The Jesuits supposedly follow the principle of ‘Give me the child and I will give you the man’. The Communist Party of China follows the same principle.

We are told that by 2030 China could have more Christians than any other country. Not if the ruling Communist Party has anything to do with it.

Despite the seeming relaxation within China, the rise of a middle class, increasing prosperity in the cities and gigantic infrastructure projects, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that China is gradually changing or that we can look forward to it evolving into a modern liberal democracy.

Its capitalism is state-controlled capitalism, the emerging but tightly regulated middle class is minute in comparison with the vast number of rural peasants and exploited urban workers, the infrastructure projects such as the new Silk Road have underlying military purposes.

Above all, the Chinese Communist Party retains a tight grip on power. Knowing itself under increasing pressure with discontent in the provinces and a growing consumer society, the party is determined that any alternative understanding of human life and purpose, especially Christianity, should be hamstrung.

The coercion of Chinese Christians starts when they are very young. When a child is enrolled in school it is normal for the school to ask that a form be filled out which includes questions on faith. For many years this hasn’t been an issue, but World Watch Monitor, which reports on Christians around the world under pressure for their faith, says that recently there has been a change in approach.

In their innocence, children in Zhejiang province, sometimes referred to as the ‘Jerusalem of the East’ for its number of Christians, would write ‘Christian’ for the question on religion. In one school, with around 200 Christian pupils, the teacher demanded they rewrite the questionnaire, stating that they had ‘no religion’.

When filling out the questionnaire again, half of the children persisted in maintaining they were Christians. Following further pressure, all but one child complied.

In another school of around 100 children, it was the class prefect who forced the Christians to resubmit their papers, stating that they had ‘no religion’.

Many of these children come from families of fervent believers who do not compromise their faith. Yet such was the pressure put on them in the school setting that they complied. A small victory for the communist state perhaps, but a significant one. By forcing young children to deny their faith, the state opened a crack in their armour to be exploited later.

This is not the only form of coercion. World Watch Monitor says that teachers were recently ordered to separate Christian children from the others to ‘counsel’ or talk to them sternly about the ‘consequences’ of talking about being a Christian believer at school.

This is supposedly for the child’s sake so that it is not shunned because of its faith. Actually it is aimed at limiting any growth of Christianity amongst young people through evangelism or simply becoming known as the ones able to answer questions other pupils may have about Christianity.

Children who fail to fall into line face consequences. They can be denied access to opportunities at school, such as being elected as class representatives for special events. They could also potentially face the very serious danger of not receiving a leaving certificate. Without that, they will be unable to attend university and professional career paths will be closed to them.

Incidents of Christian obstinacy are recorded in the child’s personal file. This is held by local government departments and the information can have an influence their future employment opportunities.

We are left with the question: These are children coming under such pressure; how would I as an adult react?

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