Religious persecution by the Chinese Communist Party has been ongoing since 1949. However, in recent years, controls on religious freedom have been tightened.
The 2009 State Council’s National Human Rights Action Plan seems to show a new stance toward individual rights in China. The action plan condemns religious persecution, detention, and extortion of information by torture, yet these things still happen today. If anything, the CCP is less tolerant of religion.
China's religious policies are contradictory. The National Human Rights Action Plan is supposed to guarantee freedom, but the CCP has laws regarding the illegalities of “evil cults.” What defines that term? The CCP is not forthcoming. They exploit the laws' vagueness in arresting religious practitioners they feel threatened by.
The Chinese Communist Party recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Islam, Daoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Other religions are illegal, and their practitioners are detained or jailed. Although the five religions mentioned above are recognized, the Religious Affairs Bureau maintains control over them. The RAB has institutions that govern each religion’s affairs. Opposition to the CCP these institutions could result in the faction being declared illegal.
Intolerance Towards Minority Religions
Prior to the 2008 Olympics, protests in Lhasa for religious and autonomous freedom turned into rioting. There have already been 5 self-immolations of Tibetan Buddhists who opposed the Communist Party’s stance on Tibet in 2011 alone. Falun Gong (a mixture of Qigong, Buddhism, and Daoism which was declared a “cult” by the CCP in 1995) practitioners have been “re-educated through labor” in Chinese jails, beaten, starved, and even executed for the past 15 years. Islam in Xinjiang is closely monitored: Government employees in the region cannot practice Islam, and teaching of the Koran in private is illegal. Several branches of Christianity have also been persecuted as “cults”.
Why does the Communist Party take such a hard stance toward religion?
Religion in China is growing rapidly: Currently, there are around 70 million Protestants, 12 million Catholics, 8 million Uighur Muslims, and 2.6 million Tibetan Buddhists, plus the millions of followers who practice “illegal” underground religions. Religion greatly influences its practitioners’ lives. The Communist Party fears religion’s influence on the public surpassing their own, which could result in the public opposing the CCP’s legitimacy and power. This is especially true in places like Xinjiang and Tibet, where religion and ethnicity are intertwined and very different from the Han Chinese perception. If these ethnic values and religions begin to override Communist Party ideals, the CCP’s rule could be jeopardized.
The Effects of Persecution on Society
In 2008, Chen Zhiping was abducted and sentenced to prison for eight years. After her arrest, she was denied a lawyer and her daughter was beaten after requesting court documents on the case. Chen was also attacked in prison and forcibly injected with drugs. Chen’s crime: practicing Falun Gong. Chen is one of many in China who are persecuted for their beliefs. The CCP routinely shrugs off criticisms of its human rights record, justifying its harsh policies with cultural relativism – individual rights are less important in China, because it is a traditionally collective society. However, the CCP's actions toward religious believers affect the society as a whole. When the CCP forces a religious follower into political reform, their entire family is torn apart, and they are persecuted by local cadres or shunned by the community. Persecution of religious followers also disrupts their fellow parish members, causing others to fear and resent the CCP’s policies. When tearing families and communities apart in religious persecution, the CCP is destabilizing its own society, which is what it fears.
3. Lai, H.H. “Religious Policies in Post-Totalitarian China: Maintaining Political Monopoly over a Reviving Society.” Journal of Chinese Political Science. 2006. Volume 11, issue 1. Pages 55-57.
4. Reinstein, Ellen. “Turn the Other Cheek, or Demand an Eye for an Eye? Religious Persecution in China and an Effective Western Response.” Connecticut Journal of International Law. October 1, 2004.