By Tom Hancock ,AFP
BEIJING — A group of Christians gathered in an apartment above a Beijing dental surgery, the atmosphere jubilant as a choir belted out carols on Christmas Eve �X but the curtains stayed tightly closed. Unofficial Christian groups have long been subject to crackdowns, but the atmosphere appears to be worsening as their numbers increase, and the ruling Communist party takes a more nationalist tone under its leader Xi Jinping. Members of Shouwang, a Beijing Christian group who held the Christmas Eve service, have faced more trouble than most.
Several pastors from the group �X which at its height boasted around 1,000 mainly middle-class members �X have been under house arrest since they tried to arrange Easter services in a public square in 2011. Nonetheless there was a joyful atmosphere in the 12th storey apartment this Christmas where green and silver tinsel hung beside plastic snowflakes, and several dozen worshippers joined in with Chinese versions of traditional carols ��Away in a Manger,�� and ��Noel, Noel.�� ��Things have got worse this year because the police started to detain us. I was detained for a week,�� said Zhao Sheng, 54, musical organizer for the service. ��But Christmas is still a happy time. No matter what happens, God is with us,�� he added with a grin. You Zhanglao, one of those under house arrest, said in a telephone interview that he had celebrated Christmas ��at home with my family by saying prayers.��