China has intensified its crackdown on the activities of religious groups in recent weeks, from pastoral outreach to religious services.
As part of this, crosses have been removed, members of the clergy arrested or held in administrative detention solely for practising their faith, and places of worship have been forced to support the campaign of “sinicisation” in accordance with the ideology of President Xi Jinping.
New legislation will soon come into effect with further restrictions. According to new rules taking effect on 1 September, monasteries, temples, mosques, churches, and other religious venues will come under tighter control. Ties with overseas organisations will be banned and religious groups will be required to impart patriotic education to their members.
A Chinese Christian blog has reported the arrest of Rev Park Guangzhe of the Christian New Life Church in Nanning, Guangxi, an autonomous region in southern China, on the border with Vietnam.
The clergyman was held for 15 days under an “administrative detention” order, after he was accused of using religion to “disturb the social order”.
The information comes from a rights advocacy group, which says that the order was issued by the Liangqing branch of the Nanning Public Security Office.
Wenzhou, crosses in the crosshairs
Meanwhile, authorities in Wenzhou, a prefecture-level city in the southeastern part of Zhejiang province, on the east coast of China, are set to remove crosses from the façades of churches, something they did in the past.
On 3 August, a church in Dongqiao was notified that its cross would be removed; church leaders responded by urging the faithful to pray against the removal.
A local clergyman told ChinaAid, on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, that a “demonic wind” might be rising gain, with the effect of “removing crosses”.
Local officials in Shanxi City, Yongjia County, and Lucheng District ordered the removal of bronze plaques from doors and walls bearing the words “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Jehovah”, and “Emmanuel”.
Zhejiang is a province with a substantial Christian population and is among the main targets of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on religion and the sinicisation of worship.
Between 2014 and 2016, external crosses were removed from more 1,500 churches.
Back then, a confidential Chinese government document highlighted the political significance of the anti-cross campaign, part of a wider “ideological struggle” between the communist regime and Christians.
The anti-religion campaign eventually spread to other provinces in 2018, including Henan, where multiple crosses were dismantled, Bibles were burnt, and scores of religious symbols and plaques were destroyed, even in people’s homes.
In pursuing its objectives, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is preparing to enact more repressive legislation. According to one of the rules posted on the website of the United Front Department of Work (DLFU), which reports directly to the PC Central Committee, “No organisation or individual may use religious activity sites to conduct activities that endanger national security, disrupt social order [or] damage national interests.”
The guidelines go on to say that managers of religious venues must be thoroughly vetted by Religious Affairs officials, and must “love the motherland and support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system.”
The new rules are part of the ongoing political campaign to “sinicise” religious activity.
Religious venues must also submit detailed plans of their activities for pre-approval, and have a duty to “educate religious citizens to love the motherland.”
They must keep files on staff and members detailing their religious and social activities and any contact with overseas organisations or individuals.
The rules ban foreign donations as well as giving teaching assignments to foreign religious groups or institutions without prior authorisation.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia (RFA), Chang Chia-lin, a professor at the Institute of Mainland China at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said that the new regulatory framework represents the triumph of politics over spirituality.
In his view, in the mainland, “politics trumps religion, so that if you break these rules, they can take legal action against you.” As a result, “religious venues will be forced to obey the government after Sept. 1 . . . either the State Administration of Religious Affairs or the United Front Work Department.”