Christian School Struggling for Survival

A house church set up a school ten years ago in Henan’s Zhengzhou city for children to receive religious education. It’s been persecuted ever since.

Gu Xi

After the new Regulations on Religious Affairs came into effect in February last year, Schools with any religious affiliation – be it Protestant, Catholic or Buddhist – are persecuted and eventually forced to disappear or accept unconditional control by the state. Traditional Christian Sunday schools are also being closed down, curricula content censored, and children are intimidated.

Panshi Church, located in Zhengzhou city of central China’s Henan Province, founded “Vanilla Hill School” in August 2008, where 80 students on average attended its kindergarten and primary school.

The logo of Xiangcaoshan School and the school’s interior.

“I wanted our children to be in contact with the Christian faith from a young age, but at schools in China, children can only receive atheist education,” the church’s pastor explained the idea behind the school.

The school’s administrator told Bitter Winter that the authorities had persecuted the school ever since it was founded. In April 2012, a closure notice was posted on the school’s entrance. The authorities ordered the school to be shut down, and the administrator was taken away for interrogation. The government accused the school of conducting Christian education, which is against CCP’s ideology, and said that all their activities were illegal: the recruitment of students, all financial operations, and missionary work.

The church’s pastor calls the allegations unfounded. “We didn’t go out into the community to recruit students. The church’s believers wrote authorizations entrusting their children to us, hoping that we educate them,” the pastor explained. “All their parents are Christians, under whose influence these children have believed in the Lord since childhood.”

Under the constant pressure, the school had no choice but to move and set up an underground school.

The pastor explained that since house churches are considered as illegal religious groups, there is no way that their schools could be approved. Article 11 of the Regulations on Religious Affairs stipulates: “Religious schools are established by national religious groups or by the religious groups of provinces, autonomous regions, and directly-governed municipalities. Other organizations or individuals must not establish religious schools.”

“So far, to escape from the government’s persecution, we have moved five times since 2012. Last summer, the government discovered us on the first day of school and shut us down. We had to abandon the teaching venue that we just finished renovating for nearly 100,000 RMB [about 15,000 USD],” said the administrator of Vanilla Hill School. “For safety reasons, we always lock the door during classes now and arrange people to stand guard outside the door.”

“If there is one student left at our school, it must be my child,” one parent said. “This road differs from the road of people around the world. We’re mentally prepared to face persecution at any time.”

“As long as there is one child left, we will certainly keep running the school,” added the pastor.

There are more persecuted schools like Vanilla Hill across China. In March 2018, a school set up by a Sola Fide (Justification by Faith) house church in Luyi county of Henan’s Zhoukou city was also ordered to shut down. Everything was confiscated, including computers, Bibles, hymnbooks, over a thousand copies of religious and teaching materials. The school administrator continues to be harassed, officials threatening him not to reopen the school in secret. Children must only go to government-run schools, officials repeat,  “so that they will believe in and belong to the Party after reaching adulthood at the age of 18.”