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The Present Conditions of Religion in China

China is a country with a great diversity of religious beliefs. The main religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Citizens of China may freely choose and express their religious beliefs, and make clear their religious affiliations. According to incomplete statistics, there are over 100 million followers of various religious faiths, more than 85,000 sites for religious activities, some 300,000 clergy and over 3,000 religious organizations throughout China. In addition, there are 74 religious schools and colleges run by religious organizations for training clerical personnel.

-Buddhism has a history of 2,000 years in China. Currently China has 13,000-some Buddhist temples and about 200,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. Among them are 120,000 lamas and nuns, more than 1,700 Living Buddhas, and 3,000-some temples of Tibetan Buddhism and nearly 10,000 Bhiksu and senior monks and more than 1,600 temples of Pali Buddhism.
-Taoism, native to China, has a history of more than 1,700 years. China now has over 1,500 Taoist temples and more than 25,000 Taoist priests and nuns.
-Islam was introduced into China in the seventh century. Nowadays in China there are ten national minorities, including the Hui and Uygur, with a total population of 18 million, whose faith is Islam. Their 30,000-odd mosques are served by 40,000 Imams and Akhunds.
-Catholicism was introduced into China intermittently in the seventh century, but it had not spread widely until after the Opium War in 1840. At present, China has four million Catholics, 4,000 clergy and more than 4,600 churches and meeting houses.
-Protestantism was first brought to China in the early 19th century and spread widely after the Opium War. There are about 10 million Protestants, more than 18,000 clergy, more than 12,000 churches and 25,000-some meeting places throughout China.

China has the following national religious organizations: Buddhist Association of China, Taoist Association of China, Islamic Association of China, Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Chinese Catholic Bishops' College, Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China, and China Christian Council.

Religious leaders and leading organs of the various religious bodies are selected and ordained in accordance with their own regulations.

Religious organizations in China run their own affairs independently and set up religious schools, publish religious classics and periodicals, and run social services according to their own needs. As in many other countries, China practices the principle of separating religion from education; religion is not a subject taught in schools of the popular education in China, although some institutions of higher learning and research institutes do teach or conduct research into religion. The various religious schools and institutes set up by the different religious organizations teach religious knowledge in line with their own needs. All normal clerical activities conducted by the clergy and all normal religious activities held either at sites for religious activities or in believers' own homes in accordance with usual religious practices, such as worshipping Buddha, reciting scriptures, going to church, praying, preaching, observing Mass, baptising, monkhood initiation, fasting, celebrating religious festivals, observing extreme unction, and holding memorial ceremonies, are protected by law as the affairs of religious bodies and believers themselves and may not be interfered with.

The "cultural revolution" (1966 to 1976) had a disastrous effect on all aspects of the society in China, including religion. But in the course of correcting the errors of the "cultural revolution" governments at all levels made great efforts to revive and implement the policy of freedom of religious belief, redressed the unjust, false or wrong cases imposed on religious personages, and reopened sites for religious activities. Since the 1980s, approximately 600 Protestant churches have been reopened or rebuilt each year in China. By the end of 1996 more than 18 million copies of the Bible had been printed, with special tax exemption treatment speeding their publication. In addition, more than eight million copies of a hymn book published by the China Christian Council in 1983 have been distributed. From 1958 to 1995, a total of 126 Catholic bishops were selected and ordained by the Chinese Catholic church itself. In the past dozen years more than 900 young Catholic priests have been trained or consecrated by Chinese Catholicism. More than 3,000 Protestants attend the Sunday service at Chongwenmen church in Beijing each week. The Beijing Nantang Catholic Cathedral observes Mass four times each week with an attendance of more than 2,000. Of these, one Mass is held in English specially for foreigners in Beijing.

In the course of the country's long history, the various religions in China have become part of the traditional Chinese thinking and culture. It is traditional for Chinese religious believers to love their country and religions. The Chinese government supports and encourages the religious circles to unite the religious believers to actively participate in the construction of the country. The various religions all advocate serving the society and promoting people's well-being, such as the Buddhists' "honoring the country and benefiting the people," the Catholics and Protestants' "glorifying God and benefiting the people," the Taoists' "being benevolent, peaceful and harmonious, saving the world and benefiting the people," and the Islam's "praying to allah to give great reward in this world and hereafter."

In China all religions have equal status and coexist in tranquillity. Religious disputes are unknown in China. Religious believers and non-believers respect each other, are united and have a harmonious relationship. This shows, on the one hand, the influence of traditional Chinese compatibility and tolerance, and, on the other, the fact that since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 the Chinese government has formulated and carried out the policy of freedom of religious belief and established a politico-religious relationship that conforms to China's national conditions.

Legal Protection of the Freedom of Religious Belief

Chinese citizens' right to the freedom of religious belief is protected by the Constitution and laws.

In the Constitution of the People's Republic of China freedom of religious belief is a basic right enjoyed by all citizens. Article 36 of the Constitution stipulates, "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief." It also goes on to say, "No State organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion." Again, "the State protects normal religious activities," and "No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the State." In addition, "Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination."

