Persecution of Chinese Christians continued to increase in 2013, according to a new annual report from ChinaAid, a Texas-based organization that monitors religious freedom.

The report documents 134 cases of persecution involving 7,424 Christians in China.

“It should be noted that the information collected by ChinaAid about persecution cases in China is but the tip of the iceberg,” adds ChinaAid. Overall, documented instances of persecution increased by nearly 39 percent over the past year, the report says.

Critics of ChinaAid have noted in the past that its dataset is very limited, and that it fails to take into account the great strides Christians have made in China. Nevertheless, ChinaAid president Bob Fu offers the most comprehensive documentation available of Christian persecution in China. Fu personally endured persecution in China and now reports from Texas.

Chinese Christians still do not enjoy full religious freedom, though their circumstances have improved significantly since the Cultural Revolution. While most Chinese Christians do not experience intense persecution, some do.

ChinaAid played a critical role two summers ago in helping blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng escape captivity and flee to the United States. President Obama briefly mentioned the plight of Chinese Christians in his address at the annual prayer breakfast earlier this month. Fu was present at the National Prayer breakfast, as was Xia Jun, a lawyer representing Pastor Zhang Shaojie, who will face trial (on charges of fraud and “gathering a mob to disrupt public order”) in China this week.

Between 2006 and 2013, ChinaAid says persecution has become “55.23% worse.”

That figure, which is based on a comparison of the number of individual instances, may not tell the full story. Christianity has grown explosively in China. The Chinese government, which low-balls its numbers, has conceded that Protestantism grew by more than 60 percent in less than two decades, Catholicism by more than 25 percent. Beijing’s official count, which includes only those who worship in the state-sanctioned churches — estimates China has 23 million Protestants and 5.7 million Catholics. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life puts the number at 58 million Protestants and 9 million Catholics, and other plausible counts estimate more than 100 million Chinese Christians.

It is possible that while the number of instances of persecution continues to increase, overall persecution of Christians is at its lowest since the People’s Republic of China was founded.

In 2012 this reporter spent a year in China and visited Catholic and Protestant churches, both state-sanctioned and “underground” or “house.” At that time persecution seemed to be a waning concern for Christians. Many believers made the deliberate choice to avoid politics altogether. While their faith affected every aspect of their lives, including family and professional relationships, Chinese Christianity appeared to be more cultural than political.

Christianity’s soft power still causes some unease for the communist government. ChinaAid’s report notes a new effort by authorities to “destroy Christianity’s accumulated social-cultural capital.” That’s primarily evidenced, the report says, by a crackdown on Christian bookstores and college-campus ministries.

But the Chinese government engages in a risky game by attacking Christianity’s soft capital. Maoist communism destroyed Chinese civil society, creating widespread distrust and isolation while undermining the nation’s moral foundation. Today’s China is plagued by widespread mistrust and loneliness, as well as pervasive corruption and greed.

Christians’ counter-cultural influence actually furthers Beijing’s putative goal of increasing social harmony. In recent years, churches have made special efforts to strengthen marriages and families in a country where urban migration has left many citizens cut off from family and regional roots. In the workplace, Christians are called on to set high ethical standards. Christians charitable efforts also help make up for the government’s social-policy shortcomings. Christians are often first on the scene in natural disasters, and their ministries often ensure the poor and elderly aren’t totally neglected.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum.