What's the real state of Christianity in China? Never having been to China myself, I have to glean most of my information about Chinese Christianity through news stories about atheist government policies, politically-compromised churches, and underground Christian communities. A recent article at Forum 18 (spotted via the Mere Comments blog) suggests that the relationship between China's atheist government ideology and the private practice of Christianity is complicated... and in a state of change.
According to the article, the current Chinese political environment has produced a state in which many people publically go through the motions of Party membership--often as a means of securing a stable job and benefits--while privately practising their Christian faith:
Membership of the Chinese Communist Party and religious commitment are sometimes assumed to be mutually exclusive. But this is not what many Chinese people think, as the influence of Communist ideology on society declines and the number of religious believers rises. [...]
In China today, a growing number of people possess the political identity of Communist Party member and the spiritual identity of religious believer. Reports say that at least one-third of the 60-70 million Communist Party members belong to a religious organisation. According to AsiaNews, the records of the Communist Party's Disciplinary Commission indicate that 12 million party cadres in urban areas are involved in religious activities, 5 million of them on a regular basis. At the same time, 8 million party cadres in rural areas are involved in religious activities and 4 million of them are regular religious participants.
Many Chinese Christians seem to be separating religious faith and Party loyalty into two separate paradigms, each to be kept clear of the other. The article notes that while this compartmentalization of religious and social life is encouraged by the state, it's not likely to have the results aimed for by the Party.
Certainly a fascinating trend. The "compartmentalization" movement is potentially worrisome (although quite understandable, and perhaps necessary), in that it encourages an unrealistic separation of personal beliefs from public life; but the overall picture seems to be one of increased religious freedom, which is definitely positive.