Freedom of religion in China
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Freedom of religion in China is provided for in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, with an important caveat: the government protects what it calls "normal religious activity," defined in practice as activities that take place within government-sanctioned religious organizations and registered places of worship. Although the dynastic governments of imperial China also claimed responsibility for the practice of religion, human rights bodies such as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have criticized this differentiation as falling short of international standards for the protection of religious freedom.
The ruling Communist Party of China officially espouses state atheism, and has conducted antireligious campaigns to this end. China's five officially sanctioned religious organizations are the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. These groups have been overseen and controlled by the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China since the State Administration for Religious Affairs' absorption into the United Front Work Department in 2018. Unregistered religious groups—including house churches, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, underground Catholics, and Uyghur Muslims—face varying degrees of harassment, including imprisonment and torture.
Article 36 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China of 1982 specifies that:
Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.
This protection is extended only to what are called "normal religious activities," generally understood to refer to religions that submit to state control via the State Administration for Religious Affairs. The Constitution further forbids the use of religion to "engage in activities that disrupt social order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state." Furthermore, it states that "[r]eligious organizations and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign dominance.”
The law affords protection to five officially sanctioned religions: the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Religious groups are required to register with the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA, formerly known as the central Religious Affairs Bureau) or its provincial and local offices (still known as Religious Affairs Bureaus (RABs)). SARA and the RABs are responsible for monitoring and judging the legitimacy of religious activity.
Proselytizing is only permitted in private settings or within registered houses of worship. Proselytization in public, in unregistered churches or temples, or by foreigners is prohibited. Members of the officially atheist Communist Party are strongly discouraged from holding religious faith.
A significant number of non-sanctioned churches and temples exist, attended by locals and foreigners alike. Unregistered or underground churches are not officially banned, but are not permitted to openly conduct religious services. These bodies may face varying degrees of interference, harassment, and persecution by state and party organs. In some instances, unregistered religious believers and leaders have been charged with "illegal religious activities" or "disrupting social stability." Religious believers have also been charged under article 300 of the criminal code, which forbids using heretical organizations to "undermine the implementation of the law." An extrajudicial, Communist Party-led security organ called the 6-10 Office oversees the suppression of Falun Gong and, increasingly, other unregistered religious organizations.
Folk religions, though not officially protected, are sometimes tolerated by authorities. The State Administration for Religious Affairs has created a department to oversee the management of folk religion.
Although the Communist Party of China has a long history of restricting religious freedom, in recent years it has become increasingly hostile toward religion and initiated campaigns to “sinicize” Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, and Christianity to rid them of what it deems “foreign” influences. The 2018 Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs effectively ban “unauthorized” religious teaching and expand the role of local authorities in controlling religious activities. In 2019, religious freedom conditions in China continued to deteriorate. The Chinese government has created a high-tech surveillance state, utilizing facial recognition and artificial intelligence to monitor religious minorities. On April 1, 2019, a new regulation requiring religious venues to have legal representatives and professional accountants went into effect. Some smaller religious venues, especially in rural areas, found these requirements impossible to fulfill.
Christianity has had a presence in China dating as far back as the Tang dynasty, and accumulated a following in China with the arrival of large numbers of missionaries during the Qing dynasty. Missionaries were expelled from China in 1949 when the Communist Party came to power, and the religion was associated with Western imperialism. However, Christianity experienced a resurgence of popularity since the reforms under Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and 1980s. By 2011, approximately 60 million Chinese citizens were estimated to be practicing Protestantism or Catholicism. The majority of these do not belong to the state-sanctioned churches. The government declared in 2018 that there are over 44 million Christians in China.
Religious practices are still often tightly controlled by government authorities. Chinese children in Mainland China are permitted to be involved with officially sanctioned Christian meetings through the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Associations. In early January 2018, Chinese authorities in Shanxi province demolished a church, which created a wave of fear among the Christians.
China is home to an estimated 12 million Catholics, the majority of whom worship outside the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA). The State Administration for Religious Affairs states that there are 5.3 million Catholics belonging to the official Catholic Patriotic Association, which oversees 70 bishops, and approximately 6,000 churches nationwide. In addition, there are roughly 40 bishops unordained by the CPA who operate unofficially, and recognize the authority of the Vatican.
The state-sanctioned church appoints its own bishops, and as with all official religious, exercises control over the doctrine and leadership of the religion. As a matter of maintaining autonomy and rejecting foreign intervention, the official church has no official contact with the Vatican, and does not recognize its authority. However, the CPA has allowed for unofficial Vatican approval of ordinations. Although the CPA continues to carry out ordinations opposed by the Holy See, the majority of CPA bishops are now recognized by both authorities. In addition to overseeing the practice of the Catholic faith, the CPA espouses politically oriented objectives as well. Liu Bainian, chairman of the CPA and the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, stated in a 2011 interview that the church needed individuals who "love the country and love religion: politically, they should respect the Constitution, respect the law, and fervently love the socialist motherland.’’
