Beijing tightens control on religious beliefs

 Religious groups must promote Chinese culture and become more compatible with socialism, top Politburo official Yu Zhengsheng has told faith leaders, as Beijing circulated orders for retired party cadres to shun all religious activity.


Yu said religious leaders were to form a “bridge” between the Communist Party and hundreds of millions of Chinese that follow the country’s five officially recognized religions — Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism.

“[Yu] called on religious groups in China to continue adding Chinese characteristics, dig into positive elements in their religions and make more effort in building a religious ideology with Chinese characteristics,” reported state news agency Xinhua.

Yu was flanked by Vice Premier Liu Yandong and Sun Chunlan, head of the United Work Front Department which manages relations with faith groups, at the highest-level meeting between senior officials and religious leaders in months. National broadcaster CCTV broadcast Yu’s instructions on its evening bulletin on Feb. 4.

Liu Yuanlong, who took part in his role as vice director of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, was not immediately available for comment.

Beijing has repeatedly postponed a major meeting on religion that was due to be chaired by President Xi Jinping at the end of last year with no explanation given. Delays may be due to problems drawing up a cohesive religious blueprint for the whole country, according to analysts.

Yu has met regularly with religious groups across the country over the past year as the party makes plans for the meeting.

Yu was flanked by Vice Premier Liu Yandong and Sun Chunlan, head of the United Work Front Department which manages relations with faith groups, at the highest-level meeting between senior officials and religious leaders in months. National broadcaster CCTV broadcast Yu’s instructions on its evening bulletin on Feb. 4.

Under Xi, China has veered toward a more repressive policy on religion that has stressed Chinese faiths over those deemed imported from overseas. The Chinese president has regularly quoted from Confucius, whose popularity has been resurgent in recent years, while Christians, Muslims and Buddhists have complained of growing persecution.

Amid a campaign by the provincial authorities in Zhejiang that has led to the removal of more than 1,500 church crosses over the past two years, authorities there have started a new program that includes efforts to tie Bible passages to party doctrine.

In another major shift towards restrictive state policy on religious practice, the party’s Central Committee and State Council have issued a circular ordering retired officials to steer clear of religion, Xinhua reported on Feb. 4.

“[The circular] clearly stated that retired cadres cannot believe in religion, cannot participate in religious activities and must resolutely fight against cults,” the document said.

Retired officials must distinguish between “ethnic customs” and “believing in religions,” it said.

Although Beijing has barred active cadres from practicing religion, this is the first time a state document has also ordered retired officials not to follow a faith since the party set up its retirement system in 1982.

How the state plans to enforce the measure remains unclear. As many as 84 percent of party members admitted some kind of religious belief, a survey by Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society found in 2007.

“Many of the exposed corrupt officials of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] are reported to believe in religion or magic, such as patronizing and consulting spiritual masters,” said Fenggang Yang, the center’s director. “This kind of behavior is probably common among other officials as well.”

A paramilitary policeman stands guard in front of the portrait of late communist leader Mao Zedong  width=

A paramilitary policeman stands guard in front of the portrait of late communist leader Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on China’s National Day, October 1, 2015. China is marking the 66th anniversary of Mao’s founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER

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