Western media reports on the relationship between state and religion in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), American media especially often focuses on the anti-religious repression and violence in the Tibetan Autonomous and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions on the western border of the country. These accounts shape a particular understanding of the PRC that fuels mistrust and misunderstanding. This essay seeks to understand elements that contribute to this journalistic orientation first by looking at government documents that outline the legal parameters for the practice of religion for both citizens and foreigners; second, by examining official U.S. oversight and critique of these; and finally, by considering accounts of accommodation and cooperation between the official institutions and religious practitioners and organizations. The PRC documents include two White Papers on official policies and a memorandum on religious charity work, “Provisions” for foreigners and “Regulations” for Chinese citizens. Also included will be critical analyses and commentaries from the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor within the State Department. Finally, accounts of the evangelical Christian Gospel Rehab in Yunnan and various Hui Muslim communities and individuals in Dubai will illustrate the multiple strategies used by the government in handling religious groups. The records suggest that the mistrust and misunderstanding between the two powers grow out of vastly different assumptions, perspectives and interpretations of the situation. They show that the PRC and the U.S. are very far apart in their understanding of religion in mainland China. While the communist state understands itself to be fighting separatists and terrorists in the western border regions in order to maintain security, peace and stability in the country, the Americans see the Chinese as persecuting religious and ethnic minorities.
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