Twenty years ago, on 1 July 1997, Hong Kong (HK) citizens waved goodbye to HK’s status as a British dependency, as the country was handed over to the Chinese. However, while a sense of democracy and openness prevails among its people, particularly at universities, HK has inevitably come under the influence of the centralised Chinese state, with its anti-religious and pro-communist tendencies.
According to various reports on the state of churches there, Christians in HK, which is now a special administrative region of China, have come under increased scrutiny. Although promises were made to protect the rights of existing churches at the time of the handover, churches have been reporting harsh restrictions on their activities during the past 20 years.
OMF statistics suggest there are 12.4 per cent of people in HK professing Christianity, compared with 59.6 per cent Buddhists and 21.9 per cent claiming no religion.
In their book, Religious Organisations and democratisation, authors Tun-jen Cheng and Deborah A. Brown cite special problems for Roman Catholics in HK. The Chinese state government does not accept the authority of Rome, and ‘Chinese officials pursue a harsh course to eradicate China’s underground Catholic Church, and have begun to interfere with the rights of the Catholic Church in HK’.
Just two years ago, Release International reported that mission activities from Protestant churches in HK were being restricted by the Chinese mainland authorities. Security laws passed by the Chinese government in 2015 had left some HK-based pastors fearing penalties for such activities as serving mainland Christians via the internet, hosting their visits or even preaching to people from mainland China living in HK.
In July 2015, HK pastor Wu Xiaohe was summoned by the Religious Affairs Bureau in Shenzhen city on the mainland, and told he could no longer invite mainland Chinese Christians to HK for training. Officials told him that ‘at least 300 more religious leaders’ would receive similar summons.
Currently, the Chinese government officially does not allow mission activity by overseas people in both mainland China and HK. However, according to a 2004 church survey carried in HK, many HK churches have mainland China ministry within their mission programmes, although they cannot be overt about it.
While the door between HK Christians and mainland China remains open, despite attempts by the state to close it, Christians must pray that workers will continue to be raised up for the vast Chinese harvest field of more than 1.3 billion people.