The Chinese government has come out with fresh set of rules to tighten control over practice of religion in a bid to counter terrorism and enhance security in the country. China uses strong arm tactics to prevent practice of religion other than those approved by the state.
According to media reports, the new rules are more stringent than those put in place in 2006. “Religious affairs maintenance should persist in a principle of maintaining legality, curbing illegality, blocking extremism, resisting infiltration and attacking crime,” the rules say. The rules direct religious persons to avoid conflict between different religions or between religious and non-religious individuals.
The new rules are intrusive and law enforcers are empowered to keep a watch on online content and discussions among individuals. An agency report says the fines for breaking the rules have also been increased, and the organisers of unapproved events have to shell out 100,000 to 300,000 yuan.
Why does China fear religions?
Christianity is widely considered the fastest-growing faith. Of the 67 million Christians, at least half of them worship in unauthorized churches that have sprung up across China. The Chinese President Xi Jingpin had urged the party to be on guard against foreign efforts to infiltrate China using religion.
Although the Communist Party that controls the government promotes atheism among its members, the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion. But China is scared of influences from abroad, which the rulers think would put its security in jeopardy. China imposed stringent control over religions and asked them sever their overseas connections. So, the Catholic Church in China does not have any links with Vatican and cannot receive funds from abroad. Similarly, the majority of Muslims except sections of Uighur community follow the Chinese version of Islam. There are restrictions on foreign visits by religious leaders or receiving funds. Those who visit foreign countries are monitored closely.
But what worries China is the alarming growth of ‘illegal’ churches and mosques, which operate clandestinely and have overseas links. The Protestant church has opposed the official directive to register the organization with the government.
Christianity, that too the Protestant variety, is widely considered the fastest-growing faith. Of the 67 million Christians, at least half of them worship in unauthorized churches that have sprung up across China. The Chinese President Xi Jingpin had urged the party to be on guard against foreign efforts to infiltrate China using religion.
Many Christians disapprove of the way China tries to control their faith. According to them, sermons are vetted to avoid contentious political and social issues, and the clergy are appointed by the party rather than believers. There are strict regulations with regard to displaying religious symbols or expressions of religious identity. While Muslim men are not allowed to sport beard, their women are discouraged from wearing full-body veil. Reports said that law-enforcers recently force-fed Muslim men who were observing fast during Ramzan.
China is facing threat from Islamic radicals who want to carve out a new nation for Uighurs. In Uighur stronghold of Kashgar, strict vigil is mounted round-the-clock. Nationals of certain countries such as Pakistanis are banned from visiting these areas. Similarly, people in these areas are not allowed to attend Islamic seminaries in Pakistan or Malaysia. But tighter laws have failed to prevent escalation of conflict.
The Communist Party views traditional Chinese religions such as Buddhism and Taoism — which are practiced by 300 million to 400 million people — more favorably. But again, it has tried to control and curb these religions due to its ideological opposition. The party had tried everything possible to destroy the culture of the land thereby leaving space for non-traditional beliefs to exploit the vacuum.
Deculturation of Chinese society by the Communists is at the root of all maladies facing the Chinese society. Xi’s fears about foreign agents infiltrating China through religion are valid. To counter this, restricting religious freedom is not the way out.