The Catholic Church in Contemporary China: How Does the New Regulation on Religious Affairs Influence the Catholic Church?
2. Discussions on the Regulation of Religion: An Overview
At its most basic, rule of law refers to a system in which law is able to impose meaningful restraints on the state and individual members of the ruling elite, as captured in the rhetorically powerful if overly simplistic notions of government of laws, the supremacy of the laws, and equality of all before the law.
3. Sinicizing Christianity
3.1. From Yangjiao 洋教 to Sinicized Catholicism
All religions shall adhere to the principle of independence and self-governance; religious groups, religious schools, and religious activity sites and religious affairs are not to be controlled by foreign forces.
Religious groups, religious schools, and religious activity sites must not accept donations from foreign organizations or individuals that have conditions attached, and where the amount donated exceeds 100,000 RMB; it shall be reported to the religious affairs department of the people’s governments at the county level or above for review and approval.
The State, in accordance with the law, protects normal religious activities,17 actively guides religion to fit in with socialist society, and safeguards the lawful rights and interests of religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites and religious citizens.
Religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites, and religious citizens shall abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations and rules; practice the core socialist values; and preserve the unification of the country, ethnic unity, religious harmony, and social stability.
We must develop the socialist theory of religion with Chinese characteristics, […] we must continue to walk the path of socialism with Chinese characteristic; actively practice the core values of socialism, promote Chinese culture, strive to fuse together the religious teachings and Chinese culture.(Xi 2016)
3.2. Catholics as Good Patriotic Citizens
In the everyday experience of a Catholic, the Ten Commandments and the core socialist values are the same. All Christians have the same values: to love the motherland, to love the people, to promote unity, to be unified with the masses, to promote a harmonious society, even to be unified with people with different worldviews and to be united to and protect people who oppose us.[our belief]
In fact, if you are a good Catholic, following the national rules is easy. The laws are just forbidding you to do such things as physically hurt or assault others or steal from them. But our Christian belief demands that we not only act rightly on the outside [to hurt, assault, steal], but at the same time are good on the inside, in our heart. If you are just being a good Catholic, it is enough.(Interview, June 2019)
The unregistered Protestant house churches repeatedly express that they are good citizens. In their apologetic writings, they never forget to mention that they love the country, care about the people, espouse national and ethnic unity, and are very willing to contribute their efforts to the advancement of society. Indeed, the Christian virtues they promote are compatible with the socialist morality which CCP would like to see practiced in Chinese society.
We are all patriotic, all people in China are patriotic [爱国的]. But the situation in the church is specific. We need to respect the particularity of the church. After first obeying the church, we can be truly patriotic and obey the state.(Interview, May 2018)
A good citizen will not go beyond the bounds of the laws and regulations […] [But] if you followed all these regulations, then the Christian gospel would not have spread so widely, because the regulations on public order restrict evangelism. Christians have the life of God, and so we do not have to obey. Because we live for God, so we can violate them.(quoted in Vala 2017, p. 67)
4. Chinese Catholics and the Vatican
- to assist the government in the implementation of law, regulations, rules, and policy; to protect the legal rights of religious citizens;
- to guide religious affairs; to formulate rules and regulations and to supervise their implementation;
- to engage in religious cultural study; to interpret religious canons and doctrine; to construct religious ideology;
- to carry our religious education and training; to educate religious personnel, and to appoint and manage them […].
5. Restriction and Cooperation
Where anyone is dissatisfied with administrative acts taken by the religious affairs departments, they may lawfully apply for an administrative reconsideration; where dissatisfied with the decision of the administrative reconsideration, they may lawfully raise an administrative lawsuit.
It is definitely to be able to develop and spread the Gospel. But in China today, the situation is that many, especially in this region, say our belief is a superstition. In many places, there are just a very few believers or friends of the church, just about one or two families. […] Another thing that I also wish is that relations with the government would develop, as our law declares that it should respect our beliefs.(Interview, April 2018)
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The chapters are: General Provisions, Religious Groups, Religious Schools, Venues for Religious Activities, Religious Professionals, Religious Activity, Religious Assets, Legal Responsibility, Supplementary Provisions.
The legislative framework can be divided into two main components according to who is enacting them: some legal documents are enacted by the National People’s Congress, some by the State Council. This differentiation is important as legal documents overseen by the latter cannot contradict documents overseen by the former. For more detail on which statutes fall into which category, see (Zhuo 2009).
