With the takeover of China by the communists under Mao Zedong in 1949, the country became an officially atheist state, and brutal oppression of all religion, including the Catholic Church, followed.
In 1951, China cut off all diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and, in 1957, the Beijing regime established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-controlled national church that is not in communion with Rome. The communist government also created a state-controlled Protestant church under the Protestant Three-Self Church and China Christian Council.
There are only five officially accepted faiths in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. They must all function under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Chinese Catholics who remained faithful to Rome and who formed a large “underground Church” have faced persecution, including arrest, imprisonment, destruction of property and torture. Anti-Christian persecutions continue, including the arrest of Christians, the demolition of churches and the removal of more than 1,500 crosses from rooftops.
Under current President Xi Jinping, the Chinese communists have also embarked on a campaign to reassert government control of religion in China. What that would entail was revealed by President Xi in April of last year, when he spoke in Beijing at the National Conference of Religious Work.
He called on all Chinese Communists to act as “unyielding Marxist atheists … and bear in mind the party’s tenets.” He then declared his desire for “unification,” greater Chinese inculturation of foreign religions and limiting the influence of religion in Chinese society.
In September, the Communist Party revised its “Regulations on Religious Affairs.” The new regulations came into effect Feb. 1 and mirrored the points called for by President Xi. The new law, according to the Global Legal Monitor, Library of Congress, includes:
- The claim of freedom of religious belief but also the right of the government to regulate religion to maintain “harmony among and between religions,” maintain social harmony, suppress extremism and fight crime.
- The right of the Communist Party to guide religion to be compatible with socialist — communist — society.
- The prohibition against individuals and organizations from advocating, supporting or funding what the government terms religious extremism, and they must not use religion to undermine ethnic unity, divide national harmony or carry out terrorism.
- The right of the Religious Affairs Departments of the People’s Governments at the county level or above to carry out the management of religious affairs, with provisions for regulating religion, extending all the way down to the villages, with local party officials wielding oversight over local churches and religious groups.
- The right of only national (state-recognized) religious groups to establish religious schools and select and send students of religion to study abroad and receive foreign students.
- The prohibition against so-called non-religious groups, non-religious schools, etc., from conducting religious activities, accepting donations, undertaking religious training and sending citizens out of the country to participate in religious training and meetings.
- The right of the party to control and oversee religious publications and online religious services.
- The right of the state to impose new legal obligations and punishments on churches for violations of laws and regulations relating to religious affairs, including advocating, supporting or funding religious extremism or using religion to damage perceived national security or public safety, undermine ethnic unity or divide the nation.
Matthew Bunson is a Register senior editor.