. S. University) who are interested in finding out about Christianity for the first time. They connect the prosperity of the West with the foundation of America on Judeo-Christian values. But their hunger goes beyond economic desire for the prosperity they see in the U.S. There is also a hunger for meaning and purpose in life which Christianity provides.
Another excellent piece from Frontline. China is very much in a state of transformation and adaptation at the same time that its world influence is increasing. Only time will tell us just what kind of China will impact the world in the coming years. Thank you for keeping us abreast of China's developments through timely, well-informed reports like this.
I agree with Morristown NJ that it was a wonderful piece but I was similarly puzzled that Jesus in China did not even mention Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism and Protestanism are both denominations of the same religion of Christianity. I would have expected the doumentary to at least refer to the history of the two parts of the Catholic Church in China, the government sanctioned and the underground churches. The Vatican is currently making efforts to reconcile these two parts in China.
Amen Montreal Quebec!
I have been in the House Church for over 20 years here in America. I am so happy that Jesus is "still" being known in China (Remember Watchman Nee and the Little Flock). Still, I am deeply disturbed by the Westernization of the Chinese expression of Christ there. When I watched "Jesus in China" I saw that the Greek Pagan Mind has made its way to China just as it made its way to America with its Pulpits, Constantinian Church Building, Pews, Pastors, (some of these traditions and practices were added in America) and even more terrible, its Caucasian image of Christ on the wall. Western missionaries have always (even if their intentions were pure) brought their western practices and philosophies onto foreign soil and made "western-towns" like we have a "China Town" here in Boston. How come we can't preach the gospel and let other cultures have their own expression of Christ in their own way? How come Christ has to look Greek/Western in every country we go to? Even here in America, it is extremely difficult to find an "American" expression of Christ. It mostly looks like Greek Paganism with its Stained Glassed Church Buildings, Pulpits, Greek Orator-like Preaching, etc. When Watchman Nee was alive the expression of Christ was Chinese, not Protestant, Catholic, or Western. And although the Little Flock was destroyed through internal conflicts and the egos of men, their expression was the most beautiful in China.
Park Ridge, Il
The Chinese Christian churches are still a threat to peace and order in China. The origins of the churches are clouded in history and unpleasant experiences with outsiders and barbarians. The church brought missionaries and schools and hospitals in the best circumstances but it also came with the soldiers, the politicans and the overzealous who pushed people into paths that were interpreted not Chinese. A slow new understanding must be reached with these expressions of personal faith and belief. The government is trying to accomodate the new situation but doesn't want anything to disturb the balance of state and religion -- whatever the form. But the changes are coming and the country is changing. This is a good indication of the willingness of the Communist state to allow religions to be practiced. There is a fear of the zealot and the uncontrolled power of the various religions in forms they can't imagine. Eventually, it comes back to social justice and the need of the government to help the poor through the economy, the health system and welfare system. They will see that religions can work for them in these areas and that they shouldn't fear the spreading of religious freedoms.
Los Angeles, CA
There were some encouraging and discouraging things in this report. It's good to see Christians being more open to confess who they are, but at times it seemed to require a bit of bravery due to the current conditions. There is definitely more work and pressure needed so that the gov't can actually become tolerant towards people of different religions.
One other thing that bothered me was how the government has attempted to fabricate it's own church, and how some seem to think that Christianity is a means to an end so that a country can be prosperous. Whenever I see people attempting to change Christianity for a culture and ideology, I get a sick feeling. Christians can be of different backgrounds, but must still hold to certain crucial beliefs. Christianity has distinguished itself by its beliefs and creeds since antiquity. If Christians don't hold to a core of common beliefs, then what unites them? It seems that Christianity has slowly stopped being creedal in our times and become more of an experience.
My dismay for some of things reported does not mean I thought the reporting was bad. On the contrary, it was very informative, and I would love to hear some follow up reporting.
As a religious freedom advocate and former House Church pastor/prisoner, I thank the work of Mr. Osnos and PBS for producing this timely documentary. I am glad that I help introduce Mr. Osnos some of the leaders he interviewed in this piece. Well done.
I have been to China 5 times in the last few years. Taking in Bibles and literature... You are right on and I am proud of the progress the Christians have made. Praise be To Jesus.
Good job, Evan! I am a Chinese Christian and communist. I like these reporters like Evan who explore the facts as much as he can and report without much political, national bias. Like your video, Evan.