Some Catholics who recognize the authority of the Holy See choose to worship clandestinely due to the risk of harassment from authorities. Several underground Catholic bishops have been reported disappeared or imprisoned, and harassment of unregistered bishops and priests is common. There are reports of Catholic bishops and priests being forced by authorities to attend the ordination ceremonies for bishops who had not gained Vatican approval. Chinese authorities also have reportedly pressured Catholics to break communion with the Vatican by requiring them to renounce an essential belief in Roman Catholicism, the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. In other instances, however, authorities have permitted Vatican-loyal churches to carry out operations.
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement, National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China; the Three-Self Church or "TSPM" is the government-sanctioned ("patriotic") Christian organization in China. Known in combination with the China Christian Council as the lianghui, they form the only state-sanctioned ("registered") Protestant church in mainland China. All other Protestant denominations are illegal.
Chinese house churches are a religious movement of unregistered assemblies of Christians in China, which operate independently of the government-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC) for Protestant groups and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CCPA) and the Chinese Catholic Bishops Council (CCBC) for Catholics. They are also known as the "Underground" Church or the "Unofficial" Church, although this is somewhat of a misnomer as they are collections of unrelated individual churches rather than a single unified church. They are called "house churches" because as they are not officially registered organizations, they cannot independently own property and hence they meet in private houses, often in secret for fear of arrest or imprisonment.
China took full control of Tibet in 1959. In the wake of the takeover and especially during the cultural revolution many monasteries were destroyed and many monks and laypeople killed. The 14th Dalai Lama fled to India and has since ceded temporal power to an elected government-in-exile. The current Dalai Lama has attempted to negotiate with the Chinese authorities for greater autonomy and religious freedom for Tibet. As various high-ranking Lamas in the country have died, the authorities have proposed their own candidates on the religious authorities, which has led at times to rival claimants to the same position. In an effort to control this, the Chinese government passed a law in 2007 requiring a Reincarnation Application be completed and approved for all lamas wishing to reincarnate.
The present incarnation of the Panchen Lama is disputed. The Dalai Lama recognises Gedhun Choekyi Nyima; however, the Chinese government recognises Gyaincain Norbu as the incarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama. Exile Tibetan sources allege that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was kidnapped by the Chinese government. The identity of the Panchen Lama is of critical importance to Tibetan Buddhism because he is one of the authorities that must approve the next Dalai Lama.
Taoist practitioners are required to register with the state-controlled Chinese Taoist Association (CTA), which exercises control over religious doctrine and personnel. Local governments restrict the construction of Taoist temples and statues, and call for abandonment of practices they deem to be "superstitious" or "feudal." The CTA dictates the proper interpretation of Taoist doctrine, and exhorts Taoist practitioners to support the Communist Party and the state. For example, a Taoist scripture reading class held by the CTA in November 2010 required participants to ‘‘fervently love the socialist motherland [and] uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.’’
The State Administration for Religious Affairs places the number of Muslims in China at approximately 21 million, while independent estimates suggest that the number could be upwards of 50 million or more. According to a 2000 census, 96 percent of 20.3 million reported Muslims belong to three ethnic groups: Hui, Uyghur, and Kazakh. Most Hui Muslims live in Ningxia, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces, while Uyghur Muslims are predominantly found in Xinjiang.
The state-run Islamic Association of China (IAC) oversees the practice of Islam, though many Muslims worship outside the state system. The IAC regulates the content of sermons and the interpretation of religious scripture, exercises control over the confirmation of religious leaders, and monitors overseas pilgrimages. In 2001, the IAC established a committee to ensure that scriptures were interpreted in a manner that would serve the interests of the Chinese government and the Communist Party.
Authorities in Xinjiang impose rigid controls over religious expression, particularly over Uyghurs. Human rights reports indicate that crackdowns on religion are frequently integrated into security campaigns. Authorities monitor mosques, restrict the observation of Ramadan by government officials and students, and enact campaigns to prevent Uyghur men from wearing beards. Uyghur Muslims who worship independently have been detained and charged with conducting "illegal religious activities."
However, the suppression of the Uyghurs has more to do with the fact that they are separatists, rather than Muslims[ who said? ]. China banned a book titled "Xing Fengsu" ("Sexual Customs") which insulted Islam and placed its authors under arrest in 1989 after protests in Lanzhou and Beijing by Chinese Hui Muslims, during which the Chinese police provided protection to the Hui Muslim protesters, and the Chinese government organized public burnings of the book. The Chinese government assisted them and gave into their demands because the Hui do not have a separatist movement, unlike the Uyghurs. Hui Muslim protesters who violently rioted by vandalizing property during the protests against the book were let off by the Chinese government and went unpunished while Uyghur protesters were imprisoned.
