China: Increased control of religions
On February 4, 2015, in his Chinese New Year address, Yu Zhengsheng, one of the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Political Bureau, spoke to religious leaders and “believers all throughout the country”, indicated the official press agency China News. Religions must redouble their efforts to promote Chinese culture and ensure their compatibility with the values of Chinese socialism, he declared to the representatives of the five religions recognized by the Chinese State, according to a report on February 15 from Eglises d’Asie (EdA), the press agency of the Foreign Missions of Paris. Liu Yandong, Vice-Prime Minister, and Sun Chunlan, head of the United Front, the Party’s organization that manages relations with civil society, from syndicates to religions, were also present and the national TV channel CCTV broadcasted extracts of Yu Zhengsheng’s “recommendations” on the February 4th news.
In the context of a “sinicization” of the religions in China, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam have been called to form “a bridge” with the Communist Party. This new national campaign launched in 2015 was put into practice by obligatory seminars for religious leaders, on the similarities between religious doctrine and the socialist doctrine. (see DICI # 328, Jan. 15, 2015) In a speech delivered in May 2015, Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke of “Sinicizing” religions, a concept that was later developed by the State periodical Zhongguo Minzubao, insisting on religions being controlled from China and not from foreign countries.
On February 26, Eglises d’Asie published a study by Richard Madsen, professor emeritus of sociology and director of research at the University of California, in San Diego (USA), written for the 9th European Catholic China Colloquium that was held in Poland from September 10 to 13, 2015, and whose theme was Challenges of Evangelization – China and Europe. “Xi Jinping seems intent on rationalizing and centralizing the governing apparatus in all realms of life and seeking a way to do so that fits Chinese culture rather than Western theory, toward the goal of a ‘Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation.’ (…) There is in effect much greater toleration of some forms of religion than during the Mao era, and for that matter during the first two decades of the Reform era (the 1980’s and 1990’s). But this is not a liberal toleration, based on a right to freedom of religious association and separation between church and state. It is based on the old imperial principle that the state is the master, religion the follower. The state reserves the prerogative of determining which kind of practice is orthodox ‘true religion’ and which kind a heterodox ‘evil cult.’ The distinction is mainly based on the practical implications of the religion: does it or does it not contribute to a ‘harmonious society’ under the direction of the Party-State. To be fully legitimate, religions need to contribute actively to building the harmonious society. If they are not contributing actively, the state needs to take responsibility to guide the religion so that it does fulfill its obligations. If it will not accept guidance, the state needs to crush it. (…) Christian communities are more problematic, because they are based on a foreign religion, not part of the Chinese cultural heritage.”
At the same time, public executives and retired members of the Party received the order to keep their distance from any religious activity. According to the Asian Catholic information agency Ucanews, the Central Committee of the Party and the State Council have published a circular decreeing that retired executives cannot believe in a religion, cannot participate in religious activities, and must resolutely oppose all sects. Retired executives are also forbidden to take part in “ethnic customs”, added the document.
All state employees are forbidden to practice a religion in China, even though many employees on lower levels do so anyway. Among the thousands of executives arrested for corruption, many were accused of consulting Taoist, Buddhist or Feng shui masters. The Party is worried at the progress of religions and at the fact that its members could lose their communist fervor if they join religious groups. Before the cross-destroying campaign in the province of Zhejiang that began in 2013, it was publicly known that the local leaders were particularly accommodating with the Christians, since some of them practiced this religion. The campaign was seen as a way of regaining control of a province that was a little too open.
It is important to note that this is the first time an official texts mention retired executives; it is a sign that no category is exempt from the president Xi Jinping’s desire to bring China to heel since his accession. It is also a sign of the growing attention paid to retirees, whose number is growing in China, and who are considered as a more “patriotic” category of the population, whose support the regime needs to keep.
In an article published on February 16 by Eglises d’Asie, and on December 26, 2015 in the weekly newsletter of the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Sunday Examiner, under the title Freedom of religion for a Church in Chains, it is explained that the Church can be seen as a network. Because of this, as for the Internet, it can be remarked that while the Chinese authorities leave Catholics a certain degree of individual freedom, they actively ensure that the Church cannot organize and express herself as an autonomous social body. “On the Internet, any post that seems capable of generating collective action or linking people together falls within the ambit of the censors’ scissors. Off the Internet, the Catholic Church is nationwide and has international ties. It is linked by its very nature. Censorship of Church activity is often directed at preventing parishes, dioceses or Church personnel from forming links and communicating with each other, as well as insulating the Church against foreign influences.”
(sources: apic/eda/ucanews:Sunday examiner – DICI no.332 dated March 11, 2016)
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