China's Law on National Regional Autonomy, General Principles of the Civil Law, Education Law, Labor Law, Compulsory Education Law, Electoral Law of the People's Congresses, Organic Law of the Villagers' Committees, Advertisement Law, and other laws stipulate that all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, have the right to vote and stand for election; the legitimate property of religious bodies is subject to legal protection; education is separate from religion, and all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, enjoy equal educational opportunities in accordance with the law; the people of all ethnic groups should respect each other's languages, customs and habits, and religious beliefs; citizens shall not be discriminated against in terms of employment because of different religious beliefs; and no advertisements or trade marks shall include discriminatory contents against any ethnic group or religion.

The Chinese government has promulgated the Regulations on the Administration of Sites for Religious Activities so as to protect the lawful rights and interests of such sites. The Regulations specify: Sites for religious activities shall be run independently by the administrative organizations thereof, whose lawful rights and interests and normal religious activities at the sites shall be protected by law. No organization or individual may violate or interfere with such rights, interests or activities. Anyone who encroaches on the lawful rights and interests of the sites for religious activities shall bear legal responsibilities. Religious activities conducted at the sites, however, must conform to laws and regulations.

The Chinese government has promulgated the Provisions on the Administration of Religious Activities of Aliens Within the Territory of the People's Republic of China. China respects the freedom of religious belief of aliens within Chinese territory and protects their friendly contacts and cultural and academic exchanges with Chinese religious circles with respect to religion. Aliens may participate in religious activities at recognized sites for religious activities within Chinese territory. They may also preach at the invitation of Chinese religious bodies at or above the provincial level. Aliens may hold religious activities attended by aliens at sites approved by people's governments at or above the county level. They may invite Chinese clerical personnel to conduct such religious rituals as baptisms, weddings, funerals and prayer meetings, and may bring with them printed religious matter, audio-visual religious material and other religious articles for personal use while entering Chinese territory. Aliens who conduct religious activities within Chinese territory shall abide by Chinese laws and regulations.

The legal protection of citizens' right to the freedom of religious belief in China is basically in accordance with the main contents of the concerned international documents and conventions in this respect. The following stipulations in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convenient on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, and the Vienna Declaration and Action Program are all included in China's laws and legislation in explicit terms and are being put into practice: that freedom of religion or belief is a basic human right; people should enjoy freedom of religion or belief; no one should be discriminated against because of religious affiliation or belief; people should enjoy freedom of religious service and assembly, and the freedom to set up and maintain places of worship; they should have the freedom to compile and distribute printed materials pertaining to religion or belief; they should have the freedom to celebrate religious festivals and hold religious rites based on their faiths and morals; and they should have the right to promote and protect the rights pertaining to only a small number of people ethnically, racially, religiously and linguistically. According to Chinese law, while all citizens enjoy the right to freedom of religious belief they must also carry out duties prescribed by law. In China, all individuals and organizations, including all religions, must safeguard the people's interests, the sanctity of the law, ethnic unity and unification of the nation. This is in conformity with the relevant clauses of the UN documents and conventions on human rights. The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief states: "Freedom to manifest one's religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedom of others." The International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights notes: "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law." Citizens who believe in religion and those who do not believe in religion are equal before the law. This is a basic requirement for modern civilization and nations subject to the rule of law.

Each country has its own history, culture and national conditions, which decide that each country's protection of freedom of religious belief has its own characteristics. While stressing the protection of freedom of religious belief China pays equal attention to the protection of the freedom not to believe in religion, thus ensuring freedom of religious belief in a complete sense. This is a more complete and more comprehensive protection of citizens' basic rights.

The Chinese government maintains that religious belief is a citizen's personal affair. However, the construction of a prosperous, powerful, democratic modern socialist country with advanced culture, and the safeguarding of the country's sovereignty and national dignity are the common goals and in the fundamental interest of Chinese people of all ethnic groups, including those who believe in a religion and those who do not. Therefore the people who believe in a religion and those who do not can unite and cooperate politically, and respect each other's beliefs.

Religion should be adapted to the society in which it is prevalent. This is a universal law for the existence and development of religion. Now the Chinese people are building China into a modern socialist country with Chinese characteristics. The Chinese government advocates that religion should adapt to this reality. However, such adaptation does not require citizens to give up religious belief, nor does it require any religion to change its basic doctrines. Instead, it requires religions to conduct their activities within the sphere prescribed by law and adapt to social and cultural progress. This conforms to the fundamental interests of religious believers as well as to those of the various religions themselves.

Nevertheless, since the 1980s some pernicious organizations have sprung up in certain areas of China, which engage in illegal and even criminal activities under the signboard of religion. Some of the heads of these pseudo-religions distort religious doctrines, create heresies, deceive the masses, refuse to obey the State's laws and decrees, and incite people to overthrow the government. Some pretend to be supernatural beings, and have killed or injured people; others organize promiscuity, or defraud people of money or property. They are a serious danger to the normal life and productive activities of the people. The broad masses of the people and personages of the religious circles detest this phenomenon, and so, in order to safeguard the public interest and the sanctity of the law, and to better protect the people's right to freedom of religious belief and normal religious activities, China's judicial organs punish law-breakers and criminals who severely endanger the society and the public interest in accordance with the law. The punishment of criminals by China's judicial organs in accordance with the law has nothing to do with religious belief. No one in China is punished because of his or her religious belief. But no country that practices the rule of law in the world today would tolerate illegal and criminal activities being carried out under the banner of religion.