In 2007, anticipating the coming "Year of the Pig" in the Chinese calendar, depictions of pigs were banned from CCTV "to avoid conflicts with ethnic minorities". This is believed to refer to China's population of 20 million Muslims (to whom pigs are considered "unclean").
In response to the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, Chinese state-run media attacked Charlie Hebdo for publishing the cartoons which insulted Muhammad, with the state-run Xinhua advocating limits on freedom of speech, while another state-run newspaper Global Times said the attack was "payback" for what it characterized as Western colonialism, and it also accused Charlie Hebdo of trying to incite a clash of civilizations.
Different Muslim ethnic groups in different regions of China are treated differently by the Chinese government with regards to religious freedom. Religious freedom is present for Hui Muslims, who can practice their religion, build Mosques, and have their children attend Mosques, while more controls are placed on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Since the 1980s, Islamic private schools have been supported and permitted by the Chinese government in Muslim areas, while only Xinjiang is specifically prevented from allowing these schools because of the separatist sentiment which exists there.
Although religious education for children is officially forbidden by law in China, the Communist party allows Hui Muslims to violate this law and have their children educated in religion and attend Mosques while the law is enforced on Uyghurs. After secondary education is completed, China then allows Hui students to embark on religious studies under the direction of an Imam. China does not enforce the law against children attending Mosques on non-Uyghurs in areas outside Xinjiang.
Hui Muslims who are employed by the state are allowed to fast during Ramadan unlike Uyghurs who hold the same job positions, the amount of Hui who are going on Hajj is expanding, and Hui women are allowed to wear veils, while Uyghur women are discouraged from wearing them.
Hui religious schools are allowed to operate a massive autonomous network of mosques and schools that are run by a Hui Sufi leader, which was formed with the approval of the Chinese government even as he admitted to attending an event where Bin Laden spoke.
"The Diplomat" reported on the fact that while Uyghur's religious activities are curtailed, Hui Muslims are granted widespread religious freedom and therefore the policy of the Chinese government towards Uyghurs in Xinjiang is not directed against Islam, but rather aggressively stamping out the Uyghur separatist threat.
Uyghur views vary by the oasis where they live. China has historically favored Turpan and Hami. Uyghurs in Turfan and Hami and their leaders like Emin Khoja allied with the Qing against Uyghurs in Altishahr. During the Qing dynasty, China enfeoffed the rulers of Turpan and Hami (Kumul) as autonomous princes, while the rest of the Uyghurs in Altishahr (the Tarim Basin) were ruled by Begs. Uyghurs from Turpan and Hami were appointed by China as officials to rule over Uyghurs in the Tarim Basin. Turpan is more economically prosperous and it views China more positively than does the rebellious Kashgar, which is the most anti-Chinese oasis. Uyghurs in Turpan are treated leniently and favorably by China with regards to religious policies, while Kashgar is subjected to controls by the government. In Turpan and Hami, religion is viewed more positively by China than religion in Kashgar and Khotan in southern Xinjiang. Both Uyghur and Han Communist officials in Turpan turn a blind eye to the law and allow religious Islamic education for Uyghur children. Celebrating at religious functions and going on Hajj to Mecca is encouraged by the Chinese government, for Uyghur members of the Communist party. From 1979–1989, 350 mosques were built in Turpan. Han, Hui, and the Chinese government is viewed much more positively by Uyghurs, specifically in Turpan, where the government gives them better economic, religious, and political treatment.
The Uyghur terrorist organization East Turkestan Islamic Movement's magazine Islamic Turkistan has accused the Chinese "Muslim Brotherhood" (the Yihewani) of being responsible for the moderation of Hui Muslims and the lack of Hui joining terrorist jihadist groups in addition to blaming other things for the lack of Hui jihadists, such as the fact that for more than 300 years Hui and Uyghurs have been enemies of each other, with no separatist Islamist organizations operating among the Hui, the fact that the Hui view China as their home, and the fact that the "infidel Chinese" language is the language of the Hui.
Tibetan-Muslim sectarian violence
In Tibet, the majority of Muslims are Hui people. Hatred between Tibetans and Muslims stems from events during the Muslim warlord Ma Bufang's rule in Qinghai such as Ngolok rebellions (1917–49) and the Sino-Tibetan War, but in 1949 the Communists put an end to the violence between Tibetans and Muslims, however, new Tibetan-Muslim violence broke out after China engaged in liberalization. Riots broke out between Muslims and Tibetans over incidents such as bones in soups and prices of balloons, and Tibetans accused Muslims of being cannibals who cooked humans in their soup and of contaminating food with urine. Tibetans attacked Muslim restaurants. Fires set by Tibetans which burned the apartments and shops of Muslims resulted in Muslim families being killed and wounded in the 2008 mid-March riots. Due to Tibetan violence against Muslims, the traditional Islamic white caps have not been worn by many Muslims. Scarfs were removed and replaced with hairnets by Muslim women in order to hide. Muslims prayed in secret at home when in August 2008 the Tibetans burned the Mosque. Incidents such as these which make Tibetans look bad on the international stage are covered up by the Tibetan exile community. The repression of Tibetan separatism by the Chinese government is supported by Hui Muslims. In addition, Chinese-speaking Hui have problems with Tibetan Hui (the Tibetan speaking Kache minority of Muslims).
