Freedom of religion in China
Freedom of religion in China is provided for by the country's constitution, with an important caveat. Namely, 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. Human rights bodies have criticized this differentiation as falling short of international standards for the protection of religious freedom.
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 are afforded a degree protection, but are subject to restrictions and controls under the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Unregistered religious groups—including house churches, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, underground Catholics, and Uyghur Muslims—face varying degrees of harassment, including imprisonment, torture, and forced religious conversion.
The article 36 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China of 1982 specify 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 is 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. Religious 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.
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.
Religious practices are still often tightly controlled by government authorities. Chinese over age 18 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.
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 the number could be upwards of 50 million. 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 found predominantly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
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 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 to serve the interests of the Chinese government and 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 worshiping 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 separatist, rather than Muslim. 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 protestors, and the Chinese government organized public burnings of the book. The Chinese government assisted them and gave into their demands because Hui do not have a separatist movement, unlike the Uyghurs, Hui Muslim protestors who violently rioted by vandalizing property during the protests against the book were let off by the Chinese government and went unpunished while Uyghur protestors 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 insulting Muhammad, with the state-run Xinhua advocated limiting freedom of speech, while another state-run newspaper Global Times said the attack was "payback" for what it characterised as Western colonialism and accusing Charlie Hebdo of trying to incite a clash of civilizations.
Different Muslim ethnic groups in different regions are treated differently by the Chinese government in 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 specifically on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
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 who are willing to embark on religious studies under an Imam. China does not enforce the law against children attending Mosques on non-Uyghurs in areas outside of Xinjiang.
Hui Muslims who are employed by the state are allowed to fast during Ramadan unlike Uyghurs in the same positions, the amount of Hui 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 a massive autonomous network of mosques and schools run by a Hui Sufi leader 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 that 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 they live in. 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 views China more positively than the rebellious Kashgar, which is the most anti-China oasis. Uyghurs in Turpan are treated leniently and favourably 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 are viewed much more positively by Uyghurs specifically in Turpan, with the government providing better economic, religious, and political treatment for them.
The Communist Party launched a campaign to "eradicate" Falun Gong on 20 July 1999. The suppression is characterised by 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.
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, "the source of 41,500 transplants for the six year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained" and "we believe that there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners".
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 and the source of organs for the sudden increase in organ transplants that has been going on in China since the year 2000".
Notes and references
- Constitution of China, Chapter 2, Article 36.
- Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Annual Report 2011, Oct 2011.
- English translation of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China of 1982 (page visited on 20 February 2015).
- U.S Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2010: China, 17 Nov 2010.
- Xinhua News Agency, 'CPC members shall not believe in religion: senior official', 19 Dec 2011.
- "China: The crackdown on Falun Gong and other so-called 'heretical organizations'". Amnesty International. 23 March 2000. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
- Sarah Cook and Leeshai Lemish, ‘The 610 Office:Policing the Chinese Spirit’, China Brief , Volume 11 Issue 17 (9 November 2011).
- Congressional-Executive Commission on China, ‘Annual Report 2009’, 10 October 2009
- United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report 2011, May 2011.
- Tim Gardam, Christians in China: Is the country in spiritual crisis? BBC, 11 Sept 2011.
- Schafferer, Christian (2005). Understanding modern East Asian politics. ISBN 1-59454-505-7.
- "Reincarnation of living Buddha needs gov't approval". China Daily. 4 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-09.
- China Tibet Information Center The 11th Panchen
- BBC news, Tibet's Missing Spiritual Guide, May 6, 2005
- Beijing Review, Volume 32 1989, p. 13.
- Gladney 1991, p. 2.
- Schein 2000, p. 154.
- Gladney 2004, p. 66.
- Bulag 2010, p. 104.
- Gladney 2005, p. 257.
- Gladney 2013, p. 144.
- Sautman 2000, p. 79.
- Gladney 1996, p. 341.
