Since Mao Zedong and the Chinese communists chased the Chang Kai Shek out of the Chinese mainland, Communist China has had a strange and complex relationship with large and small organized religions. While religion is seen as a distraction in orthodox Marxism, China nevertheless had centuries of religious history and literally millions of religious practitioners at the start of the Communist regime. Local, traditional religions were often tolerated more than large, organized ones, especially those religions (such as Catholicism) that sprung from Western culture. While there are contemporary, mainstream Christians, Buddhist, and Taoists in modern China, there has nevertheless been a history of persecution of specific religious groups and individuals. Fear of government persecution has driven some religious practices underground, and even as it touts religious freedom, China still creates obstacles that make complete freedom of religion a challenge.
THE CHRONICLES OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN CHINA—THE CHURCH OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD (Jason Jia 2017) attempts to recount the story of one of those groups, the people of the Church of the Almighty God, also called the “Eastern Lightning.” The cast and crew are refugees that have fled persecution of the CCP and are attempting to show the world their interpretation of what’s going on inside China. The film itself stylistically draws from both Christian and Chinese propaganda, using, for example, superflat animations over live action footage, smoky reenactments, and beatific narratives of martyrs and survivors. Large swaths of history are covered and the film makes strong claims. Its own narrative uses ecclesiastical language to describe its communist tortures, referring to Karl Marx as a disciple of Satan and the CCP as a horde of demons. Like many other religious films, it has a clear antagonist and its moral quandary is Manichean at best. And it seems,
And yet, it remains a crucial interpretation of how a persecuted subculture understands its own maltreatment, and as such, is a document uses media culture in interesting ways. At once a product of—and rejection of—the past twenty years in China, THE CHRONICLES OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION speaks to the clash between a restrictive large government, a religious uprising, and particular media traditions that both groups somewhat share.