Missing missionary: Ma Daqin, Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, has not been seen since he declared he was leaving the officially approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association
While church attendance continues to fall in the West and Christians are being driven out of the Middle East under Islamist pressure, China is moving in the opposite direction. In 2011 the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think-tank, estimated that there were 67 million Chinese Christians, about 5 per cent of the total population. Of these, 58 million were Protestant and nine million Catholic. Their number exceeds that of members of the Communist Party (CCP).
A comparison with the situation just before the Communist Revolution — and even more so with that at the end of the Cultural Revolution — reveals the magnitude of change. In 1949 there were about three million Catholics and nearly one million Protestants. By Mao's death in 1976 religion in China, including Christianity, appeared to have been snuffed out.
The rise in the number of Protestants, many of them Pentecostals, has been described as the greatest revival Christianity has ever known. There is even talk that by the middle of this century, Chinese Christians could outnumber those in the United States, at present more than 170 million and declining, making China the most populous Christian country on earth. The emergence of the Middle Kingdom as the second largest global economy is not the only story of explosive growth since Deng Xiaoping wrested power from the Maoists.
Common to both has been the desire of the CCP to retain ultimate control. In material terms that has led to crony capitalism characterised by a widening gap between rich and poor. In the spiritual sphere it has split believers between those belonging to churches registered with the state and those which are not. It is the second category which the government targets.
Life became tougher for dissidents of whatever stripe under the decade-long rule of Hu Jintao. Taking the last few years alone, remember the empty chair in Oslo which should have been occupied by the imprisoned pro-democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize; or the arrest of the artist Ai Weiwei the following year. Both cases, deeply damaging to China's image overseas, betrayed a heightened nervousness among its leaders.
- Republicans Cannot Go On As The 'Party Of No'
- Misunderstood For Six Hundred Years
- Performance-Related Pay Will Be A Débacle
- A Self-Portrait Of The Young Man As An Artist
- The First Steps of a Great Newspaperman
- What Will Georgian England Look Like?
- Scrap the Licence Fee and Privatise the BBC
- Tristram Hunt's Lies About Free Schools
- What To Do If You Suspect Child Abuse?
- Three-Parent Babies — Miracle Cure or Eugenics?
- London by Night: In the Footsteps of Dickens
- Off-Limits: Subjects Artists Won't Tackle
- United the Coalition Stands, Divided it Falls
- Are We Losing The War For The Soul Of Islam?
- Netanyahu, Syria and the Spanish Civil War
- Comrade Mandela's Legacy to the ANC
- Cameron Cannot Win Without Cheap Energy
- Oxford Is Selling Degrees To Pay For Bureaucrats
- A New Golden Age? Let Art Imitate Sport
- Admit It, Mr Kerry: You Blundered