Freedom Denied: Communist China's Red Legacy
September 30, 2019
By Arielle Del Turco
Over 580 tanks, 160 fighter jets, and 15,000 soldiers and sailors will parade through Tiananmen Square Tuesday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the communist-led People's Republic of China (PRC). Amidst the fanfare and dramatic exhibitions, a lot of people might ask what, exactly, Beijing is celebrating. The last 70 years in China have seen millions of deaths by starvation, a repressive one-child policy, and social unrest. Just this summer, the independent China Tribunal recently determined "beyond reasonable doubt" that China has committed crimes against humanity in the form of harvesting human organs from political prisoners. While not every development in the history of the PRC has been for the worse (things admittedly have improved from the days of Mao's ironically-named "Great Leap Forward," when nearly fifty million people died from starvation and other horrors in less than five years), the Chinese government has been consistent for 70 years in denying its people basic human rights. This includes a right intimate to the human conscience -- the right to freedom of religion.
In the ramp-up to tomorrow's festivities, Hong Kong has been on the mind of Chinese leaders. Demonstrators are in their 17th week of pro-democracy protests as the city fears the possibility of mainland China's encroaching influence. Wrapped up in these protests for freedom and democracy are the concerns of Hong Kong's Christians. They fear that more of Beijing's influence on Hong Kong will mean they'll soon experience the same religious restrictions Christians face in mainland China.
That's a valid concern, because China's tight restrictions on religion make it nearly impossible to openly practice one's faith. Under China's current president, Xi Jinping, China's religious freedom violations have become severe. Minors are now barred from entering all churches. Surveillance cameras in state-approved churches allow the government to monitor sermons to make sure they are in line with Communist party doctrine. In 2018 alone, it is estimated that 100,000 or more Christians were arrested for violating China's strict religious regulations.
The religious freedom situation is even more dangerous for China's Uyghur population, a mostly-Muslim Turkic ethnic group. At least 1.5 million predominately Muslim ethnic minorities are forcibly detained in what Chinese officials call "re-education" camps. In the camps, they face terrible living conditions, communist party indoctrination, and even torture. Beijing is making every effort to strip Uyghurs of their unique cultural and religious identity. Ultimately, the Chinese Communist Party demands that people find their identity in being distinctly Chinese and supportive of the communist regime. And so, it finds itself at odds with all faiths.
Hong Kongers know the very real threat to their freedom posed by the Chinese government. The protests that are still going on in the face of aggressive police responses show how desperate they are to maintain their freedom, including religious freedom.
China wants to celebrate its brutal communist legacy. Yet, they must be held to account for their consistent human rights violations. Beijing will pull out all the stops to demonstrate its military and economic strength tomorrow and highlight itself as a world leader. Yet it will have to deal with its abysmal record on human rights and religious freedom, as Christians fear arrest and Uyghurs are detained without knowing when they can hope to be released. China is a powerful adversary, as its religious minorities know. The pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong should have our prayers and our sympathy as they face off against a superpower that isn't afraid to deny its own citizens basic human rights and the freedom to believe what they choose.