Skip to comments.Chinese Government Rethinks Religion
Posted on 01/26/2008 7:02:04 AM PST by JACKRUSSELL
(BEIJING) There was Hu Jintao, head of the Chinese Communist Party, warmly shaking hands at a party-sponsored New Year's tea party with one of the country's main Christian leaders. To make sure the message got through to China's 68 million party faithful, a large photograph of the moment was splashed across the front page of the official party newspaper, People's Daily.
Hu's display of holiday courtesy to Liu Bainian, general secretary of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, was one in a series of recent signals that China's rulers, despite the party's official atheism, are seeking to get along better with the increasing numbers of Chinese who find solace and inspiration in religion. The shift in tactics does not mean the Politburo has embraced religion, specialists cautioned, but it indicates a desire to incorporate believers into the party's quest for continued economic progress and more social harmony.
The move away from traditional Marxist attitudes evolved from Hu's campaign for what he calls "a harmonious socialist society." The concept, in effect an appeal for good behavior, was designed to replace the moral void left when the party long ago jettisoned historical Chinese values and, more recently, loosened the zipped-tight social strictures of communism under Mao Zedong. Religion, the party has decided, can also be useful in encouraging social harmony because it urges its followers to hew to a moral code.
"We must take full advantage of the positive role that religious figures and believers among the masses can play in promoting economic and social development," Jia Qinglin, a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee, told a meeting of government-connected religious officials Wednesday.
Hu presided over a special Politburo study session last month on the expanding role of religion in China. Two of the party's religion specialists were called in to explain the phenomenon to China's 25 most powerful men, most of whom grew up with the Marxist idea that religion is a hostile force and, in China, foreign infiltration with ties to the colonial past.
In a speech to the group, Hu seemed to break with that tradition, suggesting the moral force of religion can be harnessed for the good of the party. "We must strive to closely unite religious figures and believers among the masses around the party and government," he said, according to the official account, "and struggle together with them to build an all-around moderately prosperous society while quickening the pace toward the modernization of socialism."
Liu, the Christian leader shown in the photo with Hu, noted that the president also for the first time included discussion of religion in the party's 17th National Congress in October. Religion should no longer be considered sabotage of the party's economic and social plans, Hu told fellow party members, but rather a positive force that can be enlisted to help put the plans into effect.
"This tells people what the party's attitude toward religion is," Liu said. "The party is now more concerned about the active role that religion can play in society."
The number of religious believers in China has long been difficult to determine. Faced with the party's traditional hostility, many believers have kept their faith hidden. But a government-sponsored survey last year found the number may reach 300 million, nearly a quarter of the population.
Most of those professing belief said they identified with China's traditional religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. But those identifying themselves as Christians accounted for as many as 40 million, the survey found, most of them Protestants. Specialists have estimated the number of Catholics at 12 million, divided between those in Liu's government-sponsored Patriotic Catholic Association and those in informal churches who look on the pope as their leader.
"Religion has become such an important concept in China that the party can no longer try to understand it in the traditional Marxist framework," said Chan Kim-kwong, executive secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council.
Part of the problem, Chan said, is that government decisions have traditionally been based on reports from the State Administration for Religious Affairs and local-level religious affairs bureaus, which often have their own interests in land or other issues connected to churches. In addition, many bureaucrats in the religion administrations ended up there after being demobilized from the military with little to go on other than Marxist doctrine.
"It's a dumping ground," Chan said.
Anthony Lam of the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, who has studied the church in China for two decades, warned that the current warming is a tactic that could easily be reversed. "For me, it's a good thing, but it doesn't mean very much," he said.
Over the years, he added, the party's treatment of believers has varied, but its overall attitude is that religion, particularly Christianity and Islam, is a portal through which foreign ideas and loyalties can make their way into Chinese society.
In the same vein, Ren Yanli, a religion specialist at the government-sponsored Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that the party's recent overtures were aimed at enlisting religious beliefs as a force for economic and social progress. Nowhere did the party acknowledge faith and religion as ideals to be pursued in their own right, he said.
Nonetheless, government controls over religious activity have loosened markedly in recent years. Political connotations, such as those attached to Buddhism in Tibet or Islam in the autonomous Xinjiang region of northwestern China, have become the major targets of police surveillance in most areas.
Despite the trend, China and the Vatican have been unable to renew diplomatic relations, with China holding firm to the power to name bishops. Hu himself led a special committee in 2005 to end the hostility; at that time, progress was so rapid that a bargain seemed within reach. Those hopes fell through, however, with the appointment of several bishops who did not have Vatican approval.
In recent months, the momentum toward friendly Vatican ties seems to have revived. Two bishops were ordained with papal approval last month, following the appointment of a Vatican-approved bishop for Beijing in September. Regular quiet contacts have been made between Vatican and Chinese diplomats.
But behind the scenes, Patriotic Catholic Association churches and local religious affairs bureaus have proved to be formidable obstacles, according to a knowledgeable religious source. Their positions often including state salaries, apartments and prestige would be endangered if the church fell under Rome's authority. Moreover, the source added, some local jurisdictions have been involved in land deals with compliant bishops in arrangements that might be disturbed by Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI displayed eagerness to mend the split soon after taking over the Vatican. But his zeal seems to have waned, Lam observed. Meanwhile, conservatives in the Chinese party leadership, backed by local bureaus, have prevented a final deal because they are hesitant to abandon the doctrine that the Vatican is a foreign power that should have no authority in China.
