Leaders of China's Protestant Church Thursday denied that a large number of Chinese practice the religion underground because of government persecution.
Admitting that there are some sites for Protestant activity that have not registered, Deng Fucun, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Church in China said at a press conference that "they all observe their religion in the light, not underground like some Westerners have said."
He added that "the number of unregistered Protestants in China has been greatly exaggerated," blaming foreign missionaries who enter China in the capacity of businessmen but illegally spread the Gospel for inflating the figure when they return home.
"Some foreigners talk Chinese Protestants out of registering, saying that they would be under the control of the government if they do," said Han Wenzao, president of the China Christian Council. "This is a vilification."
Chinese law insists religious organizations and sites for religious activities register with the government.
Han also explained that the three Taiwan-born US citizens that were detained and later released last month in Fangcheng Church in Central China's Henan Province were treated in this way because they broke local regulations.
The three had lectured without obtaining an invitation from a religious organization above the provincial level, which is a requirement in China, he said.
Official statistics indicate that at present China has more than 15 million Protestants, compared to a much lower figure before 1949.
"That figure alone shows that China has religious freedom," said Luo Guanzong, chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Church in China.
"Protestants who are in jail are there because they have broken the law, not because of their beliefs," said Han, denying that there is religious persecution in China.
The Protestant Church in China this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the launching of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which allows them to manage church affairs according to the principles of self-government, self-support and self-propagation of the Gospel.
"The greatest change that has taken place over the past 50 years in China's Protestant Church is that we have solved the problem of the image of the Chinese Protestants," said Bishop K. H. Ting. "They are now considered Chinese, not half foreigners."
Protestantism was introduced into China in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by Western missionaries. Before 1949, churches in China were controlled by foreign mission boards and the religion was dubbed by ordinary Chinese as a "foreign religion."
On the eve of the movement's 50th anniversary, Ding, in Thursday's interview with major Chinese media in Beijing, said that it is "very necessary" to maintain its current momentum. "We hope the Protestant Church in China will continue to be one of unity and that we will keep the purity of our religion."
(China Daily 09/22/2000)