China targets Christian schools for persecution
Guards in riot gear evict a kindergarten near Beijing, suggesting a new hard-line approach toward unregistered schools
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In 2015, I visited China’s Beatitudes (Bafu) Public School, an unregistered church-run school in the outskirts of Beijing, and was impressed by its level of professionalism: Bright crafts hung on the classroom walls, and a reading nook was fashioned with draped pink cloth, bookshelves, and cushions. During Monday morning chapel, students in uniforms sang worship songs and then lined up to place their offerings into a tithe box. Outside, kids chased each other during recess, playing on the wooden play set next to a garden they tended as part of their science class.
But today, the students no longer have a school to attend. Authorities pressured the site’s landlord to evict the elementary school in January. Then last week, 40 public security guards in riot gear barricaded the gate to the separate Beatitudes Kindergarten, preventing teachers and parents from entering, even though the school’s lease was not yet up, according to the U.S.-based ChinaAid. Two parents were injured in the scuffle with the guards, and police detained the pastor of the school’s sponsor, Agape church, in a police car for about half an hour.
The move shows that the Chinese government is starting to crack down on church-run schools, which were started by parents eager to take their children out of the atheistic government-run schools and give them a Christian education. When I reported on church schools in 2015, the movement was starting to take off, with about 300 to 500 schools in the country. Yet since the Chinese government implemented new religious regulations in February, church schools are facing greater persecution and finding it more difficult to stay open.
“In China, atheism is taught as truth in public schools" –Beatitudes headmaster
Since the beginning of the year, the school’s landlord had urged the school to leave, even though the church signed a 10-year lease and spent more than $60,000 to build the kindergarten, ChinaAid reported. When church leaders asked for compensation for breaking the contract, the landlord refused. On March 25, two dozen men broke into the kindergarten and threw its office and classroom furniture out on the street in an attempt to evict the school. After they left, parents and teachers moved the furniture back in order to continue classes.
On March 28, about 40 security guards arrived and again removed the furniture. Beginning the next morning, guards in riot gear barricaded the gate to the kindergarten, barring anyone from entering. Parents and church members gathered outside the gate singing hymns and trying to negotiate with security guards, who refused to say whether local authorities or the landlord had hired them. ChinaAid’s Bob Fu noted that a private citizen could not “dispatch anti-riot police force without the [Chinese Communist Party] government authority’s direct involvement.”
Agape house church started the school in 2013 with the goal of providing quality Christian education for the children of church members. Students who leave the Chinese public school system cannot get back in, so Christian parents took a great risk in sending their kids to the newly formed Christian school. The school attracted more than just church members: Christians from all over Beijing and even some non-Christians enrolled their children at Beatitudes, eager for an alternative to the test-focused educational method of government schools.
Beatitudes aimed to find teachers who had a teaching background and a mature Christian faith and who were willing to take a pay cut to work at the church school. Funded by tuitions and church donations, the school grew and rented a separate kindergarten space in 2016.
When I spoke to the school’s headmaster in 2015, she mentioned the school would sometimes shut down for a few days during big government meetings when the situation became more sensitive. Typically, though, the local authorities didn’t have a problem with the school, since they recognized the problems with China’s education system.
Since then, persecution has gotten worse as President Xi Jinping has tightened control over all aspects of life in China. Authorities recently closed a Catholic-run kindergarten in Henan province, claiming it did not meet government standards.
Yet Christian parents will continue to look for ways to “train up a child in the way he should go.”
“In China, atheism is taught as truth in public schools,” the Beatitudes headmaster said in 2015, echoing the concerns of many first-generation Christian parents in China. “So only two hours of Sunday school a week isn’t enough, because from Monday to Friday, eight hours a day, the kids are under [the Chinese government’s] control.”
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