Only a strong Chinese leader willing to take a bold initiative could shake the situation loose, Lam predicted, and Hu has never been noted for that kind of leadership.
The handshake in the tea-party photo, he noted, was with a leader of the government-run patriotic church, not a Vatican-approved bishop.
China continues to “move away from traditional Marxist attitudes”, while the US continues to embrace Stalin, Lenin, and Trotsky...er, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.
When China embraces authentic Christians - then we can begin to rejoice that finally those precious Chinese Christians may be able to breathe the air of freedom to worship God in the open.
Didn’t the Chinese government arrest some religious leaders this week? I am sure I read that somewhere.
This is the embrace and destroy tactic the left in America has successfully applied to most of our mainline churches.
Stalin tolerated some religion, provided it was under his control. A realistic politician as well as a dictator.
Don't know but a few months ago there were bodies of Monks laying around in a few rivers, I heard tell.
D@mn pesky vicious Monks./s
“This is the embrace and destroy tactic the left in America has successfully applied to most of our mainline churches.”
Exactly. They take Christianity and remove 20% of core belief.
And then label those who disagree as intolerant.
I am sure they did - they do so most every week.
I want to live to see the day when the Chinese people live in FREEDOM!!!!! But the persecuted Christians in China say do not pray for their persecution to end = but that they may be given strength and boldness in spite of it.
China Releases More House Church Leaders From Labor Camp
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
By BosNewsLife Asia Service
Christians in China are required to worship in the official recognized churces. Via BBC News
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)— China on Wednesday, January 23, released three female house church leaders “unconditionally” from their labor camp in Hubei province, in what their supporters described as “another legal stunning victory.”
China has been under international pressure to improve political and religious rights ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games later this year. The Communist authorities have cracked down on house churches, as they are held outside the government-backed denominations.
Indications of a policy shift may save Christians from persecution on the mainland
BEHIND THE NEWS
Didi Kirsten Tatlow
Jan 26, 2008
For five months, Ma Chao dug ditches and carried rocks in Enshi re-education through labour camp in Hubei province . Then on January 11, he and three fellow prisoners were served a lunch of what he calls “cadre food” - three tasty dishes in a big bowl - instead of the prisoner’s usual corn rice and cabbage soup.
“I knew right then it was our last meal in camp,” Mr Ma said.
After lunch, camp administrators summoned the four men, all pastors with underground Christian churches on the mainland, to their offices. Arrested together in July, they had spent a month in detention before being sentenced to 18 months of labour on charges of membership of a cult, disrupting social order and endangering national laws. The administrators had good news - the men were to be released immediately.
“They told us to live well,” Mr Ma, 36, recalled. “We said we always did. They told us to build a beautiful family. We said we already had that. They drove us to the local bus station. We bought tickets and went home. I rang from the station and my wife and two kids were so excited. It was an incredibly happy homecoming.”
Twelve days later, three female pastors arrested with the men and sentenced to one year in Wuhan women’s labour camp were also released. In all, at least seven people were pardoned and released - a rare move in the mainland’s notorious labour camp system. (The fate of two other women serving sentences outside camp due to family circumstances could not be confirmed, but Mr Ma believed they were pardoned, bringing the total perhaps to nine.)
After almost six decades of severe repression by the officially atheist state, speculation is growing in Christian circles that the government may want to seek accommodation with the mainland’s large and rapidly growing underground “house church” movement.
Pastors and members of house churches meet to worship in private homes and refuse contact with the state-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement - the government-sanctioned Protestant churches - citing their freedom of conscience. The key motivation, said Wang Yi, a Christian and law professor in Chengdu , was a realisation by authorities that their decades-old hardline policy had failed.
“Since 1978, when society opened up to the outside world, the government has tried with a combination of threats and enticements to control the house churches,” he said. “It didn’t work.”
While there are no official figures, the mainland’s house church members, mostly Protestant, outnumber the official Protestant church’s 17 million by at least two to one. Most estimates of China’s Christian population range from 50 to 100 million, and a recent poll by East China Normal University in Shanghai put the number of Christians - Catholics and Protestants - at 40 million.
“The truth is, we don’t know how many people there are in China who believe in Jesus,” said pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese Home Church Alliance. “But there are an awful lot.”
I praise God for these reported releases of these persecutied Christians! I rejoice that they are free to return to their families.
But how many more are still in the Chinese gulags...????
How many more languish in prison cells?
China - set them all free!
Thanks for the good news that, at least, a few have been.
Am not clear with your meaning? Can you elaborate?
In other word, China will only tolerate religion that serves the state. It should be the other way around. Articles like this are for show - meaningless. It's just propaganda in preparation for the olympics.
Persecution won't truly ease in China until Hillary's regime begins persecuting Christians in America.
They are living the Book of Acts today. Give us 30 or so years, and we will be living it here in America.
I think we will have both. Christianity is, 2000 years later, still the most subversive force on the planet.
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