Chapel Hill, NC
This documentary was done with a wonderful mix of professional objective reporting while still allowing for matters of the heart and soul. Evan was bold to raise some tough questions re: the interplay of morals/values and the emerging market economy in China! My time in China was '97-'02.
I was moved to tears during several segments while watching the video online.
Thank you, Evan!!!
China, Gansu Province
As a Christian living in China, I found this report fascinating as it confirmed what I have seen with my own eyes. I have been to churches in several small towns and in big cities and they are overflowing. At every service people have been worshiping from outside. Back home in the UK congregations are dwindling but here in China the story is very different. I have been open about my faith and have received nothing other than respect for my beliefs, even from those who did not agree. It is a very exciting to watch the growth of Christianity and I pray that soon the persecution and suspicion will end.
Wonderful in depth report.
As a fan of Frontline, I am disappointed in this documentary, "Jesus in China". I think your documentary fail to bring in the view of the Chinese people like me, whose view on this issue represents the large majority of people in China. We are open to Christianity/religion, and we welcome Christianity/religion into the Chinese society. However, we are concerned when the religious leaders are untrained and unqualified. From what I saw in your movie, the so called underground church leaders are mostly farmers. What gives them the qualification to lead a large group of people in their spiritual world? Being a religious zealot is not a qualifier to me. Doctors, teachers, engineers, all professions are regulated by the government. in any country, shouldn't religion be treated the same way? If the government-sponsored church practice is "untrue" to the real Christianity, what makes the practice of the underground church "true" to God? If you interview any "regular" people in Chinese society, you'd find my view largely echoed. It wold have made your documentary more complete.
Thank you for this honest, thoughtful reflection on the growth of the Christian church in China. I'm encouraging all my friends to watch it.
Rochester Hills, MI
Excellent, Excellent program!! Thank you PBS for showing this great story. I will be watching your programming more often to see similar programs. It is not a surprise to me to watch the great Chinese economic boom coincide directly with the great Christian conversions going on in that country. If the USA wants to stay an economic powerhouse, we need to stop with the moral relativism and secularism and bring God and Jesus Christ back into our schools and our homes. The further we push Christianity out of our lives, the more deprived we will become. Remember, Europe was also the center of the world's economy at one point but they too have far too often turned their backs to God.
It is encouraging to see that our Lord has a way to move in this vast country. May the Gospel be preached. May many come to know Him and may his purpose be fulfilled.
Costa Mesa, CA
I want to add my "thank you" to the long list of "thank yous", for such an honest and personal story. I also have read "The Heavenly Man" by Paul Hattaway, though I have never been to China. It seems as if the primary time that Christianity makes national or world news, is either because of flagrant sin in the church, or true revival. Another story of revival in America is "A Time To Be Born", by Brain Vachon (c)1972, which documents the Jesus People Movement in California. At the end of the story, the author gives his life to Christ.
Evan, again, excellent work. I will be praying for you, that if you don't know Jesus, that you will choose Him soon.
Very encouraging piece! Let's keep on praying for China and the rest of the world.
We met Pastor Yinan Zhang in Shanghai, May 2007, during our mission trip to China. He is a brave and genuine servant to His Kingdom. Your story is power and truly illustrates the Christianity movement in China. Watching this program and seeing their perseverance strengthen my own faith while I minister with others.
Although Christian belief is not new to China, I find the present context particularly interesting in light of what is taking place in Russia. What atheistic communism could never offer to these two great nations is the power to change an individual coupled with truth in its teachings to the society at large. This is a stunning contrast to the distintigration of the person that is taking place in Western society. We seem to be receding quickly into the past.
Flowery Branch, GA
I am once again amazed by what our awesome God is doing in the midst of a rapidly changing world. His purpose will be served! I have known for many years that there is an underground church in China; but until now, very little has been known publicly. It is still a secret in our media.
America and Great Britain sent missionaries to China for years, beginning in the 1800's. Many were killed during WWII and others were forced to leave in the late 40's. But there have been many stories of underground churches and groups smuggling bibles.
I agree with the comments of Anonymous who compared the statements of Zhao Xiao and deTocqueville about America's strength coming the preaching in our churches. The problem now is that our liberal anti-Christian media makes every effort to keep our preaching a secret and bashes Evangelicals at every opportunity.
Thank you PBS for doing this program. I am emailing this story to all my Evangelical friends.
