US embassy cable - 08SHANGHAI360


Identifier: 08SHANGHAI360
Wikileaks: View 08SHANGHAI360 at
Origin: Consulate Shanghai
Created: 2008-08-27 08:07:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
DE RUEHGH #0360/01 2400807
R 270807Z AUG 08
E.O. 12958: DECL:  8/27/2033 
REF: A) 2007 SHANGHAI 105; B) 2007 SHANGHAI 664; C) 2007 SHANGHAI 47 
CLASSIFIED BY: Christopher Beede, Pol/Econ Section Chief, U.S. 
Consulate , Shanghai . 
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 
1. (C) Summary.  Academic contacts in Shanghai describe 
Protestantism in China as growing in number and diversity. 
There are three categories of Protestants in China: the official 
church, unofficial urban churches, and unofficial rural 
churches.  Members of unofficial rural churches have limited 
contact with overseas churches, tend to be very secretive, and 
are especially pious.  Unofficial urban churches have wealthier 
parishioners, numerous contacts with overseas churches, and 
well-educated members.  Efforts by the official church (also 
known as the China Christian Council/Three Self-Patriotic 
Movement, or CCC/TSPM) to control the underground churches have 
been ineffective.  The academics are also unimpressed with the 
CCC's new President, Gao Feng, and said that, in general, the 
CCC/TSPM's new batch of leaders lack the intellect and influence 
of past leaders.  One academic predicted that the growth of 
Protestantism will eventually slow down as the Chinese 
infatuation with the West wanes.  End Summary. 
Protestantism Growing 
2.  (C) In late July/early August, Poloffs met with some of 
Shanghai's leading religious academic experts to discuss the 
development of Protestantism in East China.  In a conversation 
with Poloffs on August 7, East China Normal University Professor 
Liu Zhongyu provided an overview of how religions are developing 
in China.  He is one of the researchers who conducted a famous 
and controversial survey on religious belief in China in late 
2006.  That survey found that China could have as many as 300 
million religious believers.  (See reftel A.)  Liu still stands 
by the survey's findings, noting that the questions were very 
clear and produced clear results showing that 31.4 percent of 
people surveyed were religious.  He attributed the increase in 
religious believers to two factors.  First, people can be more 
open about their religious beliefs and are more willing to 
discuss their beliefs.  Second, the spread of a market economy 
in China has increased the level of insecurity in people's 
lives.  People are turning to religion to deal with these 
3.  (C) According to the survey's findings, the majority of the 
people surveyed are followers of traditional Eastern religions 
such as Buddhism (33.1 percent), traditional folk religions 
(26.5 percent) or Daoism (6.4) percent.  A significant portion 
(12.4 percent) are Protestants.  Only 6 percent of the people 
surveyed saw themselves as Catholics.  Liu added that while 
China is still dominated by traditional Eastern religions, 
Protestantism is the fastest growing religion.  Protestantism is 
growing in both urban and rural communities.  In cities, college 
students and professors are interested in Protestantism because 
of their admiration for Western ideas and trends.  Students who 
have traveled abroad also tend to convert to Protestantism and 
bring back their religious beliefs to the universities. 
Protestantism in the countryside can be traced back to the work 
of Western missionaries in the early 1900s.  At first, these 
missionaries had problems converting people because traditional 
religions were still very strong.  However, during the Cultural 
Revolution, many Buddhist temples and other religious buildings 
were destroyed, making it impossible for people to go to 
temples.  Many people turned to Protestantism which did not 
require believers to go to a certain place to worship. 
Chinese Protestants: Rural, Urban, and Official 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
4.  (C) Contacts described three distinctively different groups 
of Protestants: Urban Underground/Unofficial Churches, Rural 
Underground/Unofficial Churches, and the Official Church.  East 
China Normal University Professor Liu said that the three 
branches largely operate independently of each other and there 
is little communication between them. 
Urban Underground Churches 
5.  (C) Fudan University Department of Philosophy Religious 
SHANGHAI 00000360  002 OF 004 
Research Division Professor Liu Ping (Protect) in a meeting on 
July 29 described urban underground churches.  Hailing from 
rural Anhui, Liu grew up in a rural underground church and many 
of his family members are leaders in the church.  Liu himself is 
a leader of an underground church in Shanghai.  He recently 
returned from a secret meeting of leaders of underground 
churches from Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Nanjing. 
Participants in the meeting reported that there has been an 
increase of governmental scrutiny and pressure because of the 
Olympics.  Some members were told not to hold large meetings 
during this time period, said Liu.  Most members of the 
underground church know what the government's redlines are.  If 
church events get too big and people become too open about their 
religion then they will be visited by local security services. 
