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Chinese President Xi's regime intensifies crackdowns on Christianity

Chinese Christians sing during a prayer service at an underground independent Protestant church on Oct. 12, 2014, in Beijing. Recent government policies targeting Christians have led more of them to worship underground. (2014 file photo/Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The Communist regime in China has increased its crackdowns on Christian communities throughout that country, The Associated Press revealed in an extensive report published Tuesday. China views Christianity as a Western influence that stands contrary to Chinese culture.

How does the Chinese president view Christianity?

China didn't have religious freedom as part of its constitution until 1982. However, since he took office in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been systematically increasing his own power.

In March, the National People's Congress voted 2,958 to 2 to eliminate term limits, allowing Xi to continue ruling the country after his second term ends in 2023. Term limits were put in place in 1982 as part of a system of reforms that began shortly after Mao Zedong's death in 1976.

In 2016, Xi warned members of the Communist Party to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means.”

Neither Protestants nor Catholics are immune from the crackdown. Christians in Beijing have described the level of harassment they've received lately as “unprecedented.”

The Chinese government began a five-year-long plan to “Sinicize” (meaning "to make more Chinese") Christianity earlier this year, the AP reported. As part of this effort, hundreds of Christian home churches have reportedly been shut down in the past several months.

The AP interviewed a dozen Chinese Protestants who reported that their meetings had been raided and that members of their community had been interrogated and surveilled. Chinese government authorities have reportedly seized Bibles, and in one town demanded that Chinese Christians replace posters of Jesus with posters of President Xi Jinping.

Churches in parts of China, including the Henan province, have reportedly taken to meeting in small groups and only scheduling worship services at the last minute to avoid government intrusion, the AP said. This echoes the crackdown that occurred during Mao's reign.

Willy Lam, a Chinese politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the AP that Xi was “very anxious about thought control.” He said that Xi “definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church, because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly, to Xi himself.”

This isn't the only time China has targeted Christians

In May 2016, the New York Times reported that from 2014 to 2016, the government removed more than 1,000 crosses from churches in one Chinese province with close ties to Xi. The crosses were allegedly removed “for the sake of safety and beauty.”

In January, the Chinese government demolished a well-known Christian megachurch.

In April, the Chinese government banned the online sale of Bibles by companies like Amazon. Bible sales in brick-and-mortar stores had already been banned.

In June, half a dozen Christians were imprisoned for up to 13 years for alleged involvement in a "cult."

The Chinese government has also demanded to be granted the ability to appoint its own Catholic bishops, if and where it allows Catholicism to be practiced, instead of allowing that power to remain with Rome. The Vatican has been negotiating with the Chinese government to try to resolve this issue.

How many Christians live in China?

It's difficult to say, but estimates range anywhere from 5 million to 12 million for Catholics and around 38 million for Protestants. However, some estimates put the number of both combined groups as high as 100 million.

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