Since 1957, there have been two distinct Catholic groups within the PRC: the (official) CCPA under the control of the Communist Party, and the underground church (dixia 地下) loyal to the Vatican.
Anyway, there are several cases when laity are engaged in church-state affairs. The assumption of their passivity is mostly focusing on the issues connected to their involvement with managing the church.
Since the 18th CCP National Congress, the term ‘rule of law’ (fazhi 法治) has been associated with other terms said to represent the core values of socialism in China: prosperity (fuqiang 富强), democracy (minzhu 民主), civility (wenming 文明), harmony (hexie 和谐), freedom (ziyou 自由), equality (pingdeng 平等), justice (gongzheng 公正), patriotism (aiguo 爱国), dedication (jingye 敬业), integrity (chengxin 诚信) and friendship (youshan 友善). The terms are used in official state propaganda and are promoted in schools and displayed in numerous public places.
Formerly a research analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence, Jessica Batke is an expert on political and social affairs in China. She is currently senior editor of ChinaFile.
For example, Batke noticed that ‚national security (guojia anquan 国家安全) is cited three times in the new regulations versus one time in the old [version], which led her to conclude that national security is an urgent issue in modern-day PRC.
The incorporation of SARA into the United Front Work is an important change as the office is now directly under the leadership of the CCP.
According to an article written by the priest Li Zhiyi on how core socialist values are mirrored in basic Catholic teaching.
This does not necessarily mean to support the CCPA, but to support the regime and its civil laws and regulations. See Message of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Catholics of China 2010; Apostolic Journey to Pakistan, Philippines I, Guam, Japan, Anchorage 1981.
Richard Madsen suggests that the CCP regarded Catholics as especially problematic because of their hierarchical connection to the Vatican (Madsen 2017, p. 28). From 1951, foreign missionaries began to be expelled from the PRC. Around 5000 Catholic priests and nuns were forced to leave China; many other members of the Catholic clergy were imprisoned. For more information, see (Charbonnier 2010, pp. 214–46).
The PRC is not the only country which is currently dealing with the problem of religious funding. It has been reported in the press that Germany is taking steps against unchecked financial transactions between the entities sending funds and those receiving them. In Germany’s case, the money is coming from Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf states. Germany wants to set new obligations on donors, including the need to register any funds they wish to send to German mosques. Germany’s home secretary Horst Seehofer stated that by adopting these policies, Germany intends to arrest foreign influence with regard to Germany’s mosques. See (Goebel 2018).
In interviews, several atheist university students mentioned that in their view, certain religions promote separatism and endanger national unity. One such student stated: “[While] Buddhism in China teaches you to love your country, […] some religions, for example Christianity, maybe not. […] Especially in Tibet. Some religions in Tibet teach people to betray our country, […] to support America, not our country.” The student connected Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity with separatist ideas. According to another recent piece of research on student opinions concerning religion, Li Miao, Lu Yun and Yang Fenggang discovered that among the major religions Catholic Christianity and Islam are held in lowest regard (Li et al. 2018, p. 8).
There are, however, many believers and non-believers who do not perceive Catholicism this way anymore. But for the interviewed clergy, the problem of ‘foreignness’ of the Catholicity was mentioned several times as an issue they have to face.
The term refers to a process whereby religious dogma, liturgy, rules and behavior are interpreted and explained in such a way as to fit Chinese society and conform to goals which further the development of the PRC. The official translation is that Chinese religions have to be ‘Chinese in orientation’, but authors such as Benoît Vermander insist on the term ‘sinicization’ (Vermander 2019).
Bold type in original.
The PRC pledges to protect ‘normal religious activities’ (zhengchang de zongjiao huodong 正常的宗教活动). The problematic aspect of this term is the lack of any clear explanation. Some suggests ‘normal’ should be seen as ‘legal’ and as far as the government officially recognizes a religious group, it is considered authorised and labelled as ‘normal’ (Zhu 2010, pp. 491–92), but the right to decide what defines ‘normal religious activities’ belongs to the state, not to the religious communities (Penny 2012, p. 20). Consequently, this terminological ambiguity is beneficial for the regime. In general, the abstract nature of the rules which are later applied by the state leadership in pursuit of their own agenda is inherently linked to the rule by law (Castellucci 2007, p. 63). If that is the case, the state has at its disposal a tool which effectively helps them to regulate all religious activity within its borders.
