A new set of draft regulations on religious activity has been issued in China.
These would replace the 2004 regulations.
Compared to these, the draft is longer: there are 74 articles spread
over nine chapters, (in 2004 there were only 48 articles).
New to this
draft is the inclusion of norms for the construction of religious
buildings and statues (after the demolition campaign of crosses and
churches); diverse rules governing the use of the internet;
clarifications on Buddhist religious personnel (Tibetan) as well as
Catholic. The amount of fines that are imposed on those who break the
rules has also been adjusted. Now there will be penalties of up to 200
thousand yuan (over 27 thousand euro: the minimum wage in Shanghai is a
bit less than 300 Euros) for "illegal religious activities " or foreign
travel and pilgrimages without government consent.
Contradictions within the Party
In itself, the draft, published on September 8 on the State Council for
Legislative Affairs website, was made public to allow for any
corrections, suggestions and amendments until October 7. But a Party
member confessed laconically to AsiaNews: "It is said that it is a draft, but it really is the definitive text."
The ideological structure of the new text remains firmly in the
communist domain: religious activities, to be expressed, must be
screened and controlled by the state at all levels; village, county,
Without defining what a religion is or religious experience, the
regulations (Art. 2) begin proclaiming that in China "citizens enjoy
religious freedom", that no one "can force a person to believe or not to
believe "and that" ... no organization can discriminate against
citizens who believe in a religion".
This statement is in contradiction to what is happening within the
Chinese Communist Party itself, where for years it has been preached
that members can not adhere to any religion even in private, not even after they retire.
Although there is no definition of religion, the first part of the
draft lists a long series of things that religions "must not do": cause
conflict with other religions or non-believers; provoke ethnic
divisions; favor religious extremism; divide the nation; practice
terrorism (art. 4).
“Sinicized” religions without foreigners
To be "under the law", religions must be "guided" by the government
of the people, by the departments of Religious Affairs, the county and
village authorities who have the right to intervene in religious
activities (art. 6).
In addition, each religious group "must adhere to the principle of
independence and self-government" and "not be controlled by foreign
forces" (art. 5). These principles are a tradition from the times of Mao
Zedong, who at first wanted to destroy religion and then – when this
proved impossible - at least control them with an iron fist with the
patriotic associations, giving rise to "independent" churches and
But these principles have taken on a new emphasis after President Xi Jinping’s speech to the United Front last year,
in which he warned against "foreign influences" and decreed that if the
religions want to live in China they must "sinicize ". The negative
psychosis operated on foreign religions refers to Muslims in Xinjiang
and Tibetan Buddhists, but also the Pope and the Vatican who, with the
appointment of bishops, are suspected of conspiracy and of "interference
in China's internal affairs".
This "sinicization" also deals a blow to foreign personnel who may be
invited to "religious schools" (seminaries, monasteries, etc.). Art. 17
provides that institutions cannot invite staff from abroad, and that
permission can only be granted by the " State Council Department of
Religious Affairs". This fruits of this can already be seen: theological
seminaries such as Beijing, which once housed dozens of foreign
professors, now can barely obtain permission for two or three.
The places of worship and crosses
A complicated process has been introduced for the approval of the
construction of places of worship, with applications passing month to
month through all levels of government; only then can a place of worship
be built, but then it will take even more months to apply for
registration for use (Articles 19-27). Special permits are required to
install religious statues outside of places of worship (Art. 29-30).
addition to permission, the religious community must accept the
verification of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In any case "the
construction of large religious statues outside of temples and churches
The ban reflects the demolition campaign carried out against the
crosses and churches in Zhejiang launched two years ago to reduce the
visibility of the Christian buildings, which hoisted large crosses on
top of buildings or towers. In addition to destroying buildings that had
already received building permits, the provincial government issued norms which regulated the height, position, size and even the color of the crosses.
Controlling the buddha and bishops
Chap. V (arts. 36-39) regards "religious personnel", who exercise
ministry. They must be registered with the Ministry of Religious
Affairs. There are two specific points. The first refers to the "living
Buddha" of Tibetan Buddhism, whose reincarnation "must be submitted for
approval to the department for religious affairs of the people's
established this rule years ago, which seeks to prevent the possibility
of an "uncontrolled" or "not approved" reincarnation the Dalai Lama.
Another specific point regards Catholic bishops, who must be
registered with the nation’s departments of religious. It is also
specified that "those that have not obtained or have lost religious
professional credentials, must not engage in activity as religious
professionals" (n. 36). Many Catholics are concerned that this
subparagraph might harden the government's stance towards unofficial
bishops, who are not registered with the Ministry of Religious Affairs
and that therefore commit "illegal or outlawed actions" if they dare to
celebrate a Mass or distribute the Sacraments.
The end of the underground community?
The same can be deduced from the Chap. VII on "legal responsibility",
where "illegal" religious activities will be punished "according to
law" and result in a revocation of "the registration certificate."
Many Chinese dioceses have been signaling to us that the government
is licit and illicit means to push unofficial priests to register with
the Ministry. Sadly – although not specifically mentioned in the
Regulations - such registration occurs through the Patriotic Association
(PA), which is the control body, whose statutes (to build an
"independent" Church) are "incompatible with Catholic doctrine" , as the
Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics clearly states. Most
underground priests would be willing to be registered if the tentacles
of the PA were removed. The fact remains that these new regulations
appear to deal a lethal blow to the underground community, making it
almost impossible for them to exercise their religious freedom without
registration of places of worship and staff. What’s more their "illegal
activities" could result in hefty fines up to 200 thousand yuan (Arts.
The "criminal" actions that warrant severe punishment include "
accepting domination by external forces, accepting clergy from foreign
religious groups or organizations without authorization, as well as
other acts contrary to the principle religious independence and
self-governance" ( art. 70, 2). In practice, if out of friendship an
Italian priest celebrates with a community or with a Chinese priest (
"without authorization"!) he will be committing one of the most serious
crimes: ecclesial communion does not count; it must have government
The criminalization against everything that harms "independence and
self-government" has also spread to the internet: religious information
via the internet must have the permission of government authorities and
"must not contain prohibited content" (Arts. 47-48) .
In conclusion, reading all regulations, religions emerge as a suspect
and dangerous item, made acceptable only if controlled by the
"people's government". Yet from the start Regulations proclaim that
"religious freedom" is enjoyed by all citizens, without discrimination.
Among the discriminatory prohibitions there is in fact - in addition
to the above mentioned prohibition on Party members to be religious - the
fact that “It is prohibited to proselytize, hold religious activities,
establish religious organizatons, or set up religious activity sites in
State schools" ( art. 44). In return, the state has the right to coerce
and to enforce lessons of atheism and Marxism in religious schools.