The Chinese government published a white paper on religious freedom Tuesday in which it insisted that all “religions in China must be Chinese” and that religious leaders must “practice core socialist values, carry forward the fine traditions of the Chinese nation, and actively explore religious thought which conforms to the reality in China.”
The state propaganda outlet Xinhua published highlights of the white paper, titled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief,” intended to give the impression that China is a nation which highly respects religious freedom. As a nation ruled by the Communist Party, religion is considered a threat to party rule and heavily regulated. Five legal religions exist in China – Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam – and Beijing forces all to conform to the teaching of the Maoist government.
Yet Xinhua claims that China, in its new paper, “pledged to continue to respect and protect its citizens’ freedom of religious belief.”
“Protecting freedom of religious belief, properly handling religious relations and adapting them to the times, and curbing religious extremism are common tasks facing all countries around the world,” Xinhua claims the white paper asserts.
The country’s State Council Information Office published the full text of the white paper in English, which reveals a significantly different reality from what Xinhua presents.
The document repeatedly asserts that Xi Jinping’s communist regime only respects “normal” religious activity – the word “normal” describes the applicable religions in the text six times – and defines “normal” religions as those submissive to the Chinese state.
“Chinese religious groups must conduct religious activities in the Chinese context, practice core socialist values, carry forward the fine traditions of the Chinese nation, and actively explore religious thought which conforms to the reality in China,” the white paper insists. It defines Beijing’s guidance of religions as “guiding religious believers to love their country and compatriots, safeguard national unity, ethnic solidarity, be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people.”
The paper then explicitly affirms that religions must “support the leadership of the CPC [Communist Party of China] and the socialist system; uphold and follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics; develop religions in the Chinese context; embrace core socialist values; carry forward China’s fine traditions; integrate religious teachings and rules with Chinese culture; abide by state laws and regulations, and accept state administration in accordance with the law.”
The paper also issues a reminder that “no activities which employ religion to endanger social stability, national unity and state security are allowed to be carried out.” This appears to be a reference to the link between China’s booming Christian population and human rights activism. The Chinese government deemed Christianity a “national security threat” in 2017, and has begun forcing rural Christians to replace crosses and images of Jesus in their home with photographs of Xi Jinping.
China has targeted, arrested, and abused the nation’s most prominent human rights attorneys in greater numbers since Xi Jinping took power. Many human rights lawyers take on the cases of Christian believers forced to practice their faith within the confines of official churches or defending their churches from demolition. As a result of their exposure to Christianity, many also convert to the religion.
The white paper notes that Christianity requires particular government oversight because Catholicism and Protestantism “had long been controlled and utilized by colonialists and imperialists,” without elaborating.
Islam in China’s western Xinjiang province is also under heavy state attack. In Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, the government banned burqas and has forced Muslim families to hand over personal copies of the Quran, to be replaced with copies edited by the Chinese communist state. Schools have received an extra dosage of communist indoctrination and parents have been banned from giving their children Muslim names like Muhammad or Saddam.
“Muslim customs regarding food and drink, clothing, festivals, marriages and funerals are fully respected,” the Chinese State white paper insists, contrary to the evidence. “The Islamic Association of China organizes for Muslims to go on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia every year, with the number of participants exceeding 10,000 a year since 2007.”
These pilgrimages are typically open for ethnic Hui Muslims, who live in the center of the country. Uighur Muslims – due to the existence of separatist groups in Xinjiang – do not receive similar treatment.