DR HAN Wenzao is no Santa Claus. But for this Christmas, the new Acting General Secretary of the Chinese Christian Council (CCC), will have so many Christmas wishes from mainland Christians to answer that he may need a real Santa to deliver them. Elected last month to head the CCC, Dr Han faces an arduous task. In his own words, he has to 'bring up a new generation of church leaders and make a concerted effort to serve the rural churches in China'. To put it more simply, Dr Han's task is to build God's kingdom in the atheist regime of Communist China, and to preach a religion which is still regarded by some die-hard Marxists as the opium of the people. And for this 71-year-old from Shanghai, the job is even tougher because the flocks often don't follow the shepherd's whistle. The Christian church in China has gone through many trials over the years, and for many Christians in China, martyrdom is still a day-to-day reality rather than a tale from the history books. Even in 1994 - 15 years after China opened its doors to the West - Bibles cannot be bought and sold in public bookstores and can only be obtained legally through the official churches. Nevertheless, the Christian church in China is growing fast. According to Dr Han there are now eight to 10 million Christians and over 9,000 house churches across the country. The growth of the Christian population was so rapid that even foreign critics have had to admit that the CCC - in spite of its official background - played a part in its expansion. However, the rapid growth in churches and the fast-paced changes in Chinese society have brought with them a host of problems beyond the power and resources of the CCC. For example, the CCC not only has difficulties in reconciling with the underground churches in China, but it also faces growing dissatisfaction within the open churches. By its own account, it received over 500 complaints last year, ranging from property disputes to the unlawful detention of Christians. With that in mind, one may be more easily able to understand the difficulties which Dr Han faces. After graduating in civil engineering from the prestigious St John University in Shanghai in 1944, he joined the YMCA there, an institution often described by veteran China watchers as a bastion of the Communist Party. He moved to Nanjing in 1947 and was responsible for the organisation of the provincial and the local Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). The TSPM and the CCC (set up in 1980) are two government-sanctioned bodies responsible for the management and administration of Protestant churches in China. During the Cultural Revolution, Dr Han was purged and sent to the countryside. Little is known of his activities during that period. He returned to the CCC after the fall of the Gang of Four. Although Dr Han still remains quiet about his past, he is much more open on other issues. Take Christianity versus Communism, for instance. 'I don't think there can be a compromise between Christianity and atheism,' said Dr Han in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post. 'But there is common ground.' To him, it is obvious that there can be no dual-allegiance to Jesus Christ and Karl Marx. Communist Party members are to withdraw from the party if they become Christians. That, Dr Han said, has created problems in the countryside. 'Not many so far. But after all, Christianity is a small church. If ours were a powerful church [then it] could be a different picture. I don't think that Christianity has been a big threat, so far,' he said. 'In many cases, because of the good work on the part of the congregation to do something for the community, the government leaders have given very favourable comments.' Such good work, Dr Han believes, has a much deeper effect than mere charity. Christianity, he said, provides an alternative to the prevailing get-rich mentality in Chinese society. 'This money-oriented concept is a problem [and] is a challenge to us. To get rich is glorious - that kind of mentality already has been the root-cause of many social problems,' Dr Han said. 'This money-oriented concept causes divorces. That's tragic. We don't expect too much - [just] some contribution in seeking a moral life. We are not for the money-oriented concept. Of course, money is important in the development of the economy, improving one's livelihood, it's important. But don't be too money oriented.' Although Dr Han has not had formal theological training, he said the grooming of young pastors, church leaders and theologians would be a top priority on his agenda. 'Our [generation] is over 70. Bishop Ding [Guangxun of TSPM] is approaching 80 . . . so we have to bring up a new generation from the 50s. 'And I foresee that the leadership situation may not be much better in five years' time. But after that, they can get much more experienced and will be much more mature. I am very optimistic for the future, for the young people,' the General Secretary said. 'I don't want to do too much day-to-day work. I will talk to the young leaders, the young colleagues to give them the freedom to develop their talents.' But Dr Han admitted that there was a limit to what the CCC can do in dealing with conflicts between the Nanjing headquarters and its regional branches. 'Well, according to our constitution, the CCC is a serving body, [we are] not like the Pope. But in our constitution, it is said that the provincial level, the local level of the council should implement the resolutions of the CCC. They are obliged to,' he explained. 'We won't remove them [regional CCC officials]. We will [persuade them] through consultation. Not much so far, but we have the Commission of Church and Administration which is to take responsibility in seeking solutions of the problems which have emerged within the church.' The General Secretary blamed foreign media for exaggerating the conflicts, and said that publicity often complicated the problems and made mediation more difficult. He appreciated efforts by Christians abroad in supporting their brothers and sisters in China but feared that over-zealousness could backfire. Although it was not forbidden for overseas church groups to have direct contact with regional churches in China, Dr Han said it would be better if the Nanjing headquarters were informed beforehand. 'We are grateful to Christians in Hong Kong that you have taken on the burden for Christians in China. But do it in a proper way. Good deeds must be done well, don't ruin them,' he said. How does Dr Han face the accusation that he was a party member? 'Once, my friend from the United States asked why I won't respond, I said no, no, I won't respond because if I respond, it will take up too much of my time and energy then I said fine, after all, they are not the final judges. We just do the work,' he said.