An agreement China and the Vatican signed in September 2018 is nearing the end of its two-year term. Media reports suggest that the two sides will return to the negotiation table this month.
The pact reportedly agreed on the terms of regularizing and appointing bishops in China with papal approval, but its content remains undisclosed to date.
Exchanges between the two sides quietly resumed in mid-June. The Rome-based SEDOS (Latin acronym for service of documentation and study of global mission) held a webinar titled "China Mission Today." It invited several distinguished guests to share their views on the situation of the Church in China after the signing of the agreement.
The overseas China experts at the conference were full of praise for the pact. One speaker mentioned that persecution of the Chinese Church still exists, but most guests lauded the agreement for bringing about the so-called renewal of the Church in China and even touted dialogue as the only effective way forward.
But is this the case? Do these so-called Chinese experts believe that dialogue between the two sides has brought about change? Is it not a case of Chinese expediency using the Vatican?
It is essential to understand that dialogue requires mutual understanding of terms so that there is room to continue bringing about change. Unfortunately, these experts may have too many illusions about their counterparts in the negotiations. Perhaps we should take a look at how religion is defined in the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The CCP view of religion is based on the views of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the emotion of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless system, and religion is the opium of the people," Marx said. According to Marx, religion is the product of a private system and will perish with the private system's demise.
And, for Engels, "the great international center of the feudal system was the Roman Catholic Church. It united the whole of feudal Western Europe (despite all the internal wars) into one large political system. It gave the feudal system a ring of divine light."
The CCP's concept of religion is firmly based on the views of these masters of communism. It is clear that religion and communism are incompatible because the spirit of the Bible is diametrically opposed to communism.The Marxian concept of religion was put into practice in Russia after the October Revolution of 1917. Lenin further developed it and began to promote a series of measures to combat religion after the establishment of the Soviet Union. Chinese communism, which was influenced by Russia, accepted the Soviet view of religion almost entirely and incorporated it into its united front strategy.
In the Soviet Union's Central Revolutionary Base in Jiangxi, missionaries were regarded as accomplices of imperialism. Church land in villages was confiscated and clergy were not allowed to occupy the land.During the Anti-Japanese War and the Communist Civil War, the strategy was adjusted to tolerate churches' existence to win over Catholics for their own use. After the CCP came to power in 1949, the Ministry of United Front Work restricted the development of educational, medical and social service institutions in China to cut the influence of Catholics and Christians
In the 1960s, there were discussions within the United Front Workers' Office on religion, with two different opinions. One group argued religions should be controlled by communism, but the other believed religion is entirely negative, not much different from superstition, and should be brought to extinction by all means. Although opinions look different, their ultimate goal is the same: religion needs to be eliminated because its very nature is contrary to communism.
In 1966, with the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, all religious activities were banned, and churches were closed down, outwardly eliminating religion. After the Cultural Revolution, China adopted an open-door policy in the 1980s, and the principle of freedom of worship was included in the constitution again.
In the past few years, the Chinese government has been trying to keep a tight rein on China's political and economic situation. But it also started to select some regions to carry out pilot projects to eliminate religion. In Hebei, Baoding, Handan and some villages, followers of religion gathered to carry out a withdrawal movement. For example, Wenzhou Pingyang is a religion-free region today.
Li Weihan, the Chinese Communist Party's united front minister, said of China's policy of freedom of religious belief. "The implementation of the policy of freedom of religious belief can unite the largest majority of the religious community at home to serve socialism and isolate the minority reactionary elements among them … This is conducive to breaking down religious despotism and reactionaries, to the revolution as a whole, and to destroying the roots of religion."
This shows that the purpose of freedom of belief is to make use of its value and that the ultimate goal of destroying religion has not changed. In recent years, such as in 2014, the cross demolition movement started in Zhejiang, and within a few years it spread to other provinces. In Jiangxi, Henan, Shanxi and Anhui, thousands of crosses have been demolished or removed, and some churches have been razed to the ground, regardless of whether they are official or unofficial.
The Sinicization of religions means the doctrine and dogma of religions should be guided by the core values of socialism and should include the values of the state, the values of society. The doctrinal texts of all religions should be interpreted under the guidance of socialist values.
As St. John Paul II, then pope, said in the encyclical Centesimus Annus
, "totalitarianism arises from a denial of truth in the objective sense. If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity." The culture and practice of totalitarianism also reject the Church. It claims to lead history to the true good, placing itself above all values. It explains why tyranny has the intention of destroying the Church, or at least of subjugating it.
It is clear from history and current policies that the CCP's ideological hostility towards religion remains unchanged.
Those dialoguing with communists need to be clear about who they are dealing with. An insincere dialogue is just another application of united front tactics. Do not let dialogue become a weapon against the Church.
St. John Paul II warned the Chinese faithful abroad when he met them in 1986 to "have no illusions about communism." The foreign "Chinese experts" who unrestrainedly tout dialogue as the way forward, please reflect on the teachings of the late pope. Do not continue harming yourself and others by fabricating "the American dream" equality of opportunity available to all in China.
Thomas Wang is a Catholic in Hebei, China, and comments on religion. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.