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China: New Communist Party Leaders Installed Amid Religious Uncertainty

ICC Note: At this point no one is able to predict exactly how China's leadership change will effect the countries estimated 85 million Christians. The majority of these Christians gather for worship in home churches which are not registered with the government and therefore illegal. Christians can and are regularly arrested for attending these types of churches. Most analysts predict that little will change soon under Xi Jinping, China's new General Secretary of the Communist Party. 

11/23/2012 China (CSW) - Xi Jinping has been elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and will now also be the country’s Commander-in-Chief, making him de facto leader of the world’s most populous country. With a revolutionary hero for a father and a pop star for a wife, China’s new leader has impeccable political pedigree but has given few clues about how he will govern the country. He is expected to become national president in March and hold both posts for the next decade.

Xi, appearing relaxed and confident, was no doubt aware that apart from assuming immense power, he will also have to deal with the extremely difficult legacy left by his predecessor, Hu Jintao.

“Inside the party there are problems that need to be addressed, especially the problems of corruption, taking bribes, being out of touch with the people [and] undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucratism, [all of] which must be addressed by great efforts,” he pledged. “The whole party must stay on full alert,” he said. Xi has previously held key government positions in Hebei, Fujian, Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai, which are among China’s most heavily populated Christian regions...

Jean-Pierre Cabestan of Hong Kong Baptist University says he sees a lot of political paralysis in terms of changing the political system. “I don’t see any headway,” he said. A Chinese bishop who is not recognized by the government and who declined to be identified said he did not expect the new leadership to enact any religious, social or political changes.

“The CPC officials often say one thing and do another. We have got accustomed to this,” he said. “This is not pessimistic, but an objective reality of the country.”

The bishop said that Xi was not expected to translate his authority in provinces with large Christian populations into a central government policy that would ease China’s strict and often repressive relationship with Christians. “What we can do now is continue our struggle for more religious freedom,” he said. Chinese bloggers agree that few improvements in religious freedom are expected.

Christians in China are allowed to worship in state-sanctioned “Three-Self” churches, but many choose to attend unregistered “house churches” instead, thereby risking persecution and arrest. The local and national governments can and do crack down on believers whenever they choose to. And there is always a risk that the church in China will fall victim to its own success by becoming so big and popular that the government and Communist party feel threatened, resulting in a more comprehensive and systematic crackdown on Christianity.

Christianity has existed in China since at least the seventh century, although Taoism and Buddhism predate it by many centuries, as does the ancient ideology and social system of Confucianism. Christianity has been gaining influence and popularity over the past 200 years, and especially since China’s economic liberalization beginning in the late 1970s. It is by most accounts the fastest growing religion on the mainland.

Somewhat ironically, Christianity is also growing much faster in China than in the West, where it can be freely practiced and where its roots date back much further. Today, the Chinese government acknowledges that there are about 15 million Christians in the country, though most outside sources put the number much higher at around 85 million or more, which constitutes about 6.5% of China’s total population.

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