North China looks to the new observer like a place where Christianity and Communism face each other on their experimental frontiers. Marxist leaders of Chinese Communism are orthodox but are seeking by trial and error a workable social system for their areas. They seem independent of control or material aid from the Soviet Union, yet their communion of outlook with Moscow is perfect. The Christian church, also, under Chinese leaders decimated but seasoned through the war, is seeking new ways to relate the Gospel to the whole life of the people. One senses that the old split between secularized liberalism and irrelevant fundamentalism is being fused by deeper faith and sounder thought.
The Communist proclamations follow with deceptive clarity from Mao Tze-tung’s interpretation of Marxist theory. “Their language, literature, folk practices, habits, and religious beliefs must be respected,” said Mao in a 1944 speech on minorities.
“The most important liberties of the citizen are those of speech, publication, assembly, organization, thought, belief, and person.״ Communist leaders have also consistently maintained that missionaries, Chinese or foreign, are welcome if they do their work within the framework of the Communist social system and láw (or, more significantly—“provided they are not anti-communist״ in social effect or teaching). Medical work is favored. Some types of social service work are welcomed. Education, evangelism, and religious practices are permitted.
No simple reason can be given for the ways in which the facts contradict these promises. But the complexities suggest three categories: (1) Communist theory, (2) The needs of Communist policy, (3) The confused social message of the churches.
The most recent authority for Communist theory comes from Mao Tze-tung’s “China’s New Democracy 1944) ״ (in which there is one reference to religion :
“Chinese Communists may form an anti-imperialist united front politically with certain idealists (in the philosophical sense—CW) and disciples of religions, but can never approve their idealism or religious teachings.״
The context of this statement is obviously strategic. It is in the interests of leading China to eventual Communism, dialectically through a double revolution. Cooperation with and freedom for non-Communist thought and life are part of history’s movement into a “New Democracy” based on an “alliance of several classes” to promote industrialism in a mixed economy. This is the first revolution.
The second, or socialist one would be the final victory of the proletariat because of its overwhelming majority in an industrial society, under Communist leadership. Hence the cultural, political and economic expressions of the “New Democracy״ may, within defined limits, take forms somewhat at odds with the final Communist ideal. Marx and Lenin provide resources for understanding the provisional function of these free expressions.
Mao makes only one, thoroughly orthodox, modification in the Marx-Lenin view of history, on which liberals have seized to make him out a democrat and pragmatist. Due to the influence of the Soviet Union, the first revolution, formerly bourgeois capitalist, can now become a controlled development toward ultimate proletarian (Communist) supremacy. The Communists’ present desire to join a coalition government is theoretically based on the supposed identity of Sun Yat-sen’s program with the first revolution. The Kuomintang liberals who foster this democratic socialism are seen as representatives of the petty bourgeoisie which is also oppressed in present day China.
There are also two limitations on free expression in the “New Democracy״ itself. First, the culture of this interim stage must be “scientific,״ eliminating all idealistic attempts to separate thought from action. Truth must be sought “in concrete facts.״ “Only the revolutionary practice of millions of people can be taken as the gauge for measuringtruth.״ Hence bourgeois natural science may be an ally of Communism in thought, but idealists and reIigionists must be tolerated only on the basis of specific projects or political strategy. Even this pre-socialist phase of society must work to eliminate religion from its culture.
Second, the “New Democracy״ cannot tolerate, people who are “anti-Communist.” This term is not defined. Sometimes it is used only to describe those “reactionaries״ who oppose coalition government. Sometimes it applies to all who oppose the movement-of history as Mao has outlined it. Mao says such people will be destroyed. The implication is that impersonal historical forces will destroy them.
Secular liberals in Peiping and elsewhere have welcomed this development of theory. In their eyes Mao has : ( 1 ) Established a pragmatic, democratic criterion of truth itself, which depends on the will of the people. They point out how the whole shift from industrial revolution to land reform has demonstrated this; how truly popular the Yenan government was ; and other evidences of response to popular pressure in public policy. (2) Eliminated the necessity of a violent proletarian revolution. Hence Chinese communism has become essentially pragmatic in its strategy and hope. (3) Combined a progressive social policy with a guarantee of the basic democratic freedoms. These are subject only to the obligation of the holders to be socially responsible. They must not attack with their power the order by which the rights and security of all are maintained, and they must be socially useful.
On the other hand a Christian point of view emphasizes the dangers in this theoretical foundation. It is clear that there is a basic self deception here as in all Communist thought about the truth of their theory, hence about the righteousness of their actions.The assumption that the Marx-Lenin interpretation of history and the dogmas attendant on it are (1) the scientific analysis of the social situation, and (2) the expression of proletarian class consciousness, leads to an atmosphere in which accurate analysis and creative activity are fruitless and dangerous. The identification of Communist activity with the inevitable movement of history leads to a moral irresponsibility and indifference to personality which strikes at the root of the Christian message. It also masks the struggle for power of a small group whose sociological base is not the proletariat, but the rural areas which it controls by efficient guerrilla activity, government, and propaganda. The dogma of economic determinism finally denies the only foundation on which human freedom can rest: recognition that the individual has a vocation and a destiny which transcends all communal structures and functions of this world. So at last, we can see that Mao’s theory, like other Communist theory, is without the basic safeguards against irresponsible power which democracy requires. His conception of government “democratic centralization” is without any idea of the tension between those two words ; it is designed to circumvent the checks on power present in all democracies. There is also no limit set on the power of the official to qualify the freedoms which Mao allows. There is no clear direction for treating those who refuse to think “scientifically,” who insist on propagating what is regarded as error. There is ambiguity as to the rights of organizations whose functions seem irrelevant to the Communist pattern of social usefulness. In practice all these questions have been decided with great variations by local officials.
Yet the clarity of these dangers may hide from us the fact that Chinese communism is made of living human beings, and so cannot be condemned solely on its theory. Because the leaders are shrewd realists, we must raise the question whether, given peace and the challenge of a powerful, creative, non-communist social and economic movement, pragmatism might not in the long run isolate Marxist dogmatism into a small wing of the Party. Could not the Dialectic prove infinitely adjustable to social realities? Because also the mass of Communists have been won simply on the basis of land reform and other measures like it, we must recognize that the Communist Party has crystallized on itself a vast amount of valid judgment on the social sins of China. To many Chinese it stands simply for ruthless tactics, better government, and a fairer economic system. Although Communism is ultimately totalitarian, its practical policies have brought some rural communities a measure of freedom from want and fear which they never knew before.
Communists and Christians first faced each other in rural North China in 1937 when the war began and Communist led guerrillas organized the country side while the Japanese held the cities and rail lines. It was a time of high optimism followed by disillusionment. The liberal wing of Christians saw a working program of mass education and rural improvement under their leadership, slowly fade out under Communist pressure. This was despite dangerously close cooperation between some missionaries and the guerrillas. Although information about this pre-war period is meager, it is blamed by men of experience almost equally with Japanese persecution for the church’s weakness and confusion in Communist areas today.
Despite this record, however, the Communists have taken pains since the war to define their promise of religious liberty in specific situations. To one field survey group a year ago they promised the right to open schools, and a social service project, under foreign missionary leadership and even welcomed foreign evangelists. CLARA,* the Communist distribution agency for UNNRA supplies, has sought the return of missionary doctors to one area and has promised that with proper authorization there will be no interference with their work, no pressure on Chinese doctors and patients who associate with them, and no interference with church life. Used in this connection was a previous proclamation by the Governor of the North China Border Region :
“For the purpose of uniting Catholics and Protestants for participation in reconstruction work—the following policies have been formulated: 1. Fundamental principle:—All citizens have a right to worship and to preach, at the same time they are free to disbelieve or criticize religion,” and 2. “Status of mission members shall be the same as that of any citizen.—When they violate laws, they will be dealt with as anyone else, and the issue should not be confused with that of religion.”
The setting of this “Fundamental principle” is important. The statement then goes on to define mission and church property as “public,” belonging collectively to the members of the congregation. As a social organization the congregation must register with the local government after which its property and functions will be protected. These may include (1) preaching, (2) hospitals, (3) schools, (4) other welfare organizations. Schools, however, must be under special regulations elsewhere ex plained. The congregational representative in charge of property must be Chinese, but former missionary property may be returned through certain legal procedures. It is understood that the government may borrow property not in use and that all damage to property by whomever inflicted, shall be indemnified by Japan. Finally no control of the church, mission, or property is allowed from above.
All problems must be solved locally.
From the Communist point of view it is clear that the whole question of relations with the Christian church is incidental to their main concern and program, whose economic pivots are land reform and productivity. In most of their territory Communists have confiscated mission property as part of their attitude toward all sizeable property holdings. In some cases they have done it directly while redistributing all land on a pattern of equality. Religious workers have been assigned enough of their own land to live on, by Communist standards. In at least one case this involved destroying a hospital, school, and several residences, even the bricks being carried away by “the people.״ Elsewhere the local foreign missionary was given public trial on trumped up charges against the hospital (it cut people’s hearts out, allowed certain poor folk to die while it saved the rich, etc.). The total value of the labor of those who had thus died was totaled from the time of their death (sometimes 15 years before) and assessed the mission. Its property holdings were taken in part payment. In this as in other cases the use of the church was offered to the congregation.
