Communist and post-Communist oppression China | 02 April 2024

China: Churches have to fall in line

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As China Aid reported on 6 March 2024, the Sinicization policy of the Communist authorities means not only that house churches face being closed and having to split up or that pastors are being arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, it also means that state-approved churches (e.g., TSPM) have to fall in line, leaving ever diminishing space for freedom of religion.

World Watch Research analyst Thomas Muller comments: “The China Aid report provides a depressing number of examples for both consequences of the Communist Sinicization policy mentioned above. However, in the mid- to long-term, the bigger challenge for the Church in China may not be church buildings being closed or pastors being arrested (even though the numbers grow and both is reason for worry);  the bigger long-term challenge and danger for the Church may well be the intense pressure to heed to Communist ideology. China Aid states in its report:

  • On December 19, 2023, the 10th National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China held a meeting in Beijing.
  • Members attending the meeting introduced the ‘Outline of the Five-Year Work Plan for Further Promoting the Sinicization of Christianity in China (2023-2027)’ (referred to as the ‘Outline’). The new outline proposes studying Xi Jinping’s Thoughts and continuously improving the compatibility of Christianity with socialist society. It aims to promote the Sinicization of Christianity by starting with the Sinicization of theological thoughts, striving to interpret doctrines and regulations in accordance with the core socialist values.
  • This meeting also issued initiatives for ‘outline of plan implementation’ and ‘comprehen-sively governing religious affairs with strict discipline’. Shortly thereafter, East China Theo-logical Seminary in Shanghai, in response to the ‘Patriotic Education Law’ and the ‘Outline of the Five-Year Work Plan for Further Promoting the Sinicization of Christianity in China (2023-2027)’, signed an agreement with the Shanghai Huangpu District ‘Two Sessions’ (a collective term for the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)) to continue advancing the practice of Sinicization of Christianity in 2024, blatantly revealing a compromise with authority.

Meanwhile, TSPM churches in Wuhan have been checked by inspection teams for use of ‘illegal religious publications’ and authorities announced that further unscheduled and regular visits would follow, indicating that the control screw is tightening in an effort to exclude all teaching and ideology not controlled or approved of by the Communist Party and its affiliated entities.”

Thomas Muller continues: “In an assessment of the Sinicization policy entitled ‘Adaptation of Religion – A Tool for Control, Fostering or Something Else?’, Professor Fredrik Fällman from Gothenburg University in Sweden highlighted the following, among other things (Religions and Christianity in Today’s China, 2024 No.1, 29 January 2024):

  • The promotion of ‘socialist core values’ (shehuizhuyi hexin jiazhiguan 社会主义核心价值) is also a part of this same nationalist tendency that goes through all of the above. From such texts one can see a clear differentiation between what is ‘best’ or ‘good’ (youliang 优良) and ‘excellent’ (youxiu 优秀), and e.g. religion and ethnic minorities are always at the most ‘good’ or ‘best’ (youliang) traditions while anything Zhonghua or of the CPC is ‘excellent’ (youxiu). The ‘socialist core values’ are in many cases drawn from religious tradition, but are now requested to be ‘core’ also for religions in China, in their current ‘adapted’ form.’
  • Party representatives for their part have been talking about ‘reducing the burden of religious activity on believers’ (jianqing xinzhong zongjiao huodong fudan 轻信众宗教 动负担) (Zhu Weiqun 2015), which is actually a core statement in the whole ‘adaptation’ process. The party seems to aim for less ‘religious’ religions with greater social and moral responsibility, being ‘useful’ for social harmony and for contributing to the nationalist project of ‘excellent traditional Zhonghua culture.”

Thomas Muller concludes: “This means Sinicization is not just about an ideological adaptation of religion, but about ‘a less religious religion’, which fits very well with the old Marxist adage that religion is opium for the people and should be finally overcome, if possible.”


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