China Catering to Religious Guests, Not Citizens

A temporary church will be set up in the Olympic Village during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a state-backed church official has reported.

"All will be arranged in accordance with the practices adopted by other Olympics host cities," said Liu Bainian, vice-president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and a Chinese political adviser, according to the official China Daily newspaper.

Furthermore, Olympics organizers reported that a religious service center will be set up in the Olympic Village with professional religious personnel providing services to meet the needs of athletes from various religious convictions.

A total of 60 volunteers from the five major religions in China – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism – recently attended a three-day training session organized by the Beijing municipal administration of religious affairs for providing religious services during the Games.

"The majority of the foreign visitors expected during the 2008 Games have religious beliefs, and we should cater to their needs," said Liu earlier this year, according to China Daily.

China, which is known for heavily restricting all religious activity inside the communist country, has been making massive efforts to clean up its image as it prepares for the influx of visitors it expects to come with the Olympic tide. In addition to the latest development, China is also engaged in a number of other fix-ups, including ridding restaurant menus of mangled English translations, moving heavily polluting industries out of town, shaping up the slack behavior of its police officials, and checking the quality of many foods in a crackdown on unsafe products.

While many of China's clean-up efforts have been welcomed, others have been rebuked.

According to the U.S.-based China Aid Association (CAA), China has witnessed an increase in the number of "illegal" Christian groups that have been arrested across the country after a crackdown ordered by the Chinese government in July.

Since mid-July, a string of arrests and other forms of persecution in at least eight Chinese provinces has taken place including Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi and Anhui, CAA reported last month. At least 17 Christian leaders of unregistered churches have been detained.

"The Chinese church believers are faithful peace-makers in building a stable moral society in China," asserted the Rev. Bob Fu, president of CAA, in a statement.

"We call upon the Chinese government to correct this grave misunderstanding by allowing these faithful to contribute more social services without fear of arrest and retribution," he added.

Currently, Chinese Christians are only allowed to worship in Communist-controlled churches. All activities outside of designated churches are deemed illegal and members of "underground" house churches face fines, imprisonment, and sometimes even torture.

Authorities have imprisoned some while others are punished for hosting Sunday schools in their homes by having their water and electricity cut off by the government.

The latest crackdown ordered by authorities is part of a national campaign against crime and economic disorder in the villages, according to The Associated Press.

"Strike hard against illegal religious and evil cult activity; eliminate elements that affect the stability of village governance," read a directive posted at the official website of the Ministry of Public Security on July 6, according to AP.

In addition to China's unregistered house churches, foreign missionaries have also been increasingly targeted as next year's Olympic Games in Beijing nears. Between April and June more than 100 foreign missionaries were expelled from China as part of a government-sponsored campaign to prevent evangelization during the Olympics.

"China wants to weed out the potential 'troublemakers' and put its best foot forward to the world," reported Dr. Carl Moeller, president and CEO of the persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA, in a statement last month.

While the government is hoping through its campaigns to prevent protests or other disturbances at the 2008 Games, the persecution has instead gained international media attention with many human rights and Christian groups calling for people worldwide to boycott the Games if China does not change its ways and show greater respect for human rights, including religious freedom.

"The government seems afraid that its own citizens will embarrass it by speaking out about political and social problems, but China's leaders apparently don't realize authoritarian crackdowns are even more embarrassing," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report posted online last month.

"Just as Chinese citizens will be rooting for their athletes to win medals, we are rooting for the Chinese government to move up in the league tables on rights protection," he added.

The New York-based group's report criticized Beijing for a "well-documented history of serious human rights abuses, including…torture, censorship of media and internet, control on religious freedom, and repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang."