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Cablegate: Yunnan Christianity Growing, Government Attitude Improving

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FM AMCONSUL CHENGDU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3730
INFO RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 4454
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
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TAGS: PHUM PREL PINR SOCI CH
SUBJECT: YUNNAN CHRISTIANITY GROWING, GOVERNMENT ATTITUDE IMPROVING

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1. (SBU) Summary: The number of Christians in Yunnan Province
continues to grow, both among government-approved congregations
and illegal "house churches," the Pastor of a large church in
Kunming told us recently. 80 percent of adherents in Yunnan
belong to ethnic minorities, though Christianity is spread
fairly evenly across the province. The government's attitude
toward religion is improving, though it continues to "hit hard"
against house churches, and appears to favor "traditional"
Chinese religions over Christianity. Though himself an
important figure in Yunnan's official church, the pastor said
both government-approved and house churches are necessary, and
that they should be united in their desire to be left alone by
the government. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Consul General and PolEconOff met January 18 with Jing
Jiuwei, pastor of the Kunming City International Trinity Church.
A third-generation Christian originally from Hebei whose uncle
was a house church leader, Jing graduated in the 1980s among the
first class of a government-approved seminary in Beijing before
moving to Yunnan, where he now presides over a very large
government-approved church in Kunming (i.e. part of the Three
Selfs Patriotic Protestant Association). (Note: In 2007,
ConGenOff visited St. John's, another large Three Selfs church
in Kunming, see ref A. End Note.)

Christianity Popular, Growing in Yunnan

---------------------------------------

3. (U) There are currently roughly 800,000 Christians in Yunnan,
Jing said, making it among the top ten Chinese provinces for
numbers of Christian adherents. (Note: Official government
statistics report the number to be over one million. End Note.)
Reasons for the popularity of Christianity in Yunnan include
extensive foreign contact dating to the 19th century, as well as
the religion's popularity among China's ethnic minorities -- 80
percent of Yunnan's Christians belong to ethnic minorities, Jing
said. Geographic distribution of Christians across the province
is fairly even, he added. (Note: A 2003 Kunming Religious
Affairs Bureau report on the religious situation in Kunming
sketched the city's religious demographics. The report counted
in Kunming and adjacent counties subordinate to Kunming "more
than 350,000 religious believers or about 7.2 percent of
Kunming's population. These people include believers in
Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestant Christianity, and
Catholicism. About 60 percent of believers belong to national
minorities." Ref B describes Party and government strategies
for controlling religious communities in Kunming and the
challenges they face. End Note.)

4. (SBU) In the provincial capital of Kunming, there are
currently 50-60,000 Christians, including both those who attend
the government-approved Three Selfs churches (self-governing,
self-financing, and self-propagating) and illegal "house
churches." Jing said he is not familiar with every house church
in the city, but his wife, who runs his church's religious
bookshop, frequently meets people who mention they belong to
house churches of which Jing was previously unaware. Growth
rates among government-approved and house churches are about the
same, he noted, increasing by about 10 percent per year.

5. (U) Jing's own congregation has doubled in size in the past
five years, growing to 6,000 -- so many that they needed to
build a bigger church. (Comment: Jing's existing three-story
church can fairly be described as massive, with a huge main
floor and a sanctuary with two large theater-type balconies
reachable by elevator. End Comment.) The old church had a
maximum capacity of 600, whereas the new one can hold 1,700
during any of its three Sunday services. Since the new church
was built, more people have started coming, he said, though some
just out of interest in the attractive building itself. Every
Christian group in Kunming is working hard to attract new
followers, Jing continued, and his own congregation is starting
to see more people with advanced degrees showing interest,
though in terms of age the congregation remains evenly split
among young, middle-age, and older attendees.


CHENGDU 00000030 002 OF 002


6. (U) Jing noted that in addition to a government-approved
seminary in Kunming, others exist in the Yunnan cities of Dali,
Baoshan, Nujiang, and Qujing. The Kunming program runs for
two-three years, with a total school size of about 100 students
(just over 30 students in each class); each student must be
approved by the government.

Government Attitude Toward Christianity Improving

--------------------------------------------- ----

7. (SBU) The PRC government's attitude toward Christianity is
getting progressively better, Jing said, mostly because
officials realize they cannot contain the religion's growth.
The government is, however, still "hitting hard" at the house
churches. Jing gave a few examples, including the case of a
friend of his who was jailed in Lifeng City in Shanxi Province
for organizing house churches. The government's attitude toward
Buddhism and Daoism, as "traditional" Chinese religions, is
better than that toward Christianity, a foreign import, he said.
(Note: Buddhism, too, is a foreign import from India, though
albeit a much earlier one. End Note.)

8. (SBU) Commenting on his own relations with city and
provincial authorities, Jing said he had a very good
relationship with Kunming Vice Mayor Du Ming (ref C). Du's
attitude toward religion in recent years has been very good,
particularly toward Christianity. Jing repeated a statement by
Du regarding his desire to build more churches instead of jails,
echoing Du's remarks to Consul General during a September
meeting. Jing also said Kunming Party Secretary Qiu He is doing
many good things for the city in terms of development and, like
Du, has a positive attitude toward religion.

9. (SBU) A current challenge associated with the church's
growth, Jing said, is the need for more space for worship.
Christian leaders in Kunming are currently, for example, renting
a house for a new government-approved church at the cost of RMB
100,000 (USD 15,000) per year. Jing recounted a story from
2007, when he met with Du and several other government officials
at the church and raised this very topic. In front of 200
people, Du asked Jing much land the church needed, to which Jing
replied, "Whatever land you give me, I'll fill." Du offered
them 10 mu (roughly 0.667 hectares) at the market price of RMB
400,000 per mu. When Du asked whether the church had this much
money, Jing said no, but if the government would provide the
land for free, the congregation would use its own funds to build
a new church building. Du agreed. The church has yet to
receive the land, but Jing is convinced the deal will be
honored.

10. (SBU) Jing's only complaint toward the government, in
addition to comments about "hitting hard" against house
churches, was in regards to government interference in church
decisions over selecting leaders for Three-Self Patriotic
Movement churches. Jing said both the government-approved and
house churches have their good and bad points, but "both are
necessary." "We can eat together and neither want the
government beating us down."BROWN

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