Peking While many of China's 4 million Christians flock to yuletide celebrations and candlelight masses at thousands of state-sanctioned churches this year, Li Rong will stay at home. A gentle, kindly man and a devout Christian, Mr. Li prefers to worship in his modest Peking quarters, reading a worn Chinese Bible and silently reaffirming a trust in God that has been tested brutally in his 60-odd years. Like millions of Chinese who refused to renounce their beliefs after the 1949 Communist Revolution, Li was a victim of Mao Tse-tung's campaign to eradicate the ``opiate'' of religion from China. His eyes moist with tears, Li describes how his faith endured through more than 20 years of exile and religious persecution in a communist prison camp in China's remote western region of Xinjiang. While Li was jailed, his wife died. His children grew up as athiests and are now estranged from him. Freed in the early 1980s, Li speaks of his faith today with a nervous urgency. ``I am a Christian,'' he declares again and again, as if still amazed to be uttering such forbidden words. As a young boy, he learned English in a missionary school. Today, he longs for an English translation of the Bible and to meet foreign Christians, who remind him of his old missionary teachers. Since 1980, Peking has relaxed Mao's ban on religious practice and authorized the repair and reopening of about 4,000 churches under the auspices of ``patriotic'' Christian associations. But a lingering bitterness prevents Li from attending their services. ``I cannot go to the red churches,'' said Li, who asked that his real name be withheld. In China, there are many ``underground'' Christians like Li. Some are Roman Catholics, who refuse to renounce ties with the Vatican, which China's official Catholic hierarchy condemns as ``imperialist.'' Some feel that the ``patriotic'' churches subordinate religion to the preaching of government policy. Others are still in jail, including several Catholic priests named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization.
THIS STORY APPEARED IN THE 12/21/87 WORLD EDITION (WEEKLY) AS this holiday scrapbook shows, Christmas trees wilt in the heat of Australia. Santa Clauses throng Tokyo's streets. There's feasting (in France), singing (in West Germany), and candlelight masses in communist states (China and Poland). But elsewhere the picture is sobering. Ulstermen sing No"el in the shadow of gunmen, and impoverished Haitians hope to scrape together enough money for a traditional pumpkin soup.