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4 Takeaways from Xi’s Speech on Religion

At a long-awaited national conference on religion, held in Beijing April 22-23, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping outlined his vision for “helping religions adapt to the socialist society” under the direction of the Party. Here are a few prominent themes from Xi’s speech.

  • Unity between religious and non-religious groups in society, along with ethnic and regional unity. According to Xinhua coverage of the conference, Xi urged officials to “work to unite religious and non-religious people, and guide those religious to love their country, protect the unification of their motherland and serve the overall interests of the Chinese nation.” From the Party’s standpoint the ultimate mandate of religious bodies is “to contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.”
  • Localization of “foreign” religions in order to make these more “Chinese” and to prevent foreign infiltration. Xi said religious leaders should “dig deep into doctrines and canons that are in line with social harmony and progress, and favorable for the building of a healthy and civilized society, and interpret religious doctrines in a way that is conducive to modern China's progress and in line with our excellent traditional culture."
  • Limiting religion’s influence by keeping religion separate from government administration, the legal system, and education; countering religious content on the Internet by disseminating the Party’s religious policies and theories online; stressing scientific education among youth; and strengthening Party members’ “faith” in Marxism.
  • Party leadership. Xi called on Party cadres to strengthen their supervision of religion while cultivating politically trustworthy leadership within religious bodies. "We should guide and educate the religious circle and their followers with the socialist core values, and guide the religious people with ideas of unity, progress, peace and tolerance," Xi said.

Official coverage of the conference applied the directives concerning localization and preventing foreign infiltration specifically to China’s Muslim and Catholic believers. Absent in the coverage as of this writing is any mention of China’s Protestant Christian communities, either the officially sanctioned congregations under the auspices of the Three Self Patriotic Movement or the unregistered church, which occupies a conspicuous gray area on China’s complex religious landscape.

For the officially sanctioned church, it is likely that the emphasis on “localization” will result in a greater emphasis on sinification of theology and church practice. What is less clear is whether Xi’s regime is prepared to allow the unregistered church a legitimate space within the scope of accepted religious activity—possibly by creating a channel outside the TSPM for such groups to come under the Party’s leadership.

After three years of wondering where Xi stands on the issue of religion, people of faith in China now have at least some sense of the Party’s current position. The specific implications, particularly for China’s Christians, remain to be seen but will likely take shape as these directives find their way into new regulations and possibly a new law on religion in the coming year.

Image Credit: the flag of China by zachary jean paradis via Flickr.
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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio

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