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China's religious clampdown sparks increasing concern

Catholics and academics warn that oppression started even before the announcement of new regulations

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

Published: January 26, 2018 05:45 AM GMT

Updated: January 31, 2018 08:41 AM GMT

China's religious clampdown sparks increasing concern

Chinese officials take down a Christmas tree during December. (Photo supplied)

Fears are growing among Christians that China's amended Regulations for Religious Affairs will lead to increasing suppression.

Since Sept. 7, 2017, when Premier Li Keqiang announced the regulations would become effective from Feb. 1 this year, China's religious measures have become more stringent.

Authorities organized seminars for religious people and government officials across the country to explain the new regulations and even implemented measures to suppress religions and religious practices.

At Christmas, local governments issued a circular to not allow students and party members to participate in religious festivals.

A Catholic source who wanted to be unnamed told ucanews.com that a shopping mall dismantled a decoration featuring Santa Claus.

"The mall is not a place of worship. Santa Claus is not exactly a religious icon, and the amended Regulations for Religious Affairs had not come into effect, but officials still went to request the mall to dismantle the decoration. I find it very strange," he said.

He does not believe the Cultural Revolution will be repeated but expects religious measures to be tightened, extending the government's control to all levels of society.

Another unnamed Catholic said that before announcing the regulations China's government had already requested all priests, including those from the underground church, to register for a "clergyman certificate" so that the government could monitor them.

"But, after announcing the implementation of the regulations, the government has already put more pressure on underground priests to register. As for what happens after Feb. 1, we still do not know yet. But all local governments will certainly step up efforts to cater to the central government," he said.

Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told ucanews.com that the government was always worrying about the beliefs of minors, undergraduates and party members.

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It aimed to ban Sunday schools and summer camps for minors, he said, and might step up its interventions more in activities for adolescents and minors. 

Ying said the recent ban on Christmas celebrations was the beginning of a policy directed against Christianity.

However, he believes authorities "will not go back to the Cultural Revolution and eliminate religions but will continue to step up their controls and grip the religion firmly under the order of Sinicization."

Ying said authorities might allow certain local churches to develop smoothly and serve as role models in demonstrating that the government's religious policies were feasible.

Authorities understood it was difficult to eradicate religions, so some measures were taken to differentiate them, he said.

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