By Frank R. Wolf, Distinguished Senior Fellow at 21Wilberforce // March 27, 2018
21Wilberforce was shocked and saddened at the sudden death of Chinese human rights defender Dr. Li Baiguang. Dr. Li has been a long-time friend and a stalwart voice for religious freedom in China. His untimely death is shrouded in suspicion.
Dr. Li died shortly after returning home from a visit to the United States in February, where he and a delegation from ChinaAid met with U.S. officials to advocate for human rights and religious freedom in China. The official word is Dr. Li died of liver failure, but many believe the Chinese authorities are responsible.
The death of Dr. Li coincides with China’s newly revamped Regulations for Religious Affairs, formally implemented at the start of February. The revised policies are an attempt at the “sinicization” of China’s religious communities — a forced effort to eliminate Western influence by requiring the nation’s religions to align with Chinese culture. Consequences of violating the new policies include arrest, confiscation of property, large fines, closure of unregistered churches — and in the case of Dr. Li, perhaps death.
China’s revisions to its religious policy foreshadow intense persecution of not only Christians, but other minority groups as well, including Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan Buddhists, and Uyghur Muslims. According to a recent Freedom House report, Falun Gong members have been targeted and “killed extra judicially to provide organs for China’s booming organ transplant industry.” More than 130 Tibetan monks have self-immolated in protest of persecution at the hands of the Chinese government. And one Uyghur grandmother told us directly that the government had rounded up every one of her grandchildren and sent them to a “re-education” camp.
Frequent and unrestrained persecution of Chinese citizens of all faiths demonstrates China’s blatant disregard for the freedoms of its own people.
In the Chinese Christian community, unregistered churches have been demolished, crosses have been torn down, homes raided, and church leaders arrested. According to a recent ChinaAid report, some 2,400 church leaders were detained or arrested in 2016, and that number continues to rise. Why an increase in persecution now, especially among China’s Christian community? Many would argue it is because Christianity is flourishing in China; it poses a threat to the stability of the Communist regime.
Speaking in an interview with Premier radio, ChinaAid founder Bob Fu (also a close friend and associate of Dr. Li) noted that just 70 years ago less than one million Christians lived and worshipped in China. Today, there are over 100 million believers, despite non-stop persecution. “The number of Communist party members is less than 90 million,” said Fu. “There are more Christians than these atheistic party members, and it’s a political threat, in their eyes.”
The frequent and unrestrained persecution of Chinese citizens of all faiths demonstrates China’s blatant disregard for the freedoms of its own people. With the removal earlier this month of presidential term limits, it would appear that President Xi Jinping’s grip on power — and his discriminatory policies — will remain indefinitely. Sadly, these stricter religious policies will mean even greater persecution in the days ahead.
Dr. Li was not deterred by persecution. He was imprisoned and beaten. His life repeatedly threatened until ultimately it seems, he gave his life in the pursuit of freedom for the Chinese people. Over the years, Dr. Li visited the U.S. on numerous occasions, meeting with then-President George W. Bush and legislators including myself. In 2008, I presented Dr. Li with the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy, and I sat next to him this past February during his final visit to the U.S. Sadly, I spoke at his memorial service March 22.
Though Dr. Li’s work has ended, his legacy must continue, and the church in America must play a role — not because we are driven by guilt, but because we are motivated by our faith. We must always speak out against oppression of people and on behalf of courageous leaders like Dr. Li.
- Honor and support Dr. Li’s legacy by contributing to ChinaAid’s Li Baiguang Religious Freedom Defense Fund
- Ask members of Congress to recommit to Charter 08, an open statement calling for political reform and greater protection of human rights in China
- Read here how you can join 21Wilberforce as we stand in solidarity with China’s faith communities
Congressman Frank R. Wolf is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the 21Wilberforce. He was elected to Congress in 1981 and served Virginia’s 10th District for 17 terms. Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act and legislation to create a U.S. State Department special envoy to advocate for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The Founder and Co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Wolf’s honors include the 2015 Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University, the Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview’s William Wilberforce Award.