The usual method of re-adjusting all property seems to be the accusation meeting in which a poor man is allowed to accuse a rich man, the latter’s goods being confiscated in return. Sometimes this is a person to person change, sometimes the government takes the fine. In most cases the processes of “justice״ are as farcical as in the case above. It is worth adding that the defendant may not answer charges against him—only confess his sins. One great problem is that these meetings are the “law״ to which all who live in Communist areas are expected to conform.
The pull and haul of petty power politics without regard for standards of truth and justice is Chinese rather than Communist. So also are the principles of collective and “official״ responsibility whereby one member of a group can be punished for the crimes of another, or a doctor is accountable for the death of a patient regardless of circumstances. The Communist use of these factors in their overall strategy has given them a demonic power, however, which threatens life and security as never before.
There is evidence that the control of top Communist leaders over questions of religion is negative rather than positive. They set general policy and permit lower officials to apply it, intervening only when they see need, in strategic terms. It is to their interest to claim ignorance of specific abuses until they can explain them in terms of (1) the just demands of some social welfare measure like land reform, (2) anti-Communist political activity, (3) excessive but understandable popular resentment due to misunderstanding of the value of a mission’s work, (4) the accidents of war. However, the past ten years have shown a definite shift in Communist attitude toward Christians which strongly suggests direction from above. Nineteen hundred thirty-seven was a honeymoon year, followed by slow deterioration, following the pattern of Communist relations with the Kuomintang and Russia’s relations with the Allies. Immediately after the war there was much cooperation and many promises. It was then that one missionary evangelist actually set up work in Communist areas, and most of the promises above, were made. Then, following the failure of the Marshall mission and withdrawing of army peace teams, pressure on Christians increased. Bibles in some areas were confiscated. Church services increasingly spied on or prohibited. The missionary mentioned above was arrested, tried, and encouraged to leave. Newly captured mission stations were destroyed. One Chinese pastor was tortured to death on the charge of being “a running dog of the Americans.״ Recently there seems to be an improvement for present or former British missions. One hospital recently captured is still operating with a foreign-Chinese staff, and a school under Chinese leadership is the only example the author knows of an operating Christian educational institution in Communist areas. A foreign evangelist, however, has found it wise to dissociate herself from the local congregation in order not to complicate the issue of religious liberty with foreign influence.
The problem of productivity raises more basic questions for Christian work. The church is not, in Communist eyes, a productive institution. In a majority of cases, all church workers, even seminary teachers, must put in full time at another job to be eligible for food. In only a few cases is the work of a pastor or evangelist tolerated. The evidence on a Christian’s right to support his church or its work with money or in kind, is contradictory. In some places there is no interference. In others, officials have forbidden an offering in the service and have threatened to confiscate all grain or other products brought to the church. The church, in short, is allowed no economic base here, whatever.
Teaching, medical and social welfare work are considered productive but raise immediately the question of control. There are Christian doctors working in Communist hospitals, even one record of a Christian teacher running a Communist school. But the Christian witness possible in these circumstances is problematical. Pre-war Christian schools, hospitals, rural experiment stations, and mass education projects, have all perforce closed or remained closed in Communist areas, with the single exception mentioned above.
Fear of organizations opposed to their program is a final factor in determining Communist attitudes toward Christian work. The churches which grew out of American missions are triply suspect for their associations with the United States, the Kuomintang, and the Roman Catholics. American financial support is suspect, and only leaks through to mission churches by devious secret routes. Many Chinese Christians have suffered for their American friendships or the unpopularity of American foreign policy. There is undoubtedly some justification for this fear, and some deliberate use of it for other purposes. Especially in more conservative churches the Chinese Christians have absorbed the social reaction of their missionary fathers in the faith. On the other hand this conservatism is at best a very indirect aid to American policy, not an instrument thereof.
Christian contacts with the Kuomintang are more ambiguous. In many towns where the missionary establishment—church, school and hospital,—was the largest economic unit in the town, cooperation with local officials is inevitable, both in the constructive and the dubious sense. In many cases Christian laymen had been local officials. In one case the Communists on raiding a town found UNRRA supplies stored in a Christian school by local officials under suspicious circumstances. Communist fears, however, have gone so far as to suspect everyone who enters their territory without proper authorization, or who travels about too frequently. More than one pastor has been arrested on his parish calls in the country.
