Fusion Magazine: The State of Religion in China

Religion has never had much of a home in the People’s Republic of China—at least, not a comfortable one. In a country where journalists are imprisoned, information is strictly controlled and family planning is dictated by the state, it’s no surprise that religious freedom doesn’t exist. What is a surprise is the violent and restrictive way that freedom is suppressed.

Throughout history, Chinese leaders have generally been very hostile to the idea of religion, believing that as people became more educated, science and business would win out over spiritual matters, and atheism would be heralded. The Cultural Revolution, led by Mao Zedong (1966-1976), was designed to change China’s culture for the better. To communist thinkers, that meant eliminating religion. To accomplish this, Buddhist temples were burned to the ground, literature was destroyed and churches were converted to government buildings. But, since the Cultural Revolution, religious restrictions have eased.

In modern times, religion is tolerated, as long as it is sanctioned by the state. The government sometimes even works with religious organizations to provide services to communities. Still, to be a believer in China means to live in a very structured, prohibitive and often dangerous place.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains that everyone is entitled to believe what they wish. And that’s true: You can believe what you want to believe. Until mind-control devices are available, a human being can think what they want in their head. But Chinese citizens are not guaranteed the right to practice what they believe.

Officially, there are five recognized religions in China: Catholicism, Protestantism, Taoism, Islam and Buddhism. Chinese citizens can worship only at a state-approved church or temple; and by "state-approved," that means a religious organization under the control of the government.

The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) controls religious life in the People’s Republic of China. The state controls publications, clergy appointments, finances, property, and what education believers can receive. They also require members of the military to be atheists, and they don’t allow anyone under 18 to receive religious teachings. In short, there is no freedom of religion in China, even if you attend a registered church.

Dr. Tsering Shakya, professor of Tibetan Studies at the University of British Columbia, said in a 2009 Brookings Institution panel discussion that the Chinese philosophy is that "religion has to be contained." It is contained by arrests, detentions, fines, labor camps, disappearances, beatings, extortion, property confiscation, threats and harassment.

EXERCISING CONTROL


HERE ARE A FEW EXAMPLES OF CHINA’S HOLD ON RELIGION:

- Wusiman Yiming, a Christian working for an American-owned company, was sentenced to two years in a labor camp. The American owner of the company, also a Christian, was kicked out of China and had to shut the company down

- Beijing has a law in place that says landlords can be punished if they rent property to those who conduct illegal religious activities

- Shanghai authorities prevented Catholic pilgrims from visiting the Marian Shrine of Sheshan by intimidating diocese members and instituting traffic restrictions

- The female pastor of the Loyalty Christian Church of Yanji, Hao Yujie, was beaten during questioning and charged with organizing an illegal religious gathering

- Beijing bookstore owner Shi Weihan was detained for the illegal publication of Bibles and Christian literature

Much of the persecution is concentrated toward Christians, Muslims and the 18-year-old spiritual movement called Falun Gong.

A widely used penalty for those who worship outside of CCP-approved groups is banishment to a labor camp, which can last for several months or several years. The CCP favors this penalty because it doesn’t require any type of trial to take place. It also doesn’t require any formal charge or review by a judicial system. Local police can show up and put you in a labor camp if they don’t like what you are doing. Once in the camp, you will be told to denounce your beliefs, forced to sing songs of praise to the Communist party, and you will endure sleep deprivation, beatings, and grueling workdays in unsanitary conditions.

Bu Dongwei, a follower of the outlawed religion Falun Gong, was in a labor camp for about a year and a half. He described his experience to Amnesty International as: "Persecution in the labor camp includes torture, forced labor work, deprivation of basic needs, brain-washing, no freedom to go to the restroom, no freedom to wash clothes, bad food and bad living conditions… We were forced to pack disposable chopsticks in very unsanitary conditions. All the chopsticks were put on the ground of the small room and people often stepped on them. Some of those chopsticks are for export." Other labor camp prisoners have reported being burned with cigarettes, forced to sit motionless for long periods of time, and shocked with electric batons, all while being forced to make soap, costume jewelry or plush toys.