State College, PA
Thanks so very much for this important series. These changing state of religious restriction /freedom in China-the worlds largest people group are very important to understand. And it seems that reporting on such things often would be fitting as it changes so fast. We no longer can live like we're in a bubble here in the USA. It's important that people everywhere have basic freedoms like worship. America is the largest buyer of goods from the largest producer of them-China. We must insist on or at least strongly encourage basic human rights and unless we know what's really going on today(as your piece very well shows), we cannot intelligently defend those rights.As a minister to Chinese scholars studying here, I have seen much of the hunger to know the truth of the existence of God which is not widely or freely shared in China. One visiting Chinese professor I met with here (at a coffee house), to discuss the Bible told me we would not be able to do that in his city in China. But that was 2 years ago so perhaps he wouldn't feel as afraid now or in the near future as China relaxes those controls.
Thank you, thank you, Thank you,
Rev. Joe Sullivan ChinaOutreachMinistries
@ Penn State University
SAN CARLOS, CA.
Awesome!! Thank you Frontline for this amazing report. It's very exciting to see that God is Alive and at work and his word is sharper than any two edged sword. Mr.Osnos, please keep up the good work. Well Done! I'm so thankful for the powerful impact that has taken hold of China, perhaps the truth will set them free. Thank you, again!!
The church grows when underground, while the institutions (like the 'church' in the States)just create smoke and mirrors which help to hide the real reason for existing: Jesus.
San Antonio, TX
I really enjoyed your piece on Christians in China. Thank you PBS and Mr. Osnos for a great and enlightening piece.
Thank you for the wonderful story "Jesus in China". We have been involved in a ministry with graduate students for the past 6 years. Most of those we get to know are from mainland China. Some are now coming to the US to study as Christians. Others are seeking to know God. We really appreciate your coverage. It was excellent and gives us, who have never been to China, a picture of what is happening in this land of over a billion people. Keep up the good work. We hope to see and hear more about this topic.
Jonathan and Christina
Thank you for looking at the movement of faith in China--this is a good start to reporting on this huge topic in a country of China's size. We look forward to future reporting on Religious Freedom in China!
Another great reference to this study would be a book called, "The Heavenly Man." It is a great insight on a mans walk with God along with the many struggles, miracles, and supernatural occurrences throughout his journey.
Thank you for this study. It has piqued my interest. China has always been a favorite country of mine. I have always wanted to do missions.
Living here as a Chinese American, the problem with Fundamentalism and Evangelism is that those people seem to have less respect for those of different religion or have no religion at all, even those in your own family. Many people in China and in Asia in general are Buddhists because Evangelism and Fundamentalism is in conflict with their family, moral and cultural values as someone say "One more Christian, one fewer Chinese." TSPM believes that you can keep Chinese values while keeping your Christian faith. When one of the priest says that only God can save the communist government, it scares the heck out of me because he doesn't believe in secular societies.
I read mostly good and as with several, know folks in the video. Roman Catholicism has a long hx with the Chinese, but is monolithic and the report is about the current revival, not the church of Rome. And, why shouldn't the gay/lesbian and etc. lifestyle not be condoned? This is a discussion about Christians, and their Bible is the guide. Ephesians 5 says that such should not even be mentioned. God loves all peoples, even rebellious, so think about my comments based on that rule! That's why Jesus went to a cross 2000 years ago. And, He's coming back as the Judge, that seems to be anytime soon.
Following the Pew Report, which tells us that 98% of the American public believe in God, although this is a god of their own making devoid of all historical and/or Biblical foundation the freshness of the commitment to Jesus Christ among Chinese Christians is indeed wonderful. I am reminded over and over again that soon and very soon, white, anglo/saxon residents of the United States will no longer be the dominant voice in the world-wide body of Christ. At this point I think that's something to be greatly celebrated.
I was really happy to see this Frontline coverage of the fervent, joyous faith of Chinese believers under threat of persecution and torture--what an encouragement for all of us. These people know how to depend upon God for their daily existence. They know how to pray and praise Jesus. I wish I could be in their number even for one service!
I am so moved by the video! God is doing great works in China! After being persecuted for so many years, Chinese Christians have been purified to be like gold. They are bolder than before to claim their constiitutional rights, since more and more intellectuals, businessmen, artists, even politicians have accepted the Lord. Will keep praying for our brothers and sisters there! I also pray that I can go back more often to join the "Christian wave"!
