The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been shutting down Christian orphanages in China, using recent regulations on religion in the country to justify a crackdown on charitable religious organizations, Bitter Winter, a human rights magazine, reported on Monday.
In China, the Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA) is the major legislation that determines restrictions on religious activities. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, the RRA was last revised in February 2018, adding a stipulation that “public interest charitable activities must not be used to proselytize by any organization or individual.”
Chinese authorities have since used this clause to increase discrimination against Catholic and Protestant orphanages and other institutions led by Christian organizations, according to Bitter Winter‘s report.
Last August, China’s Civil Affairs Bureau sent a task force of over 40 personnel to raid a Catholic orphanage in Taiyuan, located in the northern province of Shanxi, according to the report. Members of the task force threatened to accuse the orphanage’s leaders of “illegal adoption” practices, and forcefully removed all children living there. The orphans were sent to a local state-run welfare facility.
The Taiyuan orphanage had operated for over 20 years until it was shut down last summer, and was reportedly well-regarded by locals. It had cared for over 100 children.
“The government tried every possible means to shut the orphanage down just because it had a religious affiliation,” an orphanage employee told Bitter Winter. “This is a national policy, and we can do nothing about it.”
In May 2019, local government in Hebei province ordered a Catholic orphanage for disabled children in Cangzhou to remove all visual religious depictions, such as paintings of the Virgin Mary, from a small church located on its premises. The orphanage director was forced to sign a statement saying he would stop using the church. The Cangzhou government also banned the use of children’s religious textbooks at the orphanage. Defending the crackdown, local officials argued that “charitable institutions are not allowed to have religious overtones,” according to the report.
Under dictator Xi Jinping, China has expanded its assault on the free practice of faith, including on members of the only five legal religions in the country: Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Catholicism, and (Protestant) Christianity. In June 2019, a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA) revealed that CCP officials were paying impoverished Buddhists in Tibet to display portraits of Xi. The practice was similar to an initiative exposed in 2017 in which the CCP coerced Christians in rural China to swap out their crosses with photos of Xi, the Communist Party leader. The CCP threatened to withhold desperately needed financial aid from the rural Christians if they did not comply with the practice.
In the fall of 2019, the CCP pressured Christian churches in Henan province to replace the Ten Commandments with notable Xi Jinping quotes.
“The [Chinese] Communist Party has been trying to restrict our activities, fearing that children would be exposed to religion,” a Cangzhou local who attended religious services at the Taiyuan orphanage’s church before it was ordered to close told Bitter Winter. “All religious orphanages for disabled children will gradually disappear in the future.”
The clampdowns on both the Taiyuan and Cangzhou orphanages had been building for at least several months prior, according to the report, but the CCP used the stricter RRA legislation in February 2018 to finally shut down or seriously suppress the charitable organizations.
Recent reports indicate that the CCP has been capitalizing on measures restricting people’s movement during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic to close down and, in some instances, demolish churches across China. The Chinese coronavirus, which first emerged in the capital of Hubei province, Wuhan, at the end of last year, has caused major disruptions in everyday life across China and the world. In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, large communal gatherings, like church services, have been banned. With houses of worship empty, China has reportedly been seizing the opportunity to shut down and demolish some churches.
China Aid, which supports Christians persecuted by the CCP, revealed that one church in the northwest province of Qinghai was torn down last month on Easter Sunday.
“The Urban Construction Bureau of Chengxi District, Xining City forcibly demolished the meeting place [church] on the grounds that the meeting place was an illegal building and there were hidden safety risks,” China Aid reported.