In the Henan province in Central China, it is now necessary to register via a smartphone application to be able to attend Sunday Mass. This is the latest avatar of social control which weighs more and more heavily on religions in China.
Sunday Mass, Friday sermon at the mosque, visit to the Buddhist temple… So many activities that the religious department of the government of Henan province has just decided to regulate by means of an application called “smart religion,” literally “intelligent religion,” in the sense of artificial intelligence of course.
It was ChinaAid, a Christian non-profit organization based in the United States, who revealed the situation on March 6, 2023. Believers must now download the application, fill in all the personal fields relating to them - name, age, telephone number, identification number imposed on all citizens by the government, profession, residence, etc.
After a final temperature test supposed to show that one is not infected by Covid 19, the registration should be validated by a QR code which must necessarily be presented before crossing the threshold of the parish church.
ChinaAid reports the displeasure of many Chinese worshipers who fear that older, less tech-savvy people may be unable to register on “smart religion,” to which the local communist mandarins – good princes – replied that dedicated staff would help those less connected.
Realistic, Henan Catholics are helplessly witnessing this new demonstration of Chinese-style social control: “These management measures do not stem from the intention to protect religious rights, but rather are a means to achieve much more political objectives,” ChinaAid reports..
Currently, Communist China recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Taoism and Islam. In theory, the Constitution guarantees freedom of belief, but things have hardened a lot since Xi Jinping came to power.
Today there are between 10 and 12 million Catholics in China, supposedly led by the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics (APCC), an entity in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At the same time, there is still a whole network of underground churches.
The plan for the “sinicization” of religions, adopted in 2015 by Xi Jinping, aspires to make the different faiths compatible with “Chinese communist culture.” It has engendered a gradual and severe tightening of control over religious communities, official and underground, which no longer escape the digital eye of Beijing.
On this point, the provisional agreement signed between the Holy See and China on the appointment of bishops in 2018 has made no progress.