6.  (C) According to Liu, urban underground church members tend 
to be educated white collar workers in their 30's and 40's.  He 
said it is impossible to calculate how many people are members 
of these types of churches.  In some cities like Beijing, one 
church can have several hundred members, while in other cities 
the number is much less.  His church in Shanghai has about 300 
people.  Like East China Normal University Professor Liu 
Zhongyu, Liu Ping said that urban underground churches are 
dominated by students and professors, many of whom have traveled 
to the West and joined Protestant churches during their studies. 
 Fudan University Center for American Studies Professor Xu 
Yihua, a well-known expert on Protestantism, had a similar view. 
 He said that 2.7 percent of students at Fudan University are 
Christian and that it was not uncommon to see students praying 
in the university's cafeterias. 
7.  (C) Liu Ping said that the biggest challenge for urban 
underground churches is to find meeting places.  Some local 
governments refuse to allow these churches to rent space.  The 
CCC/TSPM controls meeting places for Protestants and will not 
allow underground churches to use their space.  Some underground 
churches have tried to register, but these applications have 
been denied because the churches refuse to come under the 
control of the CCC/TSPM.  Calling the CCC/TSPM a governmental 
organization and a "fake church", Liu said that underground 
churches do not want to be controlled by the CCC/TSPM.  Joining 
the CCC/TSPM imposes too many limitations on churches.  The 
churches have to use CCC/TSPM pastors and also accept the 
CCC/TSPM's theological views.  In addition, these churches also 
have to supply the government with lots of sensitive information 
such as the names of parishioners and sources of funding in 
order to register. 
8.  (C) Liu Ping said that the situation is very different in 
Zhejiang Province.  There is a strong division between church 
and state and there is no tension with the local government.  In 
Zhejiang, there are independent churches within the CCC/TSPM 
that do not need to use CCC/TSPM preachers and have their own 
sources of funding. 
9.  (C) According to Liu Ping, urban underground churches have 
extensive ties to churches in the United States.  Many church 
leaders receive training from U.S. churches.  U.S. churches also 
provide financial and material support as well as exchange 
opportunities.  Although the growth of urban underground 
churches would not have been possible without support from 
abroad, relations with U.S. churches have also had a negative 
affect on local churches.  First, establishing relations with a 
U.S. church leads to increased governmental scrutiny and 
harassment.  Second, as relations with U.S. churches deepen, 
local underground churches are beginning to divide themselves 
into different denominations.  Chinese Protestant churches 
traditionally have not divided into different denominations. 
But, more and more Chinese churches are trying to mirror their 
U.S. partners and now see themselves as belonging to different 
Rural Underground Churches: In a World of Their Own 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
10.  (C) Contacts described rural underground churches as being 
more pious and very secretive.  Few contacts had strong 
connections to these churches.  Fudan University Professor Liu 
Ping noted that some migrant workers in Shanghai have started 
their own churches.  Like the churches in the countryside, these 
migrant churches refuse to let people who are not from the same 
background into the church.  To participate in these churches 
one needs to come from the same town and speak the same dialect 
SHANGHAI 00000360  003 OF 004 
as other parishioners.  East China Normal University Professor 
Liu Zhongyu had a similar view and noted that rural underground 
churches would likely not allow someone from an urban 
underground church to preach at their church. 
11. (C) Professor Liu Zhongyu said that it is difficult for the 
CCC/TSPM to control underground rural churches.  While some 
churches allow local CCC/TSPM officials to attend their services 
and have a more cooperative relationship, most rural church 
members believe there is no need for them to communicate with 
the CCC/TSPM.  They do not need to use CCC/TSPM meeting sites 
and often hold services in crude buildings such as barns or 
warehouses.  Underground rural church members also believe that 
CCC/TSPM theology and practices do not fit their beliefs.  Many 
rural churches' theology and practices can be traced back to 
Western missionaries.  Rural churches also do not have much 
contact with Western churches. 
CCC/TSPM: Leadership Crisis? 
12. (C) Contacts did not have a high regard for the new CCC 
President Gao Feng.  The 47-year old Gao replaced former CCC 
President Cao Shengjie in the summer of 2007.  Fudan University 
Professor Liu Peng said that Gao is not as conservative as Cao 
but he still is not very open and tends to listen to the Central 
Government.  Fudan University Center for American Studies 
Professor Xu said Gao is not as qualified nor as capable as Cao. 
 The new CCC/TSPM leaders do not have the same level of 
intellect or political influence as past leaders.  East China 
Normal University Professor Liu Zhongyu had a similar view.  He 
added, however, that it would be very difficult for modern 
CCC/TSPM leaders to attain the same level of expertise as Cao. 