Before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the world watched to see if China would relax some of their communist restrictions (especially since they promised when campaigning for the Games they would improve human rights). What they saw was China turning up the heat on house churches and "illegal" religious activity in an effort to create a perfect image for the Games. They also wanted to control the dissemination of information likely to be shared by the many international visitors they were now expecting. China is very uncomfortable with foreigners coming in to proselytize, and they usually limit travelers to carrying only one Bible or Qu’ran per person. Nina Shea, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for Religious Freedom, says "officials fear that contact with foreign co-religionists could encourage a flowering of religious practice that is not sanctioned or controlled by the state."

In an open letter prior to the Olympics, human rights activists Hu Jia and Teng Biao said, "When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people. You will see the truth, but not the whole truth, just as you see only the tip of an iceberg. You may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood."

GROWTH OF HOUSE CHURCHES

An important aspect of religion is the practice, the worship. But people gathering together to worship anything other than the State is a threat to Communism. The government claims to be the ultimate moral, cultural and political authority. Therefore, they have a vested interest in persecuting churches not sanctioned by them because free, enlightened people will begin to mobilize, challenge the state’s ideology and, in some cases, change a society. The Apostle Peter said "We must obey God rather than men." That is death to a repressive regime.

Christians in China are watched closely. China has always looked upon Christianity as a threat to society because it is most closely associated with Western values and democracy. Although there are two official Christian organizations in China—the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council (TSPM/CCC)— Christian religious activities are rigorously monitored and strict regulations are placed on the religion. For instance, the Pope is not recognized as a religious leader; bishops are imprisoned; the one-child rule is enforced whether it goes against your religious beliefs or not; and church materials have to be okayed by the state.

Not surprisingly, in an environment with so much control, many believers simply refuse to go along with what the state wants—so Christians have chosen to go underground for their worship at illegal, unregistered "house churches." Evidence suggests that house church membership is actually much greater than that of state-sanctioned Christian organizations. TSPM/CCC reports that 20 million citizens worship in official churches; yet the Pew Research Center estimates between 50 million and 70 million people attend house churches. Although members of registered churches are just as burdened with restrictions as unregistered ones, "they just aren’t openly persecuted like underground ones," Shea says. Without the backing of the CCP, house church members are subject to mistreatment. They are, after all, doing something the government considers illegal. Church leaders are the most susceptible to arrest, but any member of the congregation is fair game. Sometimes believers are prosecuted on trumped-up charges of illegal business practices; and occasionally the offender is beaten but most are sentenced to "re-education through labor" programs.

This usually entails the offender being sent to a hard labor camp for up to three years.

That was the case in late November 2009, when five house church leaders were arrested and sentenced to two years in a labor camp while they were staging a peaceful protest. Church members were upset that police had raided their facilities a few months prior and were registering their outrage. Now they will spend two years locked away from their families, their congregation, and the world.

Besides the aggression toward Christianity, there are three other religious targets in China:

TIBET

Tibet is the poster child for religious intolerance in China. Religion is extremely important to the Tibetan people; their entire culture revolves around it. They want to be free to worship as they please and they want to allow their children to worship. The PRC has forcibly suppressed the Tibetan people and called the Dalai Lama a "splittist." No one under the age of 18 is permitted to enter the monastery and they cannot elect their own religious leaders. As part of its "patriotic education" campaign, the PRC required nuns and monks to study communist theory several hours a day and sign statements personally denouncing the Dalai Lama. Despite a long history of peaceful protests by members of the monastery, Tibet has become a very volatile and dangerous place due to the religious interference of the PRC. Protestors have disappeared, been detained and beaten and deprived of food and water.

XINJIANG

Because it is located in the westernmost part of China, Xinjiang is predominantly Muslim. The PRC has gone overboard in dictating what residents can do, including banning headscarves for women, requiring men to shave, prohibiting children from engaging in religious activities and restricting Hajj pilgrimages. Many Muslims have been arrested and charged with terrorism or illegal religious activities.

