CCP’s Suppression of Religion Mirrors Cultural Revolution: Former US Freedom Ambassador

By Hannah Ng
Hannah Ng
Hannah Ng
Hannah Ng is a reporter covering U.S. and China news. She holds a master's degree in international and development economics from the University of Applied Science Berlin.
and Tiffany Meier
Tiffany Meier
Tiffany Meier
Tiffany Meier is a New York-based reporter and host of NTD's "China in Focus."
March 17, 2023Updated: March 17, 2023

The suppression of religion in China under the rule of Xi Jinping mirrors that of the Cultural Revolution, according to Sam Brownback, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

The Cultural Revolution took place in China from 1966 to 1976. Mao Zedong declared a class war and a war on everything traditional, bringing chaos and violence to the country. During the 10-year period, schools were closed, historical relics and artifacts were destroyed, and cultural and religious sites were ransacked. The economy stagnated, millions were persecuted for their political and religious beliefs, and an estimated 1.5 million people died.

“What you’re seeing in Xinjiang with concentration camps with ideological indoctrination that’s taking place, with limitations on people being able to practice Muslim faith—you can’t name a child Muhammad in the entire country—that’s out of the Cultural Revolution playbook that [former communist dictator] Mao put forward,” Brownback told “China in Focus” on NTD, the sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.

He pointed to the situation of the Early Rain Covenant Church, saying that prior to Xi’s rule, the faith group was tolerated.

“Prior to Xi Jinping, this was something of an opening by the Chinese Communist Party that they were showing: ‘Yes, we can have effective independent churches operating in China. It doesn’t threaten us, we’re willing to let it exist,’” he said.

“Then Xi Jinping comes in and he goes back ‘Full Mao,’ or ‘Full Cultural Revolution,’ and says, ‘We’re not going to let these sorts of things survive in this country, we’re going to do everything we can to shut them down,’” he added.

“And it’s just been a complete change of thought, from the opening prior to Xi, to the closing and back to a Cultural Revolution-type of norm by Xi Jinping.”

Brownback noted that the suppression of religion in China is now facilitated by high tech surveillance systems.

“What is different now is that they’ve blended it with a virtual police state and the use of high-tech weapons,” he said.

“So now they’ve got a camera for every other person in all of China, you’ve got these data centers for knowing what the genetic code of most people is, certainly in Xinjiang, and in many places,” he added.

As the CCP controls all economic activity, and they’re moving to digitize the currency, they can victimize any group that they don’t like by “turning their money off,” Brownback said.

As for the suppressed, he said that “they’re going to have to go begging to the government or somehow comply with the government to be able to operate in that economy.”

Atheistic by Nature

The CCP goes after people of faith because communism is atheistic by nature, he said.

As a result, the regime wants to get religion under their control. To that end, he said, the CCP is trying to decimate and destroy anything with the capacity to stand up to them.

Meanwhile, people of faith are “generally moving to a higher authority, they feel a call from God. Their allegiance is to something that’s eternal, not something that’s temporal, it’s the Kingdom of God versus the kingdom of man,” he said.

Religious adherents are looking for the eternal, looking for hope beyond a world that has so many difficulties, and so much evil in it, he noted.

As such, “religion is the only entity that has enough organization, has enough adherence to it, has enough passion of the people associated with it, to stand up to a government, to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

Standing Up to the CCP

Brownback urged the United States to help religious adherents in China by raising awareness about how the regime is dealing with religion in the country.

“We should ask the people in Africa and South America, where the Chinese are really trying to move in aggressively: ‘Is this how you want your dominant religious beliefs treated by the state, subservient and really not even being allowed to exist?’ And ask them is that the system you want?” he said.

“Because China and the communist party seeks to rule the world. They seek to be the dominant global guiding country … we should be much more aggressive on projecting this out around the world about how China’s Communist Party wants your faith treated.”