I'm so happy to see how God is working powerfully in China. Jesus rules!
EXCELLENT DOCUMENTARY. HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. VERY FACTUAL AND ENLIGHTENING.
Mr. Osnos and his colleagues have done a fascinating piece of reporting, but I hope that eventually he can pay the same close attention to the other sects and religions in China-- Catholicism, Buddhism, Daoism, Islam and the host of others practiced by minorities. We all know about the issues which Islam and Tibetan Buddhism have with the Chinese government, but these tensions have not only obtained with the Communist Party. The tradition of interference in religious matters by the powers that be in China-- and vice versa-- goes back thousands of years. I would be particularly interested in the situation of Daoism, whose once-great influence in local civic affairs surely has not been forgotten by the current government.
In old times, most Chinese believe in Buddha, Ghosts and Wise Men. Then the Communist party took over, and there was the Cultural Revolution, which virtually vacuumed China's religious space. And now, she is ready more than ever to house Christianity on a scale that you could have never imagined before! Does that not make you to want to praise the Lord! God Bless all!
China is sliding backwards after so many sacrifices to construct a revolution..it is on the capitalist road. Mao is spinning in his grave!!!
God is at work!
Well done. As I Chinese Christian in the U. S. who has friends in China's house churches (one of whom appeared in this documentary), I appreciate your journalism much. I am grateful that stories like this is told to the world.
Excellent report, and remarkably unbiased, as many responders have pointed out. This should be the basis for a full Frontline documentary, not just a small segment on Frontline/World. Please keep up the good work of offering your audiences extraordinary insights.
It seems as if the Christian values of freedom & morality & the "do unto others" rule are entering Chinese society and business community (which the US was founded on) at the same time as they are being ignored and denied by many in the USA today.
Hopefully the Chinese Christian can understand and practice "the separation of the State and the church". There are numerous examples that local religous leaders trying to uproot the governments thought the Chinese history.
This was an amazing show, we almost did not watch it because we were afraid of how Christians were going to be represented. But an open/honest segment was jaw-dropping. Keep this up!
Thank you for this insightful reporting! Despite trying to stay current on issues regarding the changes happening in China, this is the first time I've seen any attempt to take a comprehensive look at the role of Christianity in particular in the "new" China.
Mr. Osnos reports that, in China, declaring oneself to be Christian (or a person of faith in general) is an incredibly personal, intentional act. That's not surprising, given that the overwhelming number of Chinese Christians don't have a family history in the church, as is so common in the West, and the state's history of controlling religion & persecuting "free thinking."
A couple things strike me here: one is that this closely mirrors the early Church, as well as the early times of the church in many new areas, notably the recent rise of Protestant house churches in Latin America. This ties into my second thought, which is that this could foreshadow a rise of identity politics in China that has as much potential to shake things up as the economic boom.
Christianity, from the outset and even as an evangelical faith, has been about insiders vs. outsiders. When professing faith means risking your well-being, it becomes an act of radical defiance. This doesn't have to threaten the state (indeed, driving faith groups underground isn't, history tells us, effective in the long run). But it's a clear indicator that China is moving in a direction of individualism and personal freedom that will reverberate for centuries.
I hope Mr. Osnos is thinking about expanding his reporting on the many aspects of this issue into a book. I suspect that this piece was only the tip of an iceberg (although definitely a needed one!). Christianity in China is clearly a complex, interdisciplinary issue, and an important one that the world needs to be aware of.
Thank you, PBS and Frontline, for once again looking at the critical but unexamined issues of our times!
I am extremely impressed by Zhao Xiao's analysis of the reason for America's economic prosperity. I believe it mirrors deTocqueville's own analysis of America's greatness after the Revolutionary War. DeTocqueville attributed it to what was being preached in America's churches--reliance upon the grace of Almighty God. Now today, Zhao Xiao attributes America's economic prosperity (blessings) upon its moral foundations--which he attributes to the Puritans, to 'let the entire world see the glory of Jesus Christ, whom they believed in.'
Alas, the moral foundations of our country are crumbling as Americans choose to remove any mention of God from the marketplace of ideas; from the discussion in open society. Perhaps Zhao's insight into the relationship of our moral foundation to our economic prosperity is an accurate one, and helps to explain why our nation is rapidly losing its economic power in this rapidly changing world.
This is a very good piece of unbiased reporting. Telling it like it is without political, personal, etc. overtones. Good job. Thanks.
