As the winter Olympics get underway in Beijing, human rights activists are attempting to raise awareness of the ongoing human rights abuses conducted on a vast scale in the communist nation. Among the tragedies currently unfolding in China are what many experts have called a genocide being perpetrated against the Uyghur Muslim population, the repression and control of Christian churches, the growing crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong, a massive increase in state surveillance of citizens in service of a dystopian ‘social credit’ system, and the long-standing and brutal population control measures, including forced abortions and sterilizations.
Forced Abortions and Sterilizations
For decades now, Chinese couples have been subject to horrific violations of their human dignity, as the state has dictated how many children they are permitted to have. Those who flout the law are punished with crushing fines and, in the worst cases, with forced abortions and sterilizations. In a few instances, the horrific aftermath of these forced abortions has been captured in photos or video. In one searing photo that made the rounds several years ago, a Chinese mother lies on a bed, while beside her is the dead unborn child that has just been ripped from her womb.
In those cases where a woman manages to give birth to an “illegal” extra child, the child is unrecognized by the state, and thus unable to obtain basic privileges of citizenship, such as access to education or health care. Meanwhile, decades of the one-child policy, combined with a cultural preference for boys, has also led to a huge gender imbalance, which sociologists fear will foment unrest and is currently feeding sex trafficking as many Chinese men find themselves unable to find a spouse. This gender imbalance was created by the widescale practice of sex-selective abortion, with countless millions of unborn baby girls aborted simply for being the “wrong” gender.
In recent years, China has begun to loosen some of these population control measures. This comes as the country faces an imminent population implosion. According to a recent report, the country’s birth rate has fallen to the lowest level since 1949, at just 1.3 children born per woman, far below the 2.1 needed to replace the population.
In 2016, China announced that it would allow couples to have two children. And then, last year, they announced that they would expand this to three children. As the fear of a shrinking population sinks in, the Communist Party is even beginning to incentivize having more children and, according to one report, to crack down on unapproved vasectomies. But while this is good news for those couples who would like more than one child, the fact remains that China exercises dictatorial power over one of the most private and most sacred aspects of human life. As one headline in Catholic Asia News put it, “China’s new child policy means more babies but no freedom.”
It is hard to overstate how egregious a violation of human rights and dignity these coercive measures are. As Pope St. Paul VI put it in Populorum progressio, “When the inalienable right of marriage and of procreation is taken away, so is human dignity.” (no. 37) This loss of human dignity has been the daily reality for billions of Chinese for decades under the Communist Party. It is staggering to contemplate the extent of the lives lost, and the bodies and souls brutalized by policies that can only be described as pure evil.
The Uyghur Genocide
Many nations, including the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, are refusing to send diplomatic delegations to China for the Olympics in protest. Some athletes are also trying to find ways to protest. In most cases, the issue that they are highlighting is the ongoing repression of the Uyghur Muslim population.
A few days ago, the French National Assembly voted 169-1 to officially recognize “the violence perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide.” The Japanese legislature also passed a similar, albeit softer, resolution last week.
Various reports from within China have produced evidence that over a million Uyghurs living in the Xinjiang region are being detained in mass internment camps. In these camps they are reportedly subject to horrific conditions, including rape, torture, forced communist indoctrination and labor, as well as the forcible removal of organs for organ transplants.
Some survivors allege that China is striving to eradicate the Uyghur people, and as part of this effort are using forced sterilizations and abortions. In a heartrending testimony, one Uyghur refugee told a UK panel on human rights how newborn infants in the region were being murdered.
“In my time working in hospitals, we could sometimes hear that some babies were born, and they started crying and from this we knew they were alive,” she said. “But we knew all babies would be given the injection so we knew they would die before they got home.”
The Persecution of Christians
The coercive population control measures and the genocide being perpetrated against the Uyghur people are simply two manifestations of the Chinese Communist Party’s tyrannical mode of governing according to a Marxist ideology that sees humans not as individuals, but rather as depersonalized units that serve the state.
This dictatorial control infiltrates into every aspect of the Chinese citizen’s life, including not only the most intimate union of husband and wife, but also the religious beliefs of the Chinese people. The Communist Party, in particular, views Christianity with deep suspicion.
While there are some tens of millions of Christians in China, their churches are tightly controlled by the state. In recent years, even the Vatican has handed over partial control of the operations of the Church in China – in particular the selection of new bishops – to the Communist Party.
Christians and church leaders who refuse to toe the line and grant unquestioning support to the Communist Party are persecuted, sometimes driven into hiding, or arrested. One article in Forbes reports: “Christians are subject to various methods of discrimination and persecution in China. Christians often complain of the closures of churches, bans on the sale of bibles online, the removal of crosses and the arrest of priests and worshipers. Reports also suggest there are plans to ‘contextualize’ the Bible to make it more ‘culturally acceptable’ and for Christian preaching to be adapted to include the core values of socialism.”
One writer at the National Review sagely wrote: “The Chinese government is wrong to persecute Christians, but it is right to be afraid of them. The gospel of Jesus Christ is fundamentally inconsistent with strict obedience to the CCP, and more Chinese who come to know Him means fewer Chinese whose highest allegiance is to Xi Jinping. ‘The first will be last and the last will be first’ is bad news for dictators.”
Pray for China
Given the totalitarian nature of China’s government, and the sheer scale of its human rights abuses, it is troubling that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ever decided to hold the Olympics in China in the first place. Many fear that China will use the opportunity to push pro-Communist propaganda, in much the same way that Hitler used the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to project a certain image to the world.
However, those who are rightly horrified by China’s trampling of human dignity can use this opportunity to educate people on the crimes being perpetrated against our Chinese brothers and sisters, and to remind ourselves to pray for freedom and respect for human dignity and human persons in China.
One Christian organization, Voice of the Martyrs, has launched an initiative in the lead-up to the Olympics urging people to “pray for our Christian brothers and sisters suffering persecution at the hands of China’s Communist government.”
“The Olympics are always filled with wonderful pageantry and inspiring athletic accomplishments,” said the group in a statement. “But let’s not forget what the host government doesn’t want us to see: imprisoned pastors, destroyed church buildings and a complete lack of religious freedom. I hope every Christian will use each event and every Olympic update as a reminder to pray for our persecuted family members in China as the Scriptures instruct us to do.”
Indeed, as our athletes compete at these Games, we must never forget the human tragedy unfolding just outside the glare of the floodlights and the view of the cameras. Our brothers and sisters in China are suffering under a totalitarian regime that tracks and restricts their every move, dictates the most sacred and private aspects of their lives, crushes political dissent, and reduces individual humans to nameless cogs in the wheels of the state.
May we use this Olympic Games to awaken our hearts towards those who are suffering, to advocate for an end to these human rights abuses, and to fast and pray for the dawning of a new age in China.