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Chinese government entities divided on religious reform

NANJING, China, (BP)–Tensions have surfaced between two Chinese government entities charged with regulating religion, Compass Direct news service reported Feb. 10, citing sources in Beijing.

The tensions involve:

— The cumbersome structure of religious control through the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) and the various “patriotic” religious associations such as the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council.

— The United Front Work Department (UFWD), which is responsible for the overall control of religious policy under the communist government. The UFWD has signaled a willingness to take a liberal approach, giving rise to China’s new “open door” policies and a respect for the rights of religious believers.

In particular, the UFWD is willing to allow Christian house churches to register directly with the government, therefore bypassing the official Three Self Patriotic Movement. Three Self churches are regarded with suspicion by many Chinese Christians, who see them as a tool of the Communist Party. For this reason, most house churches refuse to register under the Three Self umbrella.

The RAB, which has a vested interest in maintaining strict ideological control of religion, bitterly opposes the UFWD’s more liberal leanings.

As the new government of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao struggles to create an identity separate from the looming presence of former President Jiang Zemin, religious policy seems to be on hold and major reforms are unlikely.

This was reflected in an article published in the Communist Party mouthpiece, People’s Daily, in November. The author, a Marxist academic, insisted that religion is only an “illusory reflection” of society. He added that the party is adamantly opposed to all theistic beliefs and wedded to atheism.

He also said religion and science are fundamentally opposed, and that “religion will ultimately die out.” The masses still must be “liberated from the oppression of religion.”

Applauding the Communist Party’s religious policies, the writer grudgingly admitted that the persecution suffered by religious followers during the Cultural Revolution was “something of an exception.”

The writer labeled both Protestantism and Catholicism as tools used “for the invasion of China.” He attacked missionary work in China, both past and present, as “an anti-communist bulwark and the advance guard of capitalism.”

The writer praised the repressive policies of Jiang Zemin; in particular: his dogma that the party must “actively guide religion to mutually adapt with socialist society.”

The names of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, China’s present top leadership, were conspicuously absent — a signal that Jiang Zemin’s repressive and conservative policies on religion still hold sway, at least among party diehards.

Hu Jintao, however, has been quoted as stating at the Communist Party’s Jan. 16-17 Politburo meeting that unless the party undertakes serious reforms in line with reality, it could disappear from this stage of history.
Adapted from a Compass Direct report by correspondent Xu Mei. Used by permission of Compass Direct, based in Santa Ana, Calif., and on the Web at www.compassdirect.org.

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  • Xu Mei