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Warning party politics and religion don’t mix

HONG KONG (UCAN): An article by Wang Zuoan, the director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, published in Qiushi, a top level influential Chinese Communist Party journal under the title of Be politically minded while doing religious work, warns cadres that adopting religious beliefs is not a private matter.
Qiushi is published by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and specialises in the development of Communist theory.
Chinese media in and outside of China have picked up on his admonition and when specific warnings come from such a high authority, it is widely interpreted as reflecting high level concerns.
However, it is well known that some party officials have become religious followers.
There are an estimated 90 million members of the Communist Party in China, with many joining to enhance their career prospects, but there is no credible estimate of just how many of them have adopted a religious belief.
However, in his lengthy article, Wang notes that this has occurred with some senior Communist Party cadres, not only middle and low-level regime officials. He called for education to induce people to abandon their religious faith or, if they persist, disciplinary action.
Proposing that holding religious beliefs could create political problems, Wang pointedly reminded his comrades not to naively believe that religion is a private matter of an individual.
The upshot is that believers in religion within the Communist Party may face increased official interference in their lives, including problems in their career paths.
Zhu Weiqun, the director of the Committee for Religious and Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, has on several occasions raised the issue of party members and officials embracing religious beliefs.
However, Wang’s 4,000-word article also details other aspects of official policy toward organised religion.
For example, he states that it is necessary for officials to be politically-minded in dealing with religious issues.
A recent example comes in news from Henan and Zhejiang provinces where local officials and schools warned parents not to take their children to Christian churches on Sundays, otherwise the children’s futures would be affected.
In recent years, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has announced that various officials had violated political rules in relation to religious practice.
Now Wang has warned his comrades not to make irresponsible remarks that stray from the official line or criticise Communist Party theory on religious issues.
Refraining from making irresponsible remarks about the party has been pushed since 2015 and outspoken cadres have been dismissed from their posts or otherwise punished.
In addition to officials, casualties include scholars on the government payroll.
Wang stresses that only the Central Committee has the right to make decisions and give explanations in relation to religious issues.
However, frontline officials are the ones who most often deal directly with the nation’s religious followers and they often seek to avoid conflict before they develop into political incidents.
In some cases, such officials simply pretend to be unaware of certain religious activities.
Wang, though, is clearly asking local officials to simply execute orders, leaving the over-all decision-making to the Central Committee.
An incident in Sichuan last November could be an example of this phenomena. Local Catholics did not welcome plans for Bishop Lei Shiyin, who was told by the Vatican that he had incurred automatic excommunication in 2012, to appear at the ordination of new bishops.
This put local officials in a dilemma, as Bishop Lei is the vice chairperson of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. But in the wash up, Bishop Fang Xingyao, the chairperson of the Patriotic Association and consequently with a higher status than Bishop Lei, was invited to preside over the ceremony.
The arrangement was reportedly decided by the central government.
In April 2016, the president, Xi Jinping, stressed that it is necessary to guide religious activities. This seems to reflect concerns that some lower level officials were getting too close to religious groups, to the point of being led by them rather than the party leadership.
That is why Wang’s article reminded officials of the Patriotic Association that their duty is to execute orders.
From this, we can expect a much stricter implementation of Communist Party religious policies in the future that pay little regard to the sentiments of religious followers.
Wong Yat-kwong

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