Is there religious freedom in China? The answer, of course, depends on the meaning of the term "religious freedom"
In the United States, essential to any definition of the term would be the concept of separation of church (religion) and state. That is our primary lens.
In countries that do not separate religion from the state, the key element is the freedom of those not in the state church (or religion) to practice their religious beliefs without interference from the state.
When the Chinese government uses the term "religious freedom," (and it does a LOT!), things get a bit confusing; or as Inigo Montoya so famously uttered in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means!"
To the Chinese government, "religious freedom" means that the citizens are free to believe what they want, but the government reserves the right to set the boundaries within which the beliefs are practiced." Unfortunately, like so many other boundaries in China (where the legal system is weak), the boundaries are both rubber and invisible.
Purdue University recently held a symposium titled, "Religious Freedom and Chinese Society: A Symposium of Case Analysis." In attendance were scholars, lawyers, and religious leaders from China. In an attempt to bring some clarity to the discussion of what is meant by religious freedom in China, at the conclusion of the symposium, they issued a signed document called "The Purdue Consensus on Religious Freedom."
It starts out by listing three specific concerns of the signatories. Then it lists five essential beliefs. It concludes with an appeal for Chinese citizens to strive for the protection of these freedoms.
The entire document, along with a list of the signatories can be found here.
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