A report on China’s new regulations regarding religion suggests that the norms are consciously intended to “annihilate underground communities” and “suffocate official communities,” rather than merely organize them.
China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) has published a series of regulations overhauling religious practice in the officially communist country. Despite China’s claims of “religious freedom,” the U.S. State Department as well as numerous watchdog groups consider China to be guilty of systemic religious oppression.
The new rules are slated to come into force on February 1, 2018.
An early draft of the regulations was released a year ago, creating concern among believers and human rights groups, but if anything the updated text is even worse, AsiaNews stated in its report. The few added articles go into greater detail in pondering the many “threats and deviations” that can come from religion.
Among the many perils posed by religion, the norms state, are dangers to “national security and public health, threats to ethnic and national unity, and the possibility of terrorist activities.” Religion may also “violate people’s civil and democratic rights, obstruct public administration and invading public or private property.”
All in all, AsiaNews declared, the new regulations present religion not as Marx’s “opium of the people,” but rather as the “pestilence of the people.”
The regulations stipulate onerous fines for persons associated with underground religious communities not authorized by the state, which have no legal standing in the country. For activities taking place in unregistered places and with unregistered personnel, fines between 100-300 thousand yuan are mandated. “Unauthorized” travel abroad, even if for religious education or pilgrimage, is punishable by a fine of between 20,000 and 200,000 yuan. Such fines are very high, if you consider that the minimum wage in a city like Shanghai is 2300 yuan.
China’s growing fear of religious communities and its desperate attempts to bring believers to heel may well be a result of religion’s success in the country.
According to a study from the University of Shanghai, more than 60 percent of students are interested in learning more about Christianity and the numbers of young catechumens has been growing in both officially recognized communities and underground churches.
As Breitbart News reported three years ago, the number of Christians in China now exceeds the number of members in the Chinese Communist Party, the largest atheist organization in the world, with 85 million official members. Although exact figures are unavailable, there are now an estimated 100 million Christians in China.
Christianity is growing so fast in China that some predict that it will be the most Christian nation in the world by 2030. The greatest growth is coming outside the official state-sanctioned churches, in unofficial Protestant “house churches” and in the underground Catholic church. This could help explain the Party’s determination to crack down hardest on members of these “illegal” churches.
Although the People’s Republic of China has claimed to recognize freedom of religion since 1978, party members are explicitly forbidden to belong to or practice any religion. In 2011, Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the United Front Work Department, wrote, “Party members shall not believe in religion, which is a principle to be unswervingly adhered to.”
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