In April of this year, President Xi Jinping gave a speech at a national conference on religion in which he outlined his vision for the role religion can and should play in Chinese society. As is often the case with speeches from top leaders, his themes were painted in broad strokes, with very little specifics. Those are typically revealed in subsequent regulations.
Writing about the speech at the time, Brent Fulton said:
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.
On September 8, 2016, things came into sharper focus when the State Council released a deliberative draft of the new Regulations on Religious Affairs. Not an entirely new document, it is essentially a revision of the previous set of regulations last updated in 2005.
Thomas Dubois, Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow in Chinese Studies at the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University has translated the new set of regulations and prepared a side-by-side comparison with the 2005 version. Writing at East Asia Forum, he highlights some of the new provisions:
Compared to 2005, the 2016 law increases scrutiny of imported religious materials, particularly of religious news websites, and makes new mention of religious schools, which are to be regulated in the same manner as other religious institutions. There is also fresh attention to financial matters, including banning registered religious groups engaging in certain types of investment and commercial activity. Religious charities and non-profit organisations—already subject to a new set of regulations earlier this year—were also mentioned for the first time in the 2016 law.
The new law also sets out more detailed legislation of various sorts of financial fraud, non-payment of taxes, or compelling donations, particularly as committed outside the officially bounded set of religious sites and personnel. Foreign donations come under special scrutiny and now must be reported to the local Department of Religious Affairs.
Not surprisingly, there is in the revised law great concern regarding religious extremism and the use of religion as a voice for ethnic separatism. The only specific mention of Islam is a provision for the hajj—an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca—to remain in the hands of the state Muslim organisation. There is also ongoing concern regarding the infiltration of religious proselytisation into national education by a number of groups.
Professor DuBois’ PDF document with the side-by-side comparison can be found here.
For an excellent background on the Regulations and overall current conditions for the church, I highly recommend this podcast, “The Cross is Red: Richard Madsen on Christianity in China:” It is a production of China 21 Podcast (UC San Diego).
The Chinese Communist Party issued new directives for religious affairs earlier this year, especially calling for religions to serve national interests. What does this new project to “sinicize” religions imply for religious practice in China? For Christians in China, how are they adapting as rising nationalism clashes with religions that have foreign roots?
Sociologist Richard Madsen reflects on the takeaways from a recent gathering to discuss China's new policy on religion, which convened some of the key thinkers who formulated the new regulations and practitioners such as Catholic priests whose work are impacted by the regulations.
The draft that has been released is for deliberation; it will be interesting to see if/how they are further modified, and once ratified, what the impact will be.
Image credit: Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images.
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio