ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: September 13, 2017 05:26 AM GMT
A priest and Chinese Christians attend Christmas Eve Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing, in this file photo. (Photo by Wang Zhao/AFP)
Catholic experts have unanimously predicted that the Chinese government will further tighten restrictions on religions in the name of "rule by law" after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held from Oct.18.
In the past summer, communist authorities have continued to tighten their grip on practicing Christians with at least four regional governments across China issuing notices that restrict children from going to Christian churches or attending religious activities.
Chinese clergymen are not optimistic about the development of religious affairs following the congress as the government's religious policy is consistent and new officials appointed will be keen to display their skills in keeping religions hewing to the Party line.
"Even if the domestic policy changes, religion policy never changes. It will only become tighter," one priest said.
Anthony Lam Sui-ki, executive secretary of the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, described the current situation in China as "weird".
"Today's Chinese government seems to have severe mysophobia. It does not allow people to have personal development, their thinking and behavior must follow the government's lead. In other words, 1.3 billion people are being forced into the same mold," he said.
"In the past, religious officials have turned a blind eye to trivial things in the church, but now they are being supervised very strictly, even very small things are not let go, so the current development of religious affairs in China is indeed worrying," he told ucanews.com.
Lam further noted that attending Mass, printing religious books, spiritual development, and other such programs for the Chinese government, are not only personal affairs but matters of the state.
He compared this with the concept of "country first" promoted by the Communist Party since 1949: That a person should absolutely obey the country because the communist regime believes only when the country gets stronger, its citizens will have their own value.
In this mode of thinking, Lam believes that religious affairs would be only more tightened under the strong leadership of Xi Jinping.
"In particular, as China becomes richer, the government can use lots of advanced technology to monitor every move of the people. As before, after the cross demolitions, the authorities have turned low-profile and installed CCTV to monitor churches and the faithful. Local Catholics will not dare to act 'rashly,'" Lam said.
Another matter to be settled by the congress is the appointment of new leadership.
Lam concurs with the unanimous view of China watchers that the reappointment of Xi Jinping as president is inevitable and the new leadership must closely follow his lead.
"A Chinese proverb, 'the new officer starts three fires,' means that new officials will want to show off their performance, not only to follow the boss's lead by often intensifying this," Lam said.
Or Yan Yan, project officer of Hong Kong Diocese's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, does not expect China's religious affairs to be able to stray from the framework of so-called Sinicization, officially instigated by Xi at the National Conference for Religious Work, a rarely held summit, in 2016.
"We also have seen that public spaces (for debate) such as the internet have been tightly controlled by the government," Or said.
"It is linked to freedom of religion and reflects that religious freedom is constantly being crimped," she said. "With the appointment of new leadership, I am not optimistic about the development of religion in China."
Besides the 2016 meeting on religious work, the Central United Front Work Meeting in 2015 also discussed religious affairs.
Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, noted that the Chinese government drafted a consultation document on religious affairs at that time.
One of the terms that aroused extensive concern was the country's religious affairs department assigning temporary activity venues for the so-called house church — the unregistered, or underground, arms of protestant denominations that are regarded as illegal.
"Is it simply assigning a place or is there something more to this? What is the purpose behind of the measure? These are very worrying," Ying told ucanews.com.
"It is still unknown whether the consultation document will be implemented after the congress but if it were to be introduced in the future, people should pay attention to the details — since the devil is always in the details," he said.