By Mariah McCloskey
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 2015 report listed China alongside sixteen other nations as a “country of particular concern” for inhibiting the religious expression of its citizens. The report detailed various restrictions Chinese authorities have placed on Christians, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other faith groups, noting that “people of faith continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship.”
A report conducted by ChinaAid revealed that a total of 20,000 Chinese Christians suffered religious persecution at the hands of the Communist Chinese government in 2015 alone.
In China’s Zhejiang province, the government made public a new draft proposal calling for the removal of crosses from the tops of churches and outlining a rigid policy that would greatly restrict their display. The government has forcibly removed the crosses from several churches in the province over the past year, and even tore down the 180-foot spire of state-sponsored Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, China May of 2016.
According to the New York Times the regulations will “reduce the Christian symbol to obscurity, mandating that they only be installed on the side, not the top, of structures, be a color that blends into their surroundings, and extend no more than one-tenth the height of the building’s facade.”
Carsten Vala, a research fellow at Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society, told ThinkProgress, that the government’s actions in Zhejiang could also hurt the local economy since the new policies challenge a longstanding truce between the city and its Christians — many of whom are major players in local markets.
“A lot of those Christians are entrepreneurs, so they bring a lot of business and jobs,” he said. “When I interview people [in Zhejiang], they say Christians there only care about two things: God and making money.’”
In China, only five major religions are granted permission from the Communist Party to undertake “lawful” practices: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Even amongst the five recognized religions, if the government decides that their practices are “unlawful,” oppression follows.
Christian communities and non-traditional Protestant communities are monitored and limited in their freedom of religion. While a considerable part of persecution targets Christians, small convert minorities among the Tibetans and the Muslim Uighurs face increasing restrictions too.
The Chinese government has been openly discriminating the Muslim population of over 10 million living in the Xinjiang autonomous region. Teachers and civil workers are prohibited from participating in any religious activity, and on top of this, minors are not allowed to receive education in religion. Xinjiang university students are prohibited from participating in the Ramadan fast and are forced to eat and drink food distributed by the government.
The official Xinhua News Agency issued a report on “cults” in the United States. The Chinese government has adopted much of the terminology of the Western anti-cult movement.
The Chinese government quoted Berkley psychology professor Margaret Singer’s report on anti-cult movements. The report discusses “spiritual poisoning.” Cults are said to “not obey the law, they upset social order, and they create a menace to freedom of religion and social stability. Under the pretense of religion, kindness, and being non-political, they participate in political activities. Some of them even practice criminal activities such as tax evasion, fraud, drug dealing, smuggling, assassination, and kidnapping.”
The “cult” label has proven especially dangerous for members of banned religions, like Falun Gong, introduced to the Chinese public in Changchun during 1992 by its founder, Li Hongzhi. It is a largely spiritual movement and is seen by its followers as more of a way of life. Falun Gong practitioners have reportedly been sent to camps and subjected to organ harvesting.
According to current president Xi Jinping, religion must conform to and benefit a socialist society. At a national conference on religion held in April of 2016, he urged his administration to ensure that religions “merge religious doctrines with Chinese culture, abide by Chinese laws and regulations, and devote themselves to China’s reform and opening-up drive and socialist modernization in order to contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.”