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3 Questions: Sinicization or Chinafication?

From the series 3 Questions


On December 31, the Catholic news site, Asia News reported on a new set of administrative measures for religious groups that went into effect on February 1, 2020:

As of February 1, 2020, new administrative measures will be put in place for Chinese religious groups.  According to a communication published by Xinhua, published yesterday, they complete the "Regulations on religious affairs" revised two years ago and implemented on February 1, 2018.

The text of the "Administrative measures for religious groups" published by Xinhua consists of six chapters and 41 articles dealing with the organization, functions, offices, supervision, projects and economic administration of communities  and groups at both a national and local level.  Every aspect of the life of religious communities – from formation, gatherings to annual and daily projects – is subject to approval by the government's religious affairs department.

In addition to widespread control of all community activities, the new measures require religious personnel to support, promote and implement total submission to the Chinese Communist Party among all members of their communities.

The good folks at China Law Translate have posted a translation of all 41 articles. You can read it here.

I recently reached out to Professor Yang Fenggang, who heads the Center for Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, to ask him for his thoughts and insight on these new regulations. I posed three questions.

3 Questions

 1. How do these regulations differ from the regulations that were promulgated in 2018? 

This set of regulations is a further specification of rules on one particular aspect of religious affairs and it is based on the 2018 regulations that are for the overall religious affairs. This particular aspect is religious associations, such as the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement or Christian Council (liang-hui), the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, etc. 

About the religious associations, it is necessary to know that the associations of any one religion at different administrative levels are separate associations, not one association with local branches. That is, the provincial Three-Self committees are not provincial branches of the national Three-Self committee. Similarly, the committees at the county level are not local branches of the prefecture or provincial level committees. They are separate committees and each has to report to the local party-state.

Also, the county-level committee or association overseas all venues (churches, temples, mosques) within the county, including assigning leadership positions of the venues.

2. Why are these regulations being released at this time? 

I think this is a step to show that the Religious Affairs Bureau (which is now under the Party’s United Front Work Department) is working, making progress toward the goal of “rule by law” in religious affairs. Given this development, I think it is likely that there will be other specific regulations on other aspects of religious affairs, such as regulations of religious venues.

 3.  How do these new regulations relate to the “Sinicization” campaign?

First of all, I think Zhongguohua should not be translated as Sinicization. Sinicization means han-hua, culturally assimilating into the culture of the Han people, the ethnic majority of the Chinese people. However, the cultural aspect is the least of the concerns of the current campaign of Zhongguohua. Daoism—the religion originated in China—has to go through the Zhongguohua process as well. This clearly shows Zhongguohua is not about cultural assimilation, but political conformity and obedience. I suggest adopting the literal translation “Chinafication,” a word that has been used for Chinese Communist characteristics in economics and politics.  

Regarding Christianity, I think it has been very much assimilated into Chinese culture in many ways. For example, the Bible and many Christian publications are in Chinese; the Christian message has been preached in Chinese; and the preaching uses Chinese cultural terms in reference to Chinese life experiences. In fact, it is the Chinese Communist Party that has strived to get rid of most Chinese cultural traditions in the name of anti-superstition, social progress, modernization, and overall cultural revolutions.

Of course, Christian cultural adaptation has always been selective and transformative, instead of completely accepting all traditional cultures. For example, Christians may affirm the parent-children relationship. However, their emphasis is more “honor your parents” than blind obedience to parents. Whereas the traditional parent-children relationship is characterized by obedience more than anything else. Indeed, the authorities want the obedience of religious believers more than anything else. The cultural dimension of Zhongguohua is to strangle Christianity with just such a culture of obedience.

Chinafication has become the mark of current religious policy in the new era of Xi Jinping rule. Each of the five major religions allowed by the party-state has made a five-year plan to carry out the Chinafication campaign. The Religious Affairs Bureau, which is now part of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, is pushing the campaign forward. This set of regulations is part of its implementation.

 Hmmmm. I may have to start saying “Chinaficiation.”

Thanks, Professor Yang!

Image credit: Joann Pittman via Flickr.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

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 of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio


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