Hundreds of Christian children in Zhejiang province have been asked to fill out a form stating that they did not follow a religion and "shamed" for their faith, a persecution watchdog has revealed.
According to World Watch Monitor, over 300 children from two high schools in the region, which has been referred to as the "Jerusalem of the East" for its strong Christian presence, were handed a "questionnaire in class about faith."
"Children in this part of China would write 'Christian' because of 1) their innocence and 2) they come from families of fervent believers who do not compromise their faith," a source told WWM.
In the first school, which has around 200 Christian students, the teacher demanded they rewrite the questionnaire, stating that they had "no religion." But when filling out the next questionnaire, half of the children maintained that they were Christians. Following further warnings, in the end all but one child complied.
In the other school, which has around 100 children, it was the class prefect who forced the Christians to resubmit their papers, stating that they had "no religion."
While "it is normal for a school to ask parents to fill out a form which includes questions of faith when a child is first enrolled in school, for many years this hasn't been an issue," the source said.
"[C]hildren were handed a questionnaire in class about faith, which is not normal. It seems this is part of the new push to identify Christians and give them pressure of one sort or another," the source explained.
Schools in China are government-controlled and financed and therefore Communist in ideology, notes WWM. Some Christian children have have faced "shaming" incidents for their faith, according to the outlet, "but the extent of such shaming was to prevent them from joining the Communist Youth League, thereby denying them any of the perks that come with a progression to Communist Party Member later in life."
The incident is part of a larger crackdown on Christianity as the Chinese government continues to impose Chinese ideology on religion in the country. The continued crackdown, which has included the demolition of churches, imprisonment of pastors, and taking down of rooftop crosses, is also seeing children being banned from attending worship services.
As earlier reported, Chinese officials previously warned Christian parents that if they continue to take their children to churches not approved by the government, their offspring will be banned from attending college or serving in the military, and will face legal action. The government sanctioned Protestant church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, specifically forbids its members from "brainwashing" teenagers with religious beliefs and bringing children to religious activities.
China is ranked 39th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Over the past year, President Xi Jinping has directed the party to "Sinicize" - or bring under Chinese tradition - the country's ethnic and religious minorities in efforts to counter religious "extremism."
Authorities believe Christianity, whose followers are said to rival in number the 85 million members of the Communist Party, "poses a major threat" to its long-term stability.