China tightens its grip on religion

New measures aim to ensure religious groups implement total submission to the Chinese Communist Party
China tightens its grip on religion

Chinese worshipers attend a Christmas Mass at Xishiku Cathedral in Beijing on Dec. 24. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP)

China is to ramp up its control of religion with tough new rules to regulate religious activities.

New administrative measures will come into force on Feb. 1 for any religious groups operating in China, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Dec. 30.

Two years after the 2018 revised Regulations on Religious Affairs were introduced, the new Administrative Measures for Religious Groups have been approved.

The measures comprise six chapters and 41 articles dealing with the organization, functions, offices, supervision, projects and economic administration of communities and groups at both national and local level.

Every aspect of religious activities, including formation, gatherings and daily projects, must be approved by the government’s religious affairs department.

The new rules require religious personnel to support, promote and implement total submission to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) among all members of their communities.

Article 5 reads that “religious organizations must adhere to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, observe the constitution, laws, regulations, ordinances and policies, adhere to the principle of independence and self-government, adhere to the directives on religions in China, implementing the values of socialism …”

Article 17 states that “religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as national laws, regulations, rules to religious personnel and religious citizens, educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, supporting the socialist system, adhering to and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics …”

According to Article 25, “the religious affairs department of the people’s government shall perform the duties of a competent business unit and guide and manage the following affairs of religious groups in accordance with the relevant laws, regulations and rules of the state.”

Articles 26 and 27 list the matters that should be reported to, and approved by, the authorities before being carried out by religious organizations. The long list includes appointment of officers in the religious community, organizing conferences, solving “contradictions and disputes in the group” and so on.

Article 32 rules that religious groups must establish a learning system and organize their staff to learn from the major decision-making arrangements of the Chinese Communist Party, national policies and regulations, “excellent Chinese traditional culture and religious knowledge.”

Article 34 covers all matters involving money and finances. In practice, every significant move by a religious community should be submitted to authorities and carried out only if approved.

“Without the approval of the religious affairs department of the people’s government, or registration with the civil affairs department of the people’s government, no activities can be carried out in the name of religious groups,” the document states.

If enforced, Article 34 will halt the activities of house churches, dissident Catholic communities and other unregistered religious bodies.

While it is not new for Beijing to insist that religious groups promote socialism through their leadership and activities, the latest measures give the government a legal tool to tighten controls on religion.

A Chinese Catholic priest told AsiaNews: "In practice, your religion no longer matters, if you are Buddhist, or Taoist, or Muslim or Christian: the only religion allowed is faith in the Chinese Communist Party."

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