The Chinese government is primarily concerned with the potential political and organizational power of religion even more than with the content of religious teachings, states Kristin Kupfer (University of Freiburg, Germany), an expert on contemporary Chinese religion and society, who spent several years in China and in 2009 completed a doctoral thesis on the Emergence and Development of Spiritual-Religious Groups in the Peoples Republic of China after 1978.
In an interview with the magazine of the Swiss Bible Society, Die Bibel Aktuell (4th quarter 2011), Kupfer states that consumerism is today a major trend in China, and this creates no concern for the government, since people attempting to improve their wealth have no time left for political activities; however, more and more people are also asking themselves questions about the meaning of life. The official churches do not differ very much from mainline Christian churches in Europe, explains Kupfer: they have Bible studies and social activities, and the average believers are not young people.
The unregistered house churches are quite similar to free evangelical churches in Europe, with younger participants and a wide range of activities. Concern appears with Chinese authorities in those cases when churches turn to political topics, attract intellectuals or grow large, with a strong organizational strength.In the milieu of dissidents and activists, a number of Christians can be found. Some Christian lawyers, journalists and teachers also engage in public life and publish Christian texts—especially on the Internet, since it is more difficult to have them published in periodicals.
The social commitment of Christians has been developing too. As long as there are no missionary activities, the state may even support social projects. Kupfer reports having seen crosses hanging on the walls of some hospitals and a small chapel in a nursing home: this depends very much on local circumstances and officials. Registered churches also suffer from state control. Thus, they would not be opposed to a more liberal religious policy for fear of competition from dynamic groups.
But they are afraid of fundamentalist groups with aggressive missionary approaches. Some extreme cases (including kidnappings and murders) in a few groups have reinforced such fears, although Kupfer notes that such isolated cases have also been used by the Chinese government for labeling house churches as dangerous cults (heretical teachings in Chinese) that they felt were growing too much, and thus banning them.
(Die Bibel Aktuell, Schweizerische Bibelgesellschaft, Spitalstrasse 12, 2501 Biel, Switzerland, www.die-bibel.ch)