He worked with Cao for a number of years at a research institute 
that specialized in religion.  Cao has a deep understanding of 
theological issues that was acquired after years of intensive 
13.  (C) Liu Zhongyu agreed that the current generation of 
CCC/TSPM leaders are not of the same quality as past generations 
of leaders.  He said this was due in part to societal reasons. 
Cao's generation was educated before the Cultural Revolution. 
They came from comparatively wealthy families and received a 
good education.  The current crop of leaders received their 
education after the Cultural Revolution, when many seminaries 
were closed.  Even after the seminaries were reopened in the 
early 1980s there were no teachers around to work at them and 
only basic classes were taught.  In addition, those who entered 
the seminary tended to be from poorer families in the 
countryside.  Most only had a high school education and some 
even only had a junior high education. 
14.  (C) Liu Zhongyu said that the other major reason why the 
quality of CCC/TSPM leaders has declined is connected to the 
leaders themselves.  For the past ten years, he has taught 
classes to CCC/TSPM cadre and also to Buddhist leaders.  He 
noticed that a certain sector of these groups tend to stop 
studying once they become leaders.  They act more like 
government bureaucrats than religious leaders.  He also faults 
them for not being as pious as they should be.  Many just parrot 
what is said by the government.  This affects their credibility 
with their parishioners.  There is no need for pastors to oppose 
the government, but pastors also do not need to mindlessly 
repeat what the government says. 
Impossible to Control 
15.  (C) According to the academics, the CCC/TSPM is largely 
ineffective in trying to control the underground churches.  East 
China Normal University Professor Liu explained that in addition 
to trying to control meeting sites (see paras 7 and 11), the 
CCC/TSPM has been trying to control who receives training as a 
pastor.  Urban underground churches are able to bypass the 
CCC/TSPM and get training materials from U.S. Churches.  Some 
churches are also able to send their pastors to the United 
States for training.  Rural underground church leaders do not 
appear to need training to attract followers.  Many rural 
leaders are self taught.  Fudan University CAS Professor Xu 
added that it is difficult for local governments to control 
churches because of their limited local government resources. 
There are comparatively few Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) 
officials.  It is impossible for these officials to tightly 
SHANGHAI 00000360  004 OF 004 
control every church and temple in their district.  In addition, 
some churches have wealthy parishioners and do not require any 
financial assistance from the RAB.  Churches with wealthy 
parishioners also tend to have good connections to the local 
government and, therefore, do not need to rely on the RAB or 
A Slowdown in the Future 
16.  (C) Contacts had different predictions for the future of 
Protestantism in China.  Li Feng, East China University of 
Political Science and Law Associate Professor, in a meeting on 
August 1 said that the growth of Protestantism will slow down as 
China's infatuation with all things Western fades.  He added 
that Chinese have a different attitude towards religion from 
Westerners.  They see it like a "supermarket" and take what they 
need from different religions without committing fully to any 
The Rise of The Lay Volunteers 
17.  (C) East China Normal University Professor Liu Zhongyu 
thought that the CCC/TSPM will pay more attention to the needs 
of its parishioners.  This is due in part to the Chinese Central 
Government's emphasis on the people.  The CCC/TSPM takes its 
cues from the Central Government and will likely adopt more 
populist policies.  Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences 
Institute of Religious Studies Association Associate Research 
Professor Yan Kejia in a meeting on July 18 had a similar 
prediction.  He believes that the underground and official 
Protestant churches will pay more attention to their 
parishioners largely because of the increased in influence of 
lay volunteers.  The number of pastors is relatively small and 
lay volunteers are beginning to take on tasks that used to be 
done by the clergy.  In some places such as Zhejiang, pastors 
are reliant on wealthy parishioners for financial support and, 
therefore, must cater to these parishioners. 
18.  (C)  The academics we met with had different relations with 
the Central Government.  Fudan University Professor Liu Ping is 
the most critical and furthest away from the government.  Fudan 
Center for American Studies Professor Edward Xu and Shanghai 
Academy of Social Sciences Researcher Yan Kejia both maintain 
close ties to the Central Government and are often called upon 
by the Central Government and local governments to carry out 
studies on religion.  Both Yan and Xu emphasized in their 
meetings with Poloffs that the government is becoming more open 
about religion and pressed Poloffs on what the Chinese 
Government can do to improve its standing in the U.S. Religious 
Freedom Report.  Poloffs urged that the government be more 
transparent about its religious policies and also allow 
underground Protestants the freedom to meet openly.  East China 
Normal University Professor Liu is somewhat of a maverick.  He 
carries out research for the Central Government and appears to 
have good access to official religious organizations.  However, 
he does not shy away from criticizing the government nor in 
taking provocative stances in the media (see reftel A). 

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