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In The Land Of Mao, A Rising Tide Of Christianity

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http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128546334

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Official Chinese surveys now show that nearly one in three Chinese describe themselves as religious, an astonishing figure for an officially atheist country, where religion was banned until three decades ago.

The last 30 years of economic reform have seen an explosion of religious belief. China's government officially recognizes five religions: Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Daoism. The biggest boom of all has been in Christianity, which the government has struggled to control.

One way it has tried to do that is by establishing government-sanctioned churches. In one such church in the east of the country, China's Protestant heartland, parishioners bow their heads as the pastor says grace. Hundreds are huddled around circular tables to eat lunch.

The official church is part of what's called the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-sanctioned Protestant organization. Three-Self refers to the strategy launched in the 1950s of removing foreign influences from Chinese churches — self-governance, self-support, self-propagation.

The church is marking husband-and-wife day, which is an annual celebration of faith and community. A thousand people each week from dozens of nearby villages pack into this church, situated about 300 miles from Shanghai.

Among them is Yao Hong, a 38-year-old woman in a maroon jacket who became a Christian almost two decades ago, seeking comfort after her husband at the time had an affair. She believes it's patriotic to be Christian.

"God is rising here in China," she says, gesturing around the cavernous church. "If you look at the U.S. or England, their gospel is very advanced. Their churches are rich, because God blesses them. So I pray for China."

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