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How Xi Jinping is attacking religion in China



xi jinping protesters
is increasingly cracking down on religion under President Xi

EnginKorkmaz/iStock, Etienne
Oliveau/Getty Images, Samantha Lee/Business

  • China has been increasingly cracking down on
    Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists.
  • Authorities are subjecting Muslims to an unprecedented
    amount of surveillance, shutting down Christian churches, and
    forcing monks to pledge allegiance to the state.
  • The officially atheist Chinese Communist Party
    disapproves of all kinds of grassroots organizations as they
    are seen to undermine its grip on power.

China is waging an unprecedented war on religion.

Over the past year alone, China has detained Muslims because of
their faith, forced Buddhists to pledge allegiance to the Chinese
Communist Party, and coerced Christian churches to take down
their crosses or shut down.

china uighur uyghur security checkpoint police
authorities have subjected the majority-Muslim Uighur ethnic
group, which is based in Xinjiang, to an unprecedented amount of
surveillance. Here a mural in Yarkland, Xinjiang, in 2012 says:
“Stability is a blessing, Instability is a

Eric Lafforgue/Art in All
of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

The sinicization of religion

The Party, which is officially atheist, has for decades attempted
to control religious organizations to maintain its dominance.

Its State
Administration for Religious Affairs
, set up in 1951, allows
five religious organizations to exist under the state’s control:
a Party-sanctioned form of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam,
Protestantism, and Catholicism.

The state controls these groups’ personnel, publications, and
finances. Technically, citizens are free to practise religion
freely, as long as their sect is officially sanctioned by the

Party officials
in 2015
introduced the term “sinicization” into official
government lexicon, in which they called on Muslim, Buddhist, and
Christian leaders to fuse their religions with Chinese socialist

Roderic Wye, a former first secretary in the British Embassy in
Beijing, told Business Insider: “The party has always had
trouble with religion one way or another, because often religious
activity tends to imply some sort of organization. Once there are
organizations, the party is very keen to control them.”

But under the presidency of Xi Jinping, the government’s
crackdown appears to have increased at an alarming scale.

Read more:

Planting spies, paying people to post on social media, and
pretending the news doesn’t exist: This is how China tries to
distract people from human rights abuses

xinjiang uighur pray
Muslims in Xinjiang said they were arrested for showing
distinct markers of Islam. Here, Uighur men pray before a meal in
Turpan, Xinjiang, in September 2016.

Kevin Frayer/Getty

‘They want to … cut off Islam at the roots’

In the western region of
, the home of the majority-Muslim Uighur ethnic
minority, authorities have
installed a massive police state
and reportedly imprisoned up
to 1 million Uighurs.

Many detainees said they were arrested
for showing distinct markers of Islam
, like wearing a veil or
growing a long beard.

The majority-Muslim Hui people, who are scattered around China,
also fear that the government will extend its crackdown to

In the northern city of Yinchuan, home to the largest
concentration of Hui Muslims in the country, authorities have
banned the daily call to prayer because it apparently created
noise pollution, the South China Morning Post

One unnamed imam in Linxia, central China, also told
Agence France-Presse
in July: “They want to secularize
Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots. These days, children
are not allowed to believe in religion: Only in communism and the

Read more:

China is locking up its Muslim minorities, and pushing
Islamophobia to get Europe to do it too

china underground catholic church
has also been cracking down on “underground” Catholic churches,
such as this one in Jiexi, photographed in March


Monitored services, censored sermons

The crackdown extends beyond Islam.

Authorities have also targeted Christians outside the
state-sanctioned Catholic and Protestant associations by burning
Bibles, shutting down churches, and ordering people to renounce
their faith, the Associated Press

Some churches allowed to remain open have to
install facial-recognition cameras
in the building, or risk
getting shut down. Party officials censor and add state
propaganda to pastors’ sermons, Bob Fu, who runs the US rights
group ChinaAid,
told France24

In September, authorities in China and the Vatican signed an
agreement in which Pope Francis officially recognized seven
Beijing-appointed bishops, who had been excommunicated because
they weren’t approved by the Holy See. Critics
the deal ceded power from the Holy See to the Communist

The loyalties of China’s approximately 10 million Catholics are
split between the Vatican and the state-supervised Chinese
Patriotic Catholic Association. China has about 100 million
Protestants, the Financial Times reported.

Read more:

China is reportedly burning bibles and making Christians renounce
their faith to ensure total loyalty to the Communist

china tiananmen monks
monks wait before the customary flag-lowering ceremony at
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in May 2012.

Feng Li/Getty

Monks raising the flag

Buddhism and Taoism — which has historically deeper roots in East
Asia — is not exempt either.

China restricts religious operations in Tibet, and spiritual
leader the Dalai Lama remains in exile. Activists say the state

monitors the daily activities
of major Tibetan monasteries,

limits believers’ travel and communications
, and has
detained monks
terrorism charges
— not dissimilar from the situation in

Earlier this year, China’s famous Shaolin Temple — an ancient
Buddhist monastery believed to be the birth place of kung fu —

raised the Chinese national flag for the first time in its
1,500-year history
as part of a government campaign to
demonstrate its patriotism.

china shaolin temple flag raising
at the Shaolin Temple raise the Chinese national flag to mark
National Day in October 2018. The ceremony marked the second
time, since August that the Chinese flag was raised in the
temple’s 1,500-year history.

Xiaoqiang/Orient Today via Reuters

‘No other source of moral or social authority is

The Communist Party, keen to maintain its sole grip on power,
disapproves of all kinds of grassroots organizations as they are
seen to undermine it and disrupt internal stability.

Read more:

China’s Communist party violently cracks down on a new group —
student communists

Wye, the former British Embassy official, said China’s keenness
to exert control over religions is also to limit foreign

“There’s always been a concern the Chinese state has had about
the extent of foreign influence over religion and the way foreign
forces might use to manipulate societal thought,” Wye, now an
associate fellow at Chatham House, told Business Insider.

“This is part of the wider ‘China dream’ that Xi Jinping has, to
make China big and strong again,” he added.

“Whatever political and social development China will take
in the future, it is to be decided and promulgated by the Chinese
Communist Party, and no other source of moral or social authority
is tolerated.”

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