FALUN GONG

The PRC has designated Falun Gong as a cult and, as such, they have launched an unrelenting attack on its followers. Falun Gong is a very new system of beliefs, founded in 1992. Its central tenets are truthfulness, benevolence, and forbearance. Like many new spiritual movements, it draws on core concepts from other religions.

Falun Gong also incorporates modern science and exercise in its teachings. Members of Falun Gong have accused the CCP of torture, forced labor, and even organ harvesting. The PRC has banned the religion and accused its followers of being part of a political movement to overthrow the government.

WHY DO WE CARE?

Aside from wondering where our chopsticks came from the next time we sit down for some Mo Shu pork, China’s violations should bother us because we are human beings; it’s our nature to care. But also, we are officially supposed to care. In 1998, the United States passed the International Religious Freedom Act, making the promotion of religious freedom part of our foreign policy goals. Each year, our State Department lists "Countries of Particular Concern," calling out countries with severe human rights violations as they relate to religious freedom. China has been on this CPC list every year since its inception.

Shea says it is in our national interest to have China stable and free—and also our responsibility. "This is one of our definining principles [religious freedom], and we need to keep this issue as a priority."

Implied approval of activities emboldens China to continue the abuse. In February 2009, Secretary of State Clinton said human rights "shouldn’t interfere" with U.S.-China relations. In October 2009, President Obama refused to meet with the Dalai Lama because he was about to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and he didn’t want to upset U.S.-China relations. However, on Feb. 18, 2010, over strong objections from the Chinese government, Obama did host the Dalai Lama at the White House, but not in the formal setting of the Oval Office. Instead they met in the Map Room, which is part of the residence. The non-political setting was most noticeable when the Dalai Lama was shuffled out of the building past bags of trash on the sidewalk, after Obama expressed "strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity…"

Weak statements and half-hearted attempts at outrage are not going to change the situation. We also can’t pretend to separate China’s economic policies from their social policies. Sophie Richardson, Asia advocate for Human Rights Watch, explains: "This idea that if you are nice to the Chinese Communist Party up front you can cash in later is just wrong. If you lower the bar on human rights they will just move it lower and lower."

HOPE ON THE HORIZON?

The government’s acceptance of charity from religious organizations, allowing CCP members to join state-approved religions, provides evidence that change is happening—however slow it may be. China has adjusted certain religious policies, probably due to the demands of a more global society, international pressures and image concerns. Shea says China learned twin lessons from the fall of the Soviet Union: the economy couldn’t sustain Communism, and the Eastern European churches played a big role in de-legitimizing the Communists. Although China has started to embrace capitalism in some forms, it’s still not comfortable giving up control of political or social organizations—and that includes churches.

We have to put pressure on our government to make religious freedom around the world a priority. Religious freedom is not a government program, so therefore it’s not something the PRC can hand to its citizens. True change will happen when individuals and families push back against Communism, control and oppression. A liberated society requires giving power to the people so they can freely and creatively live their lives, and that means being able to worship as they please. The CCP knows this, and it is their greatest fear.


 


<< Return to the May 2010 Index of Fusion

Carter Page, a former advisor to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, found himself at the center of the Russia probe and had his reputation and career destroyed by what we now know were lies from our own intelligence system and the media.

On the TV show Thursday, Page joined Glenn Beck to speak out about how he became the subject of illegal electronic surveillance by the FBI for more than two years, and revealed the extent of the corruption that has infiltrated our legal systems and our country as a whole.

"To me, the bigger issue is how much damage this has done to our country," Page told Glenn. "I've been very patient in trying to ... find help with finding solutions and correcting this terrible thing which has happened to our country, our judicial system, DOJ, FBI -- these once-great institutions. And my bigger concern is the fact that, although we keep taking these steps forward in terms of these important findings, it really remains the tip of the iceberg."

