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Religions in China should serve Communist Party, says govt white paper

China officially recognises five religions - Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Taoism and Islam. The country’s Constitution guarantees – as reiterated in the white paper – religious freedom, which is protected by law.

world Updated: Apr 03, 2018 19:49 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
China relgious freedom,China religion white paper,Chinese communist party
Muslims leaving a Mosque after Friday prayers in Hotan, in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomus Region. It is widely believed that though there is freedom of religious belief in China, there is no freedom to practice religion.(AFP File)

Religions should be guided to support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and be subordinate to the interests of the nation, a new government document said on Tuesday, in line with the trend to “sinicise” religions and shake off foreign influence as propagated by President Xi Jinping.

Releasing the document on Tuesday, a top official spoke about the need for religions to adapt to a socialist society and to develop religions in the Chinese context.

The white paper, titled “China's Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief”, was clear on what it wants from the country’s 200 million believers – a number that will dismissed by independent experts as below the mark.

“Actively guiding religions in adapting to the socialist society…means guiding religious believers to love their country…(and to be) be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people,” the document said.

“It also means guiding religious groups to support the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system; uphold and follow the part of socialism with Chinese characteristics; develop religions in the Chinese context; embrace core socialist values,” it added.

The document was released after the State Administration for Religious Affairs was merged into CPC’s United Front Work Department, in-charge of the party's relations with non-party entities, last month.

China officially recognises five religions - Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Taoism and Islam. The country’s Constitution guarantees – as reiterated in the white paper – religious freedom, which is protected by law.

But it is widely believed that though there is freedom of religious belief in China, there is no freedom to practice religion.

A report by the Washington-based Freedom House had said last year that religious controls under Xi had intensified across China and there had been an overall increase in religious persecution.

Four communities have borne the brunt - Protestant Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Hui and Uyghur Muslims.

The white paper forbade foreigners from establishing religious organisations and sites for religious activities, or recruiting followers or foreign students studying in China for activities related to religion.

The document said China has “nearly 200 million religious believers and more than 380,000 clerical personnel”.

“Catholicism and Protestantism have 6 million and 38 million followers in China, respectively, with 8,000 and 57,000 clerical personnel,” it added, though these statistics are likely to be dismissed by critics who say the numbers are much higher.

A 2011 Pew survey said around 5% of China’s population in 2010 – or around 67 million – were Christians. It took into account those who are part of non-registered or “home” churches that function informally.

The white paper added that there are around 20 million who believe in Islam and are spread across 10 ethnic minority groups.

It said there are approximately 5,500 religious groups in China, including seven national organisations, which are the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, China Islamic Association, Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Bishops Conference of Catholic Church in China, National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, and China Christian Council.

First Published: Apr 03, 2018 19:46 IST