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China's religious venues urged to fly the flag

Catholics question whether Sinicization move is mixing politics with religion
China's religious venues urged to fly the flag

China's nine major religious organizations advocate that all religious sites must raise the national flag. Clockwise from top left are a Buddhist temple, Muslim temple, Protestant church, Taoist temple and a Catholic church. (Photo supplied)

Published: August 06, 2018 06:16 AM GMT
Updated: August 06, 2018 06:23 AM GMT

China's nine major religious organizations want all religious sites across the country to raise the national flag on special days to reflect patriotism and Sinicization.

But some Catholics claim the initiative aims to force religious people to be patriotic. "Is it necessary to train believers to hold the ritual of raising the national flag and to play the national anthem before they can hold religious activities?" one priest asked.

The official Catholic Church in China website quoted a report from the website of the Central United Front Work Department saying that the Sixth Joint Conference of the Country's Religious Groups was held on July 31 in Beijing. Wang Zuoan, deputy director of the Central United Front Work Department and director of the State Religious Affairs Bureau, addressed the meeting.

A joint statement was issued by all nine government-sanctioned religious organizations: the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, China Christian Council, China Young Men's Christian Association Countrywide Association and the Young Women's Christian Association.

They propose raising the national flag at all religious venues to help religious figures and believers strengthen their national consciousness and civic awareness, deepen their political, ideological and emotional recognition of the Communist Party and the country, and adhere to religious Sinicization.

Nine major points were proposed in the initiative:

  • Religious venues, religious figures and believers should respect and protect the national flag to enhance their awareness towards the flag and safeguard its dignity
  • Organize activities to study the Chinese constitution, national flag law and other regulations to learn about the flag's history, spirit, significance and rituals
  • Religious venues, if possible, should hold a flag-raising ceremony on National Day, Labor Day, the first day of the New Year, Chinese New Year and on all important religious festivals, major celebrations and commemorative events
  • In the ceremony, religious figures and believers must stand up and pay tribute to the national flag and play or sing the national anthem
  • Select an appropriate location for raising the flag. The flag must be placed in a more prominent position when a flag with a religious logo is raised
  • The flag should be used in accordance with the law. If it is damaged, stained, faded in color or out of specification, it should not be raised. Any disrespectful behavior towards the flag is prohibited
  • Religious venues should perform the sacred duty of raising the national flag and will be supervised and inspected by the national and regional religious affairs departments
  • Hoisting the flag at religious venues is an important part of creating harmonious activities in monasteries, temples and churches and incorporating it into review and evaluation indicators
  • Finally, all religious colleges and universities should continue to improve and implement the national flag system

The initiative also calls for national religious groups to act together and take the lead in setting a good example in accordance with the national flag law.

A Catholic in Hebei Diocese in central China described the initiative as "a political incident as politics directly interfere in religious internal management. Convening a national meeting for promoting this practice means it is mandatory and has to be nationally implemented."

He said that raising the national flag at churches started after crosses were demolished in Zhejiang province. The practice was then launched in Xinjiang province and is now being promoted nationwide.

Paul, a Catholic in the underground church, said the initiative is a mandatory practice after incidents of Protestant and Catholic churches being demolished and all religious venues in Henan province being required to be registered.

He thought the Chinese government would take further steps soon. "The Communist Party is planning to eliminate religions in China step by step, and even if all religious venues are preserved, they may just be external religious frames. We should clear our eyes to see that."

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