The main Mosque in Lhasa was burned down by Tibetans and Chinese Hui Muslims were violently assaulted by Tibetan rioters in the 2008 Tibetan unrest. Tibetan exiles and foreign scholars alike ignore and do not talk about sectarian violence between Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims. The majority of Tibetans viewed the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 positively and it had the effect of galvanizing anti-Muslim attitudes among Tibetans and resulted in an anti-Muslim boycott against Muslim-owned businesses. Tibetan Buddhists propagate a false libel that Muslims cremate their Imams and use the ashes to convert Tibetans to Islam by making Tibetans inhale the ashes, even though the Tibetans seem to be aware that Muslims practice burial and not cremation since they frequently clash against proposed Muslim cemeteries in their area.
Since the Chinese government supports and backs up the Hui Muslims, the Tibetans deliberately attack the Hui Muslims as a way to demonstrate anti-government sentiment and because they have a background of sectarian violence against each other since Ma Bufang's rule due to their separate religions and ethnicity and Tibetans resent Hui economic domination.
From Northern Xinjiang over 7,000 Kazakhs fled to the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau region via Gansu and were wreaking massive havoc so Ma Bufang solved the problem by relegating the Kazakhs into designated pastureland in Qinghai, but Hui, Tibetans, and Kazakhs in the region continued to clash against each other.
Tibetans attacked and fought against the Kazakhs as they entered Tibet via Gansu and Qinghai.
In northern Tibet Kazakhs clashed with Tibetan soldiers and then the Kazakhs were sent to Ladakh.
In 1934, 1935, 1936-1938 from Qumil Eliqsan led the Kerey Kazakhs to migrate to Gansu and the amount was estimated at 18,000, and they entered Gansu and Qinghai.
Tibetan troops serving under the Dalai Lama murdered the American CIA agent Douglas Mackiernan and his two White Russian helpers because he was dressed as a Kazakh, their enemy.
Following a period of meteoric growth of Falun Gong in the 1990s, the Communist Party launched a campaign to "eradicate" Falun Gong on 20 July 1999. The suppression is characterised by a multifaceted propaganda campaign, a program of enforced ideological conversion and re-education, and a variety of extralegal coercive measures such as arbitrary arrests, forced labor, and physical torture, sometimes resulting in death.
An extra-constitutional body called the 6-10 Office was created to lead the suppression of Falun Gong. The authorities mobilized the state media apparatus, judiciary, police, army, the education system, families and workplaces against the group. The campaign is driven by large-scale propaganda through television, newspaper, radio and internet. There are reports of systematic torture, illegal imprisonment, forced labor, organ harvesting and abusive psychiatric measures, with the apparent aim of forcing practitioners to recant their belief in Falun Gong.
Foreign observers estimate that hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained in "re-education through labor" camps, prisons and other detention facilities for refusing to renounce the spiritual practice. Former prisoners have reported that Falun Gong practitioners consistently received "the longest sentences and worst treatment" in labor camps, and in some facilities Falun Gong practitioners formed the substantial majority of detainees. As of 2009 at least 2,000 Falun Gong adherents had been tortured to death in the persecution campaign, with some observers putting the number much higher.
Some international observers and judicial authorities have described the campaign against Falun Gong as a genocide. In 2009, courts in Spain and Argentina indicted senior Chinese officials for genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in orchestrating the suppression of Falun Gong.
Organ harvesting allegation
In 2006 allegations emerged that the vital organs of non-consenting Falun Gong practitioners had been used to supply China's organ tourism industry. The Kilgour-Matas report stated in 2006, "We believe that there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners". Ethan Gutmann interviewed over 100 witnesses and alleged that about 65,000 Falun Gong prisoners were killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008. In 2008, two United Nations Special Rapporteurs reiterated their requests for "the Chinese government to fully explain the allegation of taking vital organs from Falun Gong practitioners". The Chinese government has denied the allegation.
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|Library resources about |
Freedom of religion in China
- 2015 Report on International Religious Freedom: China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) - most recent Report on International Religious Freedom from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
- Reports and publications about religious freedom in China from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom - includes annual reports from 2003–present and other documents