Religion in China Then and Now

Religion in China then and now compares 1724 AD to 2018: 

In 1724, the Yongzheng Emperor[1] received a letter from Dominique Parennin, a French Jesuit missionary, invited him into the Palace and explained his thinking on tolerating foreign religions. To this day, Chinese government policy has change little.

You say that your law is not a false law, 非左道, and We believe you. If We thought that it was false what would have held Us back from razing your churches and expelling you from the empire?

False laws are those which, on the pretext of teaching virtue, fan the spirit of revolt, as is the case with the White Lotus[2] Teaching.

But what would you say if We were to dispatch a group of monks and lamas to your country to preach their doctrines? How would they be received? Your Matteo Ricci came to China in the 1572 and We will not discuss what the Chinese at that time did since We are not responsible for that. Then you were but few in number and it hardly mattered. You did not have your people and churches in all provinces. It was only under the reign of my father that you began to build churches everywhere and that your doctrines started to spread rapidly. We observed this, but we said nothing.

You may have known how to deceive Our Father, but don’t think you can deceive Us in the same way. You wish to make the Chinese all Christians and this is what your law demands. We know this very well. But in this case what would become of Us? Should We not soon become merely the subjects of your kings?

The converts you have made already recognize nobody but you and, in troubled times, they would listen to no other voice than yours. We know that at present We have nothing to fear but, when foreign ships start coming in their thousands and tens of thousands, maybe serious disorders will arise then.

China’s experience with religions has been long and its fruits bitter. A century after the emperor explained his dilemma the Christian Taiping Rebellion killed thirty-million Chinese and so weakened the country that it was unable to defend itself when foreign ships started coming in their thousands and tens of thousands. Today, the government is neither more nor less tolerant of religion than the Yongzheng Emperor. People can practice their religion privately but not proselytize it publicly yet, though this is far more restrictive than American practice, it does not imply that China has put individual rights on hold. After ratifying the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it even pulled ahead of the US by ratifying, in 1997, the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and passed laws, trained police, schooled judges, curbed prosecutors, disciplined officials, improved political, social, economic, and cultural development and strengthened minority rights.


[1] ‘Yongzheng’s Conundrum. The Emperor on Christianity, Religions, and Heterodoxy’, Menegon. An Emperor Confronts Christianity and the Heterodox, Part II: Eugenio Menegon on Qing emperor Shizong 世宗 (Aisin Gioro Injen), generally known by his reign title Yongzheng (雍正 hūwaliyasun tob, r.1722-1735).
[2] A revolutionary secret society founded in the 14th century.

China calls on all mosques to raise national flag

BEIJING: All Chinese mosques should raise the national flag to “promote a spirit of patriotism” among Muslims, the country’s top Islamic regulatory body has declared, as the Communist Party seeks to tighten its grip on religion.
Flags should be hung in a “prominent position” in all mosque courtyards, the China Islamic Association said in a letter published Saturday on its website.

This would “further strengthen the understanding of national and civic ideals, and promote a spirit of patriotism among Muslims of all ethnic groups”, it read.

Mosques should also publicly display information on the party’s “core socialist values”, and explain them to devotees via Islamic scripture so that they will be “deeply rooted in people’s hearts”, it said.

The China Islamic Association is a government-affiliated body and has the sole power to accredit imams.

The letter comes on the heels of China’s newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, which came into effect in February and prompted rights groups to voice concern for religious freedoms.

The new regulations intensified punishments for unsanctioned religious activities and increased state supervision of religion in a bid to “block extremism” and tackle what Beijing sees as internal threats.

Mosque staff should organise study of the Chinese constitution and other relevant laws — particularly the new religious regulations, the letter said.

They should also study Chinese classics and set up courses on traditional Chinese culture, while being sure to focus only on Muslim sages of Chinese rather than foreign origin, it added.

The goal, it said, was for mosques to become “a solid platform for the study of the party and the country’s laws and policies” in addition to houses of worship, and thereby develop among Muslims “an understanding of a common Chinese identity” with the majority Han.

Islam is one of the five religions officially recognised by the atheist Communist party. The country is home to some 23 million Muslims.

But restrictions on them are intensifying, particularly in the northwestern province of Xinjiang which is home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, where there are bans on beards and public prayers.

Tens of thousands of Uighurs have been sent to shadowy detention and re-education centres for perceived offences and can be held indefinitely without due process.

Authorities say the restrictions and heavy police presence in Xinjiang are intended to control the spread of Islamic extremism and separatist movements, but analysts say the region is becoming an open-air prison.

Religion in China Then and Now!

Written by Godfree
Visiting China and studying it since 1967. Interested in its culture, politics, education and economy.