This report is very encouraging. In the midst of escalating materialism and Me first values, it is good to see that Christianity is making a difference. I like to see more of this kind of programming. Keep up the fine reporting.
This topic is very important,the stories were reported with truth and
it should encourage all Christians to see that God is alive and active in
our world today. We hope to hear even greater future news from China.
How exciting to see a documentary on the Chinese Christians. I've read throughout the years of persecution and imprisonment that occurred for those who followed Christianity. This program plus the program about youths in China, with the businessman who seeks Christ through his business has renewed my faith in public television. Thank you Mr. Osnos and to the Chicago Tribune! God Bless You!
As a Christian who has traveled to China to smuggle bibles to the underground churches, I was amazed at how open things have become since my visit almost 2 years ago. What an amazing "God thing" that is happening there. All your videos and articles were right on the money with what I observed and learned firsthand from the underground church members. China is in the midst of a great spiritual awakening. Thank you for reporting it and doing such an objective job. I was a little hesitant to watch the videos and read the articles as I thought they would show a secular bias in the reporting, but they were done in an excellent manner. More reports of this caliber are needed in the media today. Kudos and keep up the great work!
Salt Lake City, Utah
I grew up in China in the 70s and 80s. My grandparents practiced Christianity before they passed away. One of my aunts on my father's side is a founder of one of the numerous house churches that sprung up in China since the 90s. The first time I learned about Jesus Christ was from my grandma when I was about 10 years old. I still remember the look of the bible she used.
Since I came to the U.S., I explored Christianity, but finally concluded that organized religions, in general, tend to impose their values upon the society at large. This is especially true when it comes to issues such as abortion, equality for people with alternative sexual orientations, as well as priesthood for women.
While the Frontline reporter asked the underground church organizers many questions, he did not explore the issues mentioned above. Giving Christians in China the freedom to worship is undoubtedly a good thing, but will China's Christians, upon gaining their freedom someday in the future, oppose the equality for women, gays and lesbians?
Powell River,, BC
The powerful impact that Christ has had on the Chinese populace is what is supposed to be normal Christianity. I would love to see people's faith affect them this much in North America. It would change our culture for the better. Our hearts need to be gripped and our lives changed as theirs have been. Thanks for the wonderful broadcast!
I thank first and foremost The Lord Jesus Christ for making the Gospel reach out unto the uttermost parts of the world. And also the men and women who died in the first century by living through their faith in Jesus. For more than fifteen hundred years, God's New Covenant has been attacked, slaughtered and disgraced by Pagan traditions and Politics. I as a believer in the Establishment of God,I support the House Church/Underground Church Movements in China. I also stand with the House Church and Organic Church Movement here in Canada, the United States and the Rest of the World. "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."(Romans 1:16 and 17).
This is why public broadcasting is so important to our lives. It enriches us. It can open your eyes and is so valuable. I watched "Stories from a Small Planet", for the first time tonight and it just happened to correspond with my starting taking a world history class. Very pertinent. Thank you,Joel
Missouri City, TX
I really enjoyed this Frontline presentation because as a person who has found "Jesus Christ" in my own life, I can understand the "freedom" that the soul seeks, which they speak of. Also, it's extremely enlightening because of China's atheist history!
I am glad that the persecution of Christians and the lies of the state controlled church are finally being exposed to mainstream media. I have known of this for years from Voice of the Martyrs.
I want to thank Frontline for airing such a wonderful piece. I was plesantly surprised that you reported the findings that connected ecomomic success with Christian values. That is the kind of unbiased reporting that will keep you far ahead of your peers.
While the report was well done and interesting, as usual, I was dismayed that there was not even a mention of the Catholic Church in China. There is a long history of Catholic Christianity in China and to air a segment on "Jesus in China" without any reference whatsoever to Catholicism does a grave disservice to the topic.
Upon watching this, I was amazed at the perseverance of the Christians in China. This appeared to be a non-biased representation of the suffering that Chinese Christians are undergoing. I am a Christian and find this very strengthening to see the spread of the gospel in the face of heavy opposition. I pray that the pastors of the underground churches continue in their ways and proclaim the gospel to every corner of China. May they stand firm in their beliefs and not conform to the communist view of Christianity. Hopefully the government will ease up and allow these churches to exercise the religious freedom they should have.
I have been to China four times recently. I have meet registered and underground church leaders and Christian. Your story was "right on." Well done. Thanks!