Religious freedom in China is in a state of peril. The primary reason is that Chinese authorities never miss any opportunity to crack down on religion. Over the past year alone, China has detained Muslim for showing their faith, forced Buddhists to pledge allegiance to the ruling Communist Party, and coerced Christian churches to take down their crosses or shut down.
Following are some of the noteworthy examples:
Recently, the government-controlled China Buddhist Association of Yunfu, in Guangdong province, issued a “Notice on the Boycott of Illegal Missionary Activities of Tibetan Buddhist Monks.”
The Notice claimed the following:
One may wonder why all such stringent restrictions on the serene community of the Tibetan Monks. The reason is that Buddhist devotees are increasingly disappointed with the China Buddhist Association, whose temples are becoming propaganda centers for the CCP. Therefore, they invite independent Buddhist teachers to teach Buddhism. It is creating an independent Buddhism outside the command of the CCP, something the CCP and the China Buddhist Association cannot endure.
Yet another case of crackdown took place recently in July. A woman left memorial tablets of Japanese war criminals in the Nanjing shrine. China seized the opportunity to promote a nationwide crackdown on Buddhist temples.
On 21st July 2022, a Chinese citizen on Weibo posted pictures taken at the Xuanzang Buddhist temple in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. The images depicted four memorial tablets of Japanese war criminals responsible for the killings in Nanjing in 1937.
The timing of the post was, however, dubious. The Xuanzang Temple confirmed that, in February, somebody noticed the tablets and complained to the monks, who immediately removed them. However, the images were posted in July when anti-Japanese sentiments in China were at their peak following the death of Shinzo Abe.
On 22st July 2022, the police raided the temple and temporarily closed it. The Abbott was dismissed from his duties, and the director of the Ethnic and religious affairs bureau of Nanjing’s Xuanwu district was fired. People on social media supported the restrictions on the Buddhist temples in China.
On 26th July, the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued a national directive claiming that all government-controlled religions should “learn the lesson” of the Xuanzang Temple incident.
The directive further added:
Strengthen the ideological guidance of the religious circles, guide the religious circles to continue to carry out patriotism, collectivism, and socialism education, deepen the study of the history of the Party, the history of new China, the history of reform and opening up, and the history of socialist development.
Guide the religious circles and believers to practice and implement the core socialist values, earnestly enhance the national awareness, civic awareness, and awareness of the rule of law among religious people, ensure that they are always clear-headed on issues of right and wrong and principles, resolutely prevent such problems from occurring, and effectively maintain harmony and stability in the religious field.”.
SARA National Directive
This is not the first time Tibetan Buddhism is facing this crackdown. Read about the history of crackdowns on the Tibetan Buddhism here.
About 11 million Uyghurs live in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. They comprise majorly of Muslims and are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The Chinese government has imprisoned more than one million people since 2017 and subjected those not detained to intense surveillance, religious restrictions, forced labor, and forced sterilizations. They are forced to drink alcohol and eat Pork which is prohibited in Islam. If this is not ISLAMOPHOBIA then what is?
The United States sanctioned officials and blacklisted dozens of Chinese agencies linked to abuses in Xinjiang. In 2021, it determined that China’s actions constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.
Not only Uyghurs but The Utsuls, a community of only 10000 Muslims in the Hainan province, are the latest Muslim ethnic group targeted by the national drive conducted by the CCP to achieve “the Sinicization of Islam.”
In this campaign, local governments issued specific measures, including:
In 2018, in a crackdown on the Uyghur Muslims, officials in the Xinjiang region cut down the skirts of Uyghur women on the spot in the streets to enforce a ban on ethnic minorities wearing long skirts. Chinese authorities have demolished many mosques in this crackdown.
China has never missed any opportunity to crackdown on Christianity as well. In 2020, The Chinese government forcefully removed more than two thousand crosses from churches across China as part of a government campaign to regulate “excessive religious sites”. The campaign was aimed at eradicating the Christian landscape and its symbols from China.
In recent years, China has witnessed a spike in state repression against house churches and state-sanctioned Christian organizations, including campaigns to remove hundreds of rooftop crosses from churches, forced obliteration of churches, and harassment and detention of Christian pastors and priests.
Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution states that citizens “enjoy the freedom of religious belief.” It bans discrimination based on religion and prohibits state organs, public organizations, or individuals from compelling citizens to believe in—or not believe in—any particular faith.
The authorities should implement Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution in letter and spirit so that all communities can live peacefully in China without any fear of crackdowns.
Hwa-Young compiled and curated this report
Hwa-Young (South Asia Analyst of Ij-reportika)