A growing number of Chinese students who converted to Christianity while studying abroad abandon the faith once they return home due to the country's hostile treatment of believers, according to a new report.
Foreign Policy reports that since 2010, increasing numbers of Chinese students have studied abroad, mostly in English-speaking countries. Among them, as many as tens of thousands who converted to the Christian faith overseas return to China every year.
However, upon returning home, 80 percent of believers eventually stop going to church, according to volunteers and missionary staff who have worked for years with Chinese students in the US. Foreign Policy suggests that this unfortunate trend is likely due in part to the Chinese government's extreme monitoring of state-registered churches and persecution of unregistered "house churches."
"When Chinese converts return home, they often find it difficult to select a church where they feel comfortable," reads the report. "Many have grown up without exposure to China's religious scene, where public proselytizing is severely limited and church networks are isolated and self-contained."
China Aid, a persecution watchdog which has been documenting abuses against Christian churches, pastors, activists, and human rights lawyers, said in its report that throughout 2016, the government engaged in activities to force all religions to "surrender to the authority and leadership of the Chinese Community Party."
Last year, President Xi Jinping implemented China's Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, targeting house churches and forcing them to register under the state-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Because the state monitors religious groups closely and handpicks the pastors and guidance to the registered churches, local believers have learned to act "cautious and defensive toward outsiders," according to the report.
Foreign Policy shares the story of Wu Yutong, who, after converting to Christianity in London, found it difficult to find a church in China that was consistent with her faith. She continually moved from church to church, but was frustrated to find that "many things conflicted" with her beliefs.
The outlet also notes that Chinese culture itself can also cause converts to waver; Jason Fu, who teaches at a university in Nanjing after returning from the University of Nottingham in England, told the outlet that balancing his work schedule, routines, and faith is incredibly difficult. "Theoretically, we should prioritize God over everything else, but real-life scenarios often don't permit that," he said.
He added, "My impression of this society is that without belief, you don't know what you live for. You struggle on an assembly line. You work hard to make money; make money to marry; marry to have kids; have kids to wait for them to grow up. Choosing to believe in Jesus is the only major decision I have made for myself."
However, while China is officially an atheist country, foreign scholars estimate that there are 67 million to 100 million Christians in China - compared with 87 million Communist Party adherents.