An academic has warned that continued suppression of religion in China will lead to new conflicts between the church and the state. Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was speaking after religious cadres from other Chinese regions visited Henan province to study its systematic program of repression.
From April 9-15, the head of the Hami Municipal People’s Patriarchal Committee led 40 people from Hami ethnic and religious cadres and patriotic religious circles to Nanyang, Lankao, Kaifeng and Zhengzhou in Henan province. The visits and inspections focused on examining the establishment of ethnic unity and progress in Henan, management of religious affairs, history and culture, and economic construction, and learned about the advanced experience of poverty alleviation in Lankao.
“Large-scale suppression similar to Henan’s has not yet occurred in other provinces, but individual cities in Shandong and Fujian have issued bans on minors to participate in religious gatherings and activities,” Ying wrote on his Facebook page. “Simultaneously, we also see that ethnic and religious cadres in other regions, such as Hami city in Xinjiang, have visited Henan to observe and study.
“No matter how or when Henan’s combative mode reaches other regions and other religions, we believe it will bring new conflicts between the church and the state.” Recent religious suppression in Henan is believed to be an organized, large-scale movement targeting Christianity by the Chinese Communist Party.
Henan has the largest Protestant population in China, while the church’s growth in rural areas is particularly significant. Simultaneously, the development of house churches such as the China Gospel Fellowship has contributed to the establishment of an inter-provincial network. Many Christian groups categorized as cults by the government, such as Mentuhui (disciples’ sect) and the Born Again Movement, are related to Henan.
The government this year issued a document on “village revitalization” that outlined action to prevent religious activities and overseas infiltration of rural areas and public affairs. It also mentioned measures to remove illegal temple constructions and excessive religious statues.
Yu Hongbin, deputy minister of the United Front Work Department of Puyang city of Henan, wrote that religion had no right to surpass the constitution and laws. It could not interfere in administrative, judicial or education matters or force anyone, especially minors, to believe in religion. He said in rural areas where believers were concentrated a small number of religious organizations and religious figures had interfered in government.
A sign outside Nan Gaocun Church in Henan province reads “Minors are not allowed to enter the church for the order and safety of the gathering.” (Photo supplied)
In October 2016, the Communist Party’s Henan provincial committee issued a report outlining the latest achievements of Marxism in China to help party members and cadres grasp the party’s beliefs. It said those who engaged in any superstitious and religious activities violated political discipline, so rules should be intensified.
In March 2017, Henan provincial committee and Henan Provincial Department of Education issued documents stating it was necessary to prevent religions from infiltrating campuses to ensure the leading position of Marxism in the education system.
The documents also stated it was forbidden to preach, set up religious venues, organize religious activities, establish religious organizations and teach religious lectures in schools. Teachers and students were strictly forbidden to wear religious dress or religious symbols at school.
In July 2017, Ruzhou city held a meeting to forbid minors from participating in any religious activities and summer camps. In August 2017, Puyang city held a special training session on “Separation of Education and Religion,” emphasizing that it was an “important struggle in the ideological field.” In April 2018, Gongyi Municipal United Front Office of Zhengzhou city ordered three types of signs to ban minors and party members from from entering churches and religious venues.
Gongyi Ethnic and Religious Bureau of Zhengzhou issued a “religious communities proposal” to notify all primary and secondary students and their parents that minors are not allowed to enter religious venues. Individual schools in Zhengzhou sent parents letters stating that “it is illegal to guide, support, permit and condone minors participating in religious activities.”