It is surprising, in view of the Roman Catholic Church’s announced policy of anti-Communism, that persecution of its personnel has not been more severe. Probably the “New Democratic״ theory exercises some restraint here, based on the conviction that individual expressions of religion are insignificant if an organization is not allowed to function as a unit. This article has refrained from drawing on Roman evidence because of that church’s stand. Responsible leaders of Communism recognize that Protestantism has on the whole tried to be fairer to Communist politics and economics than has Romanism. The Roman Church has been far more of a landowner for profit, thus supporting many of its churches and orders. It has at times allowed anti-Communist political activities to find refuge on its property. It may have been guilty of usury. And it has tended to create economic communities which embody features to which Communists object, more than have Protestant churches. This is not to label the whole Roman Church with these characteristics, but only to point out that other churches have not on the whole raised these obstacles to smooth relations with Communism. Yet despite this, much Communist policy ignores or blurs this distinction.
Do Communists, then, persecute Christians? The answer seems to be, usually not as Christians. An absolute prohibition of church services has been rare. Many evangelists are allowed to do their work quietly. In one place a district association of churches was allowed to meet, and the author knows of two cases in which evangelists of high reputation are allowed to work into Communist territory from government held bases. On the other hand, wherever Christian work crosses one of the policies or attitudes described above, it stands in danger. The opinion of Christian leaders in Peiping would summarize the situation somewhat as follows :
1. Communist law and policy is undependable, subordinate to the gaining and maintenance of political power, or to irresponsible destruction.
2. The Communists cannot, despite their sincere desire in some cases, tolerate for long an organization which is not under their control or an individual with independent influence. On this rock all Christian work will eventually founder. The Communist system, in short, leaves no room for freedom.
3. The Communist conception of society, being materialistic and without regard for persons as such, leaves no useful social function for the church and puts no value on full time church work. Thus the development of leadership, of intelligent faith, and relevant Gospel are hamstrung.
4. Because Communism cannot understand the Christian’s relation to God, except as self-deception, the actions of Christians will always be assigned economic or political motives, and dealt with accordingly. Christianity will always be suspect as a cover for an alien class or nation’s activities.
Yet balanced against these are two other points:
5. Where the difficulties in the way of Christian work have been overcome for brief periods the credit usually belongs to personalities on both sides. The opposition of Communists to Christianity is ideological, not personal, and the ideology is not in complete control.
6. The Christian challenge to Communism in North China has nowhere been truly adequate, presenting a social, educational and evangelistic program inseparably linked. Communists have rarely met individuals and never a whole community of Christians ready to die for such a live and relevant faith.
There are also a few Chinese Christian leaders who are more optimistic, seeing democracy in Mao Tze-tung’s theory, and hope in the personalities of Communist acquaintances. They point out that Communists respect the character building work of Christian institutions, and welcome social welfare work, while Christians have yet to present a strong witness in Communist areas along these lines.
For Christian action two points stand out clearly:
1. A missionary to the Communists would have to be one called in his own conviction to this service. He would have to be certified by Communist authorities. He would have to practice a vocation other than the ministry as a base for his mission. His attitude toward Communist efforts would have to be constructive regardless of provocation. He would have to be prepared for any eventuality in living conditions, sudden persecution, meaningless interference, or even death.
2. Christians must develop a Christian understanding of the specific reforms and organization for which Communism stands at the moment. They must attack the problem of the people’s livelihood from the point of view of the personal Christian community and work out tentative economic solutions which could be extended outside the fellowship. The only such economic expression of Christian community which has actually seen trial is the industrial and farm cooperative. How it would fare in Communist areas is not sure but it offers one method of presenting the Christian way of life constructively within the area of Communist concern.
And underlying this action, the author would like to suggest the following questions on -which Christian-Communist relations seem to hinge:
1. What kind of power will the Communists recognize and adjust to? Christian work itself depends entirely on personal power, creative in the realm of freedom. Is it unrealistic to hope that this power, purged of all questionable connections, may be given a place in Communist society? Should Christian realists support some secular material power which could force the Communists to compromise for strategic reasons?
2. What philosophical foundation, especially in the educational system, must the church seek as a vehicle for its understanding of life over against dialectical materialism? How do we differ from the Roman answer?
3. What sociological foundation, what material freedom from the government control, must the church and its allied work demand?
These questions will be answered in the next few years by Christian leaders. It will be well if behind these answers is a clearly thought out set of middle axioms of the Christian ethic, in the light of China’s needs and the condition (including the sin) of her Christian church.