Page was referencing the report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which revealed that the FBI made "at least 17 significant errors or omissions" in its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications for warrants to spy on Page, a U.S. citizen.

"I think this needs to be attacked from all angles," Glenn said. "The one angle I'm interested in from you is, please tell me you have the biggest badass attorneys that are hungry, starving, maybe are a little low to pay their Mercedes payments right now, and are just gearing up to come after the government and the media. Are they?"

I can confirm that that is the case," Page replied.

Watch the video clip below for a preview of the full-length interview:

The full interview will air on January 30th for Blaze TV subscribers, and February 1st on YouTube and wherever you get your podcast.

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Use code BECK to save $10 on one year of BlazeTV.

On Wednesday's TV show, Glenn Beck sat down with radio show host, author, political commentator, and film critic, Michael Medved.

Michael had an interesting prediction for the 2020 election outcome: a brokered convention by the DNC will usher in former First Lady Michelle Obama to run against President Donald Trump.

Watch the video below to hear why he's making this surprising forecast:

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On Thursday's "Glenn Beck Radio Program," BlazeTV's White House correspondent Jon Miller described the current situation in Virginia after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency and banned people carrying guns at Capitol Square just days before a pro-Second-Amendment rally scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Jon told Glenn that Gov. Northam and the Virginia Legislature are "trying to deprive the people of their Second Amendment rights" but the citizens of Virginia are "rising up" to defend their constitutional rights.

"I do think this is the flashpoint," Jon said. "They [Virginia lawmakers] are saying, 'You cannot exercise your rights ... and instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, we are putting pressure. We're trying to escalate it and we're trying to enrage the citizenry even more'."

Glenn noted how Gov. Northam initially blamed the threat of violence from Antifa for his decision to ban weapons but quickly changed his narrative to blame "white supremacists" to vilify the people who are standing up for the Second Amendment and the Constitution.

"What he's doing is, he's making all all the law-abiding citizens of Virginia into white supremacists," Glenn said.

"Sadly, that's exactly right," Jon replied. "And I think he knows exactly what he's doing."

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Ryan: Trump Louisiana Finale

Photo by Jim Dale

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

At the end of Trump rallies, I would throw on my Carhartt jacket, sneak out of the press area, then blend in with everyone as they left, filing out through swinging doors.

Often, someone held the door open for me. Just 30 minutes earlier, the same person had most likely had most likely hissed at me for being a journalist. And now they were Sunday smiles and "Oh, yes, thank you, sir" like some redneck concierge.

People flooded out of the arena with the stupidity of a fire drill mishap, desperate to survive.

The air smacked you as soon as you crossed the threshold, back into Louisiana. And the lawn was a wasteland of camping chairs and coolers and shopping bags and to-go containers and soda cans and articles of clothing and even a few tents.

In Monroe, in the dark, the Trump supporters bobbled over mounds of waste like elephants trying to tiptoe. And the trash was as neutral to them as concrete or grass. They plodded over it because it, an object, had somehow gotten in their way.

It did not matter that they were responsible for this wreckage.Out in the sharp-edged moonlight, rally-goers hooted and yapped and boogied and danced, and the bbq food truck was all smoke and paper plates.

They were even more pumped than they had been before the rally, like 6,000 eight year olds who'd been chugging Mountain Dew for hours. Which made Donald Trump the father, the trooper, God of the Underworld, Mr. Elite, Sheriff on high horse, the AR-15 sticker of the family.

Ritualistic mayhem, all at once. And, there in Louisiana, Trump's supporters had gotten a taste of it. They were all so happy. It bordered on rage.

Still, I could not imagine their view of America. Worse, after a day of strange hostilities, I did not care.

My highest priority, my job as a reporter, was to care. To understand them and the world that they inhabit. But I did not give a damn and I never wanted to come back.

Worst of all, I would be back. In less than a week.

