Religious Freedom – China

Click here to read the report with citations.


The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states that citizens of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. Yet, the reality for many in China could not be more different. The persecution of religious communities in China is rampant and one of the worst in the world. The last year and a half has seen religious persecution take on more stringent and invasive forms through new regional and national regulations and tougher restrictions regarding the religious training of children. The following overview captures some of these changes and demonstrates China’s continued refusal to implement Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

  • In April of 2016, the Communist Party of China (CPC) held a National Conference on Religious Work, the first of its kind in 15 years. President Xi warned against “overseas infiltrations through religious means” and called for the sinicization of religions or adoption of Chinese characteristics.” He stated that:

Religious groups should “merge religious doctrines with Chinese culture, abide by Chinese laws and regulations, and devote themselves to China’s reform… and socialist modernization in order to contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.”

  • In 2016, certain groups of Uyghur Muslims in China were blocked from observing Ramadan. Restaurants and grocery stores were forced to remain open and ordered to serve alcohol. According to Radio Free Asia, up to 5000 mosques may have been destroyed in Xinjiang in a three month period. A new Xinjiang law in November of 2016 further restricted the religious freedom of Uyghur children. Under this law, parents who “lure” their children into religious activities would be reported. Children would be sent to specialized schools for reform under the amended Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency Law.
  • 2016 saw Chinese authorities undertake a program of demolitions and evictions at the Larung Gar monastic complex in Serta county, Sichuan with a plan to reduce the population of Tibetan Buddhist Monks from 10,000 to 5,000 by September 2017. There were reports of public protests over land grabs in rural areas including one in Gansu in May.
  • Xi Jinping stated in April, close to the 17th anniversary of the start of the campaign against Falun Gong practitioners, that it would be in the Chinese regime’s interests to “amicably settle reasonable and lawful appeals by the masses” who submit petitions. The U.S. Department of State noted that 80 Falun Gong practitioners died in custody or shortly after arrest in 2016.
  • Protestant Christians continued to see churches and crosses demolished under the campaign called “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” which began in 2013-2014. An estimated 1,200 to 2,000 crosses have been destroyed under this campaign. An unnamed official in the newspaper China Daily stated that the demolitions came as part of a three year plan “to refurbish homes, factories and village buildings and to demolish illegal construction, to further support economic development.”

The persecution of religious communities in China continued to worsen in 2017.

  • The Xinjiang People’s Congress passed its first local law in March characterizing 15 forms of extremism which, according to Xinhua, a state-run news agency, includes marriage or divorce through religious rather than legal means and depriving children of the right to national education.
  • Various cities in Xinjiang already had bans on women wearing veils and restricted men with abnormal beards from riding public transportation. The new law passed in March applies to the whole region of Xinjiang and bans Muslim baby names that are deemed extreme.
  • There were also reports that CPC officials visited Uyghur households for as long as 15 days under a campaign called “Together in Five Things”, where Muslims would undergo interrogation of their ideological views and be prevented from fasting and praying during Ramadan.
  • In March, new orders were in place for an accelerated demolition of the Larung Gar monastic complex in Serta county, Sichuan. By March 16, a senior abbot at the complex confirmed that more than 4,800 residents had been evicted.
  • In July 2017, the CPC released a mandate to 90 million members stating that members must disavow personal religious beliefs and refuse to support religious activities. According to the news outlet Global Times, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, wrote in an article released in the CPC Central Committee flagship magazine Qiushi Journal:

” Party members should not have religious beliefs, which is a red line for all members … Party members should be firm Marxist atheists, obey Party rules and stick to the Party’s faith … they are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion.”

Wang also wrote:

“Religions should be sinicized … We should guide religious groups and individuals with socialist core values and excellent traditional Chinese culture and support religious groups to dig into their doctrines to find parts that are beneficial to social harmony and development,”

  • UCA News, an independent catholic news outlet in Asia, reported that Chinese media held an emergency video conference in Hunan province in June 2017 on ways to stabilize the education system. The article stated that the head of the Education Bureau, Liang Guochao said the decision to stabilize the education system is a “decisive effort to prevent religions infiltrating into schools and to guide students to consciously resist religious cults so as to make the campus a piece of pure land.”
  • Over a hundred churches in Wenzhou, a largely Christian Zhejiang province received notices that children would be banned from attending Sunday school classes this past August.
  • The US State Department reports that in June 2016, a Huaqui Church in Guizhou Province sent notices to parents threatening that if their children did not stop attending house churches, they would not be able to take gaokao college entrance examinations or enter the military. Church members would be sued if they did not sign a document saying they would no longer take minors to church.
  • In August, the evangelization of children was restricted further with hundreds of churches in Zhejiang Province receiving notices from Chinese officials stating that children were not allowed in churches.
  • A notice in the Ouhai district of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province stated that `Minors receiving religious education and formation too early in churches would seriously affect the normal implementation of the education system.`
  • Children and teens have also been banned from attending Christian camps in Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Henan provinces, as well as the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia.
  • On September 7th, China’s State Council updated regulations that were originally put in place in 2005. The regulations come into effect on February 2, 2018. These regulations put tougher restrictions on unregistered religious groups, on those teaching religion and traveling abroad for training. The regulations also place new restrictions on religious freedom and activity including online discussion, gatherings, financing and construction of religious buildings. According to Amnesty International, people on unauthorized religious travel abroad could face fines of up to 200,000 RMB (30,000 USD). A link to the English translation of the draft legislation can be found here: Religious Affairs Regulations 2007.
  • However, in some cases, persecution has produced a consistent growth in numbers. In the case of Christianity, and according to the Director of the Center of Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, Fenggyang Yang, Protestantism has been growing in China by more than 10 percent every year since 1980.

China is escalating its control over all religious activity. Interference with China`s education system demonstrates that training leaders to join the ranks of the CPC is the priority. China must respect the international standards for religious freedom as expressed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

We call on China to implement religious freedom for its citizens. We should not forget the many brave individuals who have stood firm in their beliefs despite fierce persecution. This has been exemplified across faiths in China.




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