Christian heartland opens window into fight for China’s soul

NANYANG, China (AP) — The 62-year-old Chinese shopkeeper had waited nearly his entire adult life to see his dream of building a church come true — a brick house with a sunny courtyard and spacious hall with room for 200 believers.

But in March, about a dozen police officers and local officials suddenly showed up at the church on his property and made the frightened congregants disperse, said the shopkeeper, Guo.

He and his neighbors in China’s Christian heartland province of Henan had found themselves on the front lines of an ambitious new effort by the officially atheist ruling Communist Party to dictate — and in some cases displace — the practice of faith in the country. Churches have been raided and Bibles confiscated as President Xi Jinping strives to give Christianity “Chinese characteristics.”