Updated: May 29, 2018 04:29 AM GMT
A decorative plate featuring an image of Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen behind a statue of late communist leader Mao Zedong at a souvenir store next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Feb. 27. A Hong Kong academic has detailed how Mao's communist cadres infiltrated Christian communities with the aim of destroying them. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)
Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says that during the early years of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) some Christians became disappointed with church institutions.
They thought God had taken away the power of Christianity to save humanity, so they joined the CCP as secret, or underground, members.
At a Hong Kong seminar on May 7 dealing with the unmasking of such people, Ying talked about individuals who changed from believing in God to embracing communism.
He cited Yan Baohang, who was baptized when studying at the Fengtian (now Shenyang) Normal School and served as a trainee student secretary in the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).
He was later sent to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for further study and graduated from St. John's University. After returning to China, he was promoted to be general secretary of Fengtian YMCA.
These were the highest positions at that time held by a Chinese national.
However, he was influenced by the anti-imperialist May 4 Movement that grew out of students protesting in Beijing on that day in 1919 over what they saw as a weak Chinese government response to the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles.
Yan, greatly interested in social issues and new ideologies, later learned about communism after meeting Han Lelan, a Korean sent to Fengtian by the CCP.
Yan was provoked by the tumultuous situation in China and in 1927 expressed his intention to join the party.
However, he only joined the CCP 10 years later, through senior party member Zhou Enlai, who went on to become the first premier of the People's Republic of China (PRC) established in 1949.
In respect of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (Anglican Church of China), Pu Hua-ren and Dong Jianwu were clergy who were the first to establish an organizational relationship with the CCP.
Pu could be said to have been the first clergyman to be a CCP underground member. He graduated from St. John's University, an Anglican university in Shanghai, in 1915. Four years later, he was assigned to work in the newly developed Shaanxi Diocese.
Pu believed deeply in "Christian national salvation" but he dramatically changed his mind in 1927 after he visited the Soviet Union for three months and learned about communism. On the way back to China, he joined the CCP secretly.
Dong was influenced by Pu to join the party.
These two "red clergy" stayed in the church after they joined the CCP but eventually left.
Ying said that the first people in the church recruited by the CCP were those who were concerned about the state of the nation and that their transformation reflected disappointment with the church.
He explained that many Christians eventually turned to believe in Karl Marx instead of Jesus, reflecting that in the face of a critical situation the faith of Christian national salvation disintegrated and hopes of salvation through communism were aroused.
In a Q&A session, someone asked how the CCP's infiltration should now be faced up to by Christians.
Ying pointed out that, from a historical point of view, the CCP had been able to penetrate church organizations because a group of Christians had lost faith in the church, which they believed to have been "disconnected" from reality and the worst off in society.
Wu Yao-tsung, a Protestant Christian leader in China who played a key role in the establishment of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, said God had "taken the key to saving humanity from the church."
Ying explained that Wu meant that he had believed the church could save humanity, but God himself no longer believed in the church and had given responsibility for saving humanity to the CCP.
"So, what we can do today as a Christians is to have a fair understanding of the relationship, responsibility and role of faith in society," Ying said.
"Don't let yourself be disappointed with the church, like those young people who joined the party, and lose your identities."
In today's mainland China and Hong Kong churches, underground party members still had an influential role, especially on the mainland, he noted.
However, Ying said the CCP now does not rely solely on underground party members, nor does it necessarily require outsiders to become members.
This was because the party leadership understood that not only party members could play a role in shaping attitudes.
Most importantly, there were patriotic appeals for clergy to love both the country and the church.
This is the third of three articles focusing on research carried out by Professor Ying Fuk-tsang about the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to infiltrate churches and church organizations. To read the first article click here and the second article click here.