- Lipman 1996, p. 299.
- Harold Miles Tanner (2009). China: a history. Hackett Publishing. p. 610. ISBN 0-87220-915-6. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
- Gladney 2004, p. 232.
- Lim, Louisa (6 February 2007). "Ban Thwarts 'Year of the Pig' Ads in China". National Public Radio.
- "Charlie Hebdo Attack Shows Need for Press Limits, Xinhua Says". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
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- Senate (U S ) Committee on Foreign Relations (2005). State Dept (U S ), ed. Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, 2004. Compiled by State Dept (U S ) (illustrated ed.). Government Printing Office. pp. 159–60. ISBN 0160725526. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- ALLÈS & CHÉRIF-CHEBBI & HALFON 2003, p. 14.
- Senate (U S ) Committee on Foreign Relations (2005). State Dept (U S ), ed. Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, 2004. Compiled by State Dept (U S ) (illustrated ed.). Government Printing Office. p. 160. ISBN 0160725526. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Szadziewski, Henryk. "Religious Repression of Uyghurs in East Turkestan". Venn Institute. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
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- Bovingdon, Gardner (2013). The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land (illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231519419. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Savadove, Bill. 2005. "Faith Flourishes in an Arid Wasteland; Muslim Sect in Ningxia Accepts Beijing's Authority and Is Allowed to Build a Virtual Religious State." South China Morning Post, August 17.
- Crane, Brent. 2014. "A Tale of Two Chinese Muslim Minorities"The Diplomat, August 22.
- Rudelson & Rudelson 1997, p. 31.
- Rudelson & Rudelson 1997, pp. 46-7.
- Central Asia Monitor 1993, p. 19.
- Mackerras 2003, p. 118.
- Svanberg & Westerlund 2012, p. 202.
- Rudelson & Rudelson 1997, p. 81.
- Rudelson & Rudelson 1997, p. 129.
- Svanberg & Westerlund 2012, p. 205.
- Congressional-Executive Commission on China (31 October 2008) ‘Annual Report 2008’ Retrieved 24 December 2013.
- Johnson, Ian (2005). Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China. New York, NY: Vintage. ISBN 0375719199.
- Leung, Beatrice (2002) 'China and Falun Gong: Party and society relations in the modern era', Journal of Contemporary China, 11:33, 761 – 784
- (23 March 2000) The crackdown on Falun Gong and other so-called heretical organizations, Amnesty International
- Philip Pan and John Pomfret (5 August 2001). "Torture is Breaking Falun Gong". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
- David Kilgour, David Matas (6 July 2006, revised 31 January 2007) An Independent Investigation into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China (free in 22 languages) organharvestinvestigation.net
- Mickey Spiegel (2002) "Dangerous Meditation: China's Campaign Against Falungong" Human Rights Watch
- U.S. Department of State, 2009 Country Report on Human Rights: China (includes Hong Kong and Macau)
- Human Rights Watch V. Abuses Against Petitioners in Beijing of report "We Could Disappear at Any Time" December 2005
- Leeshai Lemish, "The Games are Over, the Persecution Continues", National Post 7 October 2008
- Andrew Jacobs. 'China Still Presses Crusade Against Falun Gong', New York Times, 27 April 2009.
- Jay Nordlinger (25 August 2014) "Face The Slaughter: The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem, by Ethan Gutmann", National Review
- Ethan Gutmann (24 November 2008) "China’s Gruesome Organ Harvest" The Weekly Standard
- Ethan Gutmann (August 2014) The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem p. 368 amazon.com
- Barbara Turnbull (21 October 2014) Q&A: Author and analyst Ethan Gutmann discusses China’s illegal organ trade The Toronto Star
- "United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteurs Reiterate Findings on China's Organ Harvesting from Falun Gong Practitioners", The Information Daily.com, 9 May 2008
- "International Religious Freedom Report 2010 - PRC". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2010-12-01.