A new PEW research study has ranked China at the top of its Government Restrictions Index (GRI) out of 198 nations, noting that the Asian nation is the worst violator of religious freedom in the world. In fact, China has been at the top of the list every single year since the annual study began. In 2018, the Asian nation received a peak score of 9.3/10 on the GRI.
China and religion
The report states that the Chinese government has banned certain religions like Falun Gong, prohibited some religious practices, raided religious places of worship, and even tortured individuals who have professed their faith in a particular religion. It also exposed how the Chinese government detained up to 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang Province in 2018.
Dr. Tsering Topgyal, Assistant Professor in International Relations, University of Birmingham, notes that the Chinese constitution actually has a provision for religious freedom. However, there is a discrepancy when it comes to implementing the policy since the Chinese government actively restricts the propagation of religions. He states that under Xi Jinping’s rule, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been trying to co-opt religions to align with the interests of the Party and the state.
“If you look at issues of Tibet, Xinjiang, and policies toward Buddhists and Muslims we can see that there is a clear agenda of sinicisation. Under Xi-Jinping, the CCP has pushed sinicisation of religion or shaped all religion to conform to the doctrines of the official party and the customs of the major population,” he said, as reported by the Central Tibetan Administration.
In October, the religious affairs department of the city of Putian in southeastern China spent around US$75,000 to convert the first floor of a church into a “Civilization Practice Station for a New Era.” The CCP has been setting up such propaganda centers all across rural China as a way to embed Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics into people’s minds. Such centers aim to strengthen the influence of the party at the grassroots level and are often used to make religious believers give up their faith and follow the CCP.
The Chinese government has also been destroying numerous Buddhist statues. In May, a 90-foot tall statue of the Buddha in Jinjia town was covered by new construction. In February, a 39-foot tall statue of Guanyin, a Buddhist bodhisattva, was demolished. One source stated that the Chinese government wants to wipe out all religions since they challenge the authority and influence of the Communist Party. Last year, a copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in Fushun City that was built at a cost of around US$1.5 million was ordered to be removed by the government. Even though some residents filed a petition requesting the officials not to destroy the statue, authorities threatened to arrest those who protested against the decision.
According to media reports, China is promoting atheism in Tibet with the aim being to weed out Buddhism. To this effect, the Party is asking beneficiaries of anti-poverty measures to curb their spending on religion, teaching them that being religious is “a bad old habit.”
Pictures of the Dalai Lama, which were once common in many Tibetan homes, have been banned. Instead, framed posters of President Xi Jinping have been put up in people’s homes. The governor of Tibet stated that people put more attention to the afterlife and that their desire to better their current life is weak. He believes that it is the government’s duty to “fix” such people’s minds.