GUANGZHOU, China -- Guangzhou, the capital of China's Guangdong province, is offering to pay citizens in exchange for information on “illegal religious groups” as the Communist Party of China continues to crack down on all forms of religious activity.
As the Associated Press reported, the website of the Guangzhou Department of Ethnic and Religious Affairs states that it is offering up to 10,000 Chinese yuan (roughly $1,500) for information on the activities of religious groups and assistance that would lead to the arrest of key leaders.
Smaller rewards, it said, would be available in exchange for information on religious venues built without proper permission, and for information on people encouraging "religious extremism."
The move is part of a broader government clampdown on all religious activity in the country.
Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party.
Groups that are not officially registered with the Chinese Communist Party are subject to severe persecution, including the detention and forced indoctrination of members and leaders, the destruction of shrines and church buildings, and, in the case of Muslim ethnic minorities in western China, indoctrination and forced-labor internment camps.
The Catholic Church in China has long been split between the underground Catholic Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are typically unacknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is government-sanctioned.
In September 2018 the Holy See and Beijing reached an agreement meant to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and to unify the underground Church and the CPCA.
Some have said the move would help bring unit to the Church, though the agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.
In December, two bishops of the underground Catholic Church agreed to step aside in favor of bishops of the CPCA, in the wake of the September agreement.
Last week, authorities in Hebei province detained an underground bishop and his vicar general, while another underground Catholic leader was jailed in Hong Kong.
The Sinicization of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities. In 2017, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country’s government, and therefore must become more “Chinese-oriented.” Since he took power, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 church buildings.
Reports of the destruction or desecration of Catholic churches and shrines have come from across China, including the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Shandong.
This story was updated after posting.