Was this how dogs felt on the 4th of July? Hunched in a corner while everyone else gets drunk and launches wailing light into the sky? configurations of blue and red and white.

It was 10:00 p.m. and we'd been traveling since 11:00 a.m., and we still had 5 hours to go and all I wanted was a home, my home, any home, just not here, in the cold sweat of this nowhere. Grey-mangled sky. No evidence of planes or satellites or any proof of modern-day. Just century-old bridges that trains shuffled over one clack at a time.

And casinos, all spangles and neon like the 1960s in Las Vegas. Kitchy and dumb, too tacky for lighthearted gambling. And only in the nicer cities, like Shreveport, which is not nice at all.

And swamp. Black water that rarely shimmered. Inhabited by gadflies and leeches and not one single fish that was pretty.

Full of alligators, and other killing types. The storks gnawing on frogs, the vultures never hungry. The coyotes with nobody to stop them and so much land to themselves. The roaches in the wild, like tiny wildebeests.

Then, the occasional deer carcass on the side of the road, eyes splayed as if distracted, tongue out, relaxed but empty. The diseased willows like skeletons in hairnets. The owls that never quit staring. A million facets of wilderness that would outlive us all.

Because Nature has poise. It thrives and is original.

Because silence is impossible. Even in an anechoic chamber, perfectly soundproofed, you can hear your own heartbeat, steady as a drum. A never-ending war.

I put "Headache" by Grouper on repeat as we glided west. We were deadlocked to asphalt, rubber over tarface.

And I thought about lines from a Rita Dove poem titled "I have been a stranger in a strange land"

He was off cataloging the universe, probably,
pretending he could organize
what was clearly someone else's chaos.

Wasn't that exactly what I was doing? Looking for an impossible answer, examining every single accident, eager for meaning? telling myself, "If it happens and matters the next year, in America, I want to be there, or to know what it means. I owe it to whoever cares to listen."

Humans are collectors and I had gone overboard.

Because maybe this wasn't even my home. These landmarks, what did they mean? Was I obvious here? When I smiled, did I trick them into believing that I felt some vague sense of approval? Or did my expressions betray me?

Out in all that garbage-streaked emptiness — despite the occasional burst of passing halogen — I couldn't tell if everything we encountered was haunted or just old, derelict, broken, useless. One never-ending landfill.

Around those parts, they'd made everything into junk. Homes. Roads. Glass. Nature. Life itself, they made into junk.

I cringed as we passed yet another deer carcass mounded on the side of the road.

As written in Job 35:11,

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?

Nobody. Look at nature and you feel something powerful. Look at an animal, in all of its untamable majesty, and you capture a deep love, all swept up in the power of creation. But, here, all I saw were poor creatures who people had slammed into and kept driving. Driving to where? For what reason? What exactly was so important that they left a trail of dead animals behind them?

So I crossed myself dolorously and said an "Our Father" and recited a stanza from Charles Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart"

you can't beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.

Out here, nothing but darkness. Needing some light, by God. Give me something better than a Moon that hides like an underfed coward.

Jade told me about some of the more traumatic things she'd seen while working at the State Fair.

"Bro, they pull roaches out of the iced lemonade jugs and act like nothing happened."

"All right but what about the corn dogs?"

"You do not want to know, little bro."

She looked around in the quiet. "Back in the day, the Louisiana Congress refused to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21," she said. "They didn't want to lose all that drunk gambler money. So the federal government cut off funding to highways."

We glided through moon-pale landscape for an hour before I realized what she had meant. That there weren't any light poles or billboards along the road. Nothing to guide us or distract us. Just us, alone. And it felt like outer space had collapsed, swallowed us like jellybeans.

Like two teenagers playing a prank on the universe.

In the cozy Subaru Crosstrek, in the old wild night, brimming with the uncertainty of life and the nonchalance of failure, we paraded ourselves back to Dallas. Alive in the river silence that follows us everywhere.

New installments come Mondays and Thursdays. Next, the Iowa caucuses. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@blazemedia.com