Pledge to fight on for property

THE international leader of the Salvation Army has pledged to continue the fight to retrieve 40 lots of property owned in China before the communist takeover in 1949.

General Eva Burrows, who has just completed her first visit to China, said yesterday she only managed to look at the Army's former headquarters in Beijing.

''It was heartbreaking to see the place, which is in very bad condition. Squatters live there now,'' she said.

General Burrows suggested to Mr Yan Mingfu, deputy director of the Civil Affairs Bureau, that the hall be used as a community centre, but he replied it would not be possible because the hall was in a very commercial area.

General Burrows said: ''Mr Yan simply suggested we continue to negotiate and we will do that. We won't give up easily.'' Bishop Ding Guangxun, president of the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Protestant Movement, had promised her that the council had no intention of interfering with denominations in Hongkong.

General Burrows said she did not see the Salvation Army starting up as a separate church in the immediate future.

''It has not yet reached the stage of freedom we would like to find. China in the 21st Century may be very different from the China of today, and the Christian church must be ready to play its significant part,'' she said.

It was difficult to get accurate figures for the number of Christians in China and she was quoted between 20 and 60 million. The discrepancy was due to the large number of ''house churches'', which officials described as ''meeting places'', she said.

''But even if there were 100 million Christians in China, they would still make a minority. To be a Christian in China means you must stand up for your faith. It's not the popular thing to do, to become a Christian in China. That's why I admire them''.

General Burrows said church leaders had told her they were not fully aware of the extent of religious persecution in China.

''I was not there to create conflict. My first visit was an attempt at reconciliation and an attempt to understand. I came away feeling that total religious freedom may be a little way down the track,'' she said.

General Burrows will dedicate extensions to the Bradbury Home of Loving Kindness, a Salvation Army home for the elderly in Sha Tin today, before returning to London.