When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China, he imposed a statewide atheism. Initially, the government did not try to actively repress religious activity, but organized religion was not viewed in a positive light. During the Cultural Revolution, the government sought out to destroy religion. From the Cultural Revolution until President Xi Jin Ping’s election in 2014, religion was permitted, even encouraged, to help enforce the Confucian idea of a “Harmonious Society.”
However, when Xi Jinping came into leadership, he enacted a policy in effort to cut down on foreign religion, in particular Christianity, in China. His policy included strict building codes, and even the ripping down of crosses off church buildings and the complete tearing down of Christian churches.
Many students at NYU Shanghai value the religion they grew up with and wish to continue their practice during college. Even with Xi Jin Ping’s efforts to remove religion not adhering to the values of the Communist Party, students have found ways to practice their religion, although usually quite different than they’re used to.
Sophomore Vanelly Garces went to church consistently throughout her freshman year. She really enjoyed it, and described it as a very “home-like” experience. Her service was conducted in English and Chinese, and she mentioned a lot of the Chinese goers ended up getting baptized. She recalled the moment she realized “I was going to church in China.”
“I was walking to church one day, and when I got there no one was there. The government had showed up. There were a lot of Chinese people who went to church that weren’t supposed to be there so the police were monitoring the activity going in and out. It was really scary,” Garces said.
Freshman Amy DeCillis also frequents church and compared it to her services back home.
“International churches in Shanghai are honestly just here to give foreigners their ‘church fix.’ In the states, singing and worship usually lasts around 15 minutes and the sermon for at least 30. But here, the worship lasts around 35 and the sermon only 20,” DeCillis said.
She believes church here is most definitely a different experience than what she’s accustomed to, and believes that the “coming and going” atmosphere of church-goers here is a disadvantage to those trying to truly deepen their faith.
“Moreover, it’s hard to build a community where everyone’s trying to grow deeper in their faith when half the congregation is either coming or going. I enjoy international churches in Shanghai, it gives me opportunity to connect with people all over the world and shows me just how far Christianity has spread, but they are definitely different from the ones back home.”
Freshman Daniel Yoon describes the process of learning about church going as “disturbing.” Prior to coming to Shanghai, he and his parents did a lot of research to make sure he wouldn’t get thrown into jail or possibly deported for attending church. He learned once he was here that as long as he was at a government sanctioned facility, he was safe. Yoon experimented with many different churches, often far away and hard to find. He goes every Sunday.
Church-going in Shanghai is definitely doable. But be prepared for a slightly different experience than in other countries.
This article was written by Isabel Adler. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
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