The Catholic and Protestant associations added the term ‘patriotic’ (aiguo 爱国) to their official name to further express their devotion and loyalty to the regime.
For examples, please refer to the next page on how the Ten Commandments are compared to the core socialistic values by priest Li.
To enrol in a seminary, an applicant must provide a letter signed by both parents approving of his desire to become a Catholic priest. Without this approval, the seminary would not take him (Interview, April 2018). When asked about this rule, one nun later explained: ‘You need to have approval, but it does not mean that if [the applicant’s] parents are not Catholics he would not get that approval. There are some who would agree, but some would not. Some mothers, if they are non-believers, cannot accept their sons becoming priests. There was one priest whose mother even committed suicide because of his decision. So, for this reason, you need the approval,’ (Interview, May 2018). Accepting any foreign religious system can violate the norms of family life, and have a negative impact on relations with family members (N.-J. Chen 2003, p. 342). Becoming a Catholic priest, who needs to accept celibacy, might be seen as unfilial.
In the interview the priest refered mostly to regulations agains violence and crime.
The Catholic church in China has been divided since 1957, when Chinese Catholics loyal to the CCP established the CCPA and started to elect its own bishops without approval from the pope; the organization declared total independence from the Vatican (Madsen 1999). At the same time, the Vatican has long refused to recognize bishops elected by any other authority. Since 1957, there have been two Catholic bodies within the PRC: the CCPA under the control of the government, and the underground church loyal to the pope. Discussions about cooperation between the Vatican and the PRC began during the papacy of John Paul II, and successive popes have increasingly given their approval to bishops elected by the CCPA (Chu 2014, p. 147; Leung and Wang 2016, p. 467).
Four days after the agreement was signed, Pope Francis conciliated seven bishops elected by the CCP who had not previously obtained papal approval, requested underground bishops to abdicate from their positions in favor of bishops elected by the CCPA, and has consistently advocated on behalf of the unification of the underground and open churches in China. See (Message of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church 2018). After the signing of the agreement and the Pope’s message, several opposing voices have been raised. Many criticise the Pope for seeking an alliance with a totalitarian regime such as the PRC (Ucanews 2018b).
Nonetheless, in June 2019 it is possible to order a Bible on Taobao, a Chinese online shopping platform, in both English and Chinese.
For example, during a pilgrimage to Sheshan basilica in Shanghai in 2018 many leaflets were given to the visitors. This year, no materials were prepared, and the pilgrimage was restricted to a smaller area.
The campaign began in 2013 and was officially finished in 2016. One of the churches visited had been built just before the announcement of the ‘3+1 campaign’ (san gai yi chai 三改一拆)—suggesting that one in four buildings would be demolished (Yang 2017, p. 87). Open churches were not so much affected by the campaign as the official targets were buildings belonging to unauthorised churches (N. Cao 2017, p. 30).
Occasions when an administrative decision is required (Religious Affairs Regulations. 7 July 2004, as amended on 26 August 2017) include:
For the legislative framework on this topic, see: Law of the People‘s Republic of China on Administrative Reconsideration. 29 April 1999. Available at: http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/11/content_1383562.htm.
This has, however, become less common since the end of 2018. In the churches visited in March–May 2018, it was an exception for children to attend mass, but in May 2019, at the same churches, parents with small children were taking part in weekly meetings. Children were aged between one and ten years; older children had the content of the mass explained to them. These were not likely to have been newcomers to the church; the arrival of any new parents with children is possibly the outcome of the gradual connecting of the underground and official Catholic churches as these families might originally have been members of an underground church. This is only an assumption—we have not conducted interviews with these new church members.
The law prohibits proselytising among children, but it is common for religious parents to introduce their faith to their children (Yang 2006, p. 97).
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Masláková, M.; Satorová, A. The Catholic Church in Contemporary China: How Does the New Regulation on Religious Affairs Influence the Catholic Church? Religions 2019, 10, 446. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070446
Masláková M, Satorová A. The Catholic Church in Contemporary China: How Does the New Regulation on Religious Affairs Influence the Catholic Church? Religions. 2019; 10(7):446. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070446Chicago/Turabian Style
Masláková, Magdaléna, and Anežka Satorová. 2019. "The Catholic Church in Contemporary China: How Does the New Regulation on Religious Affairs Influence the Catholic Church?" Religions 10, no. 7: 446. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070446