According to the state-run Global Times tabloid, the flag-raising ceremony was a first for the 1,500-year-old temple, known across the globe as the birthplace of kung fu. The event was attended by scores of the temple’s monks as well as local officials from the United Front Work Department, a group which oversees China’s five officially sanctioned religions.
The ceremony follows a religious affairs conference in Beijing in July, at the end of which the United Front Work Department called on religious venues around the country to increase their patriotic awareness by raising the national flag on China’s National Day and at important religious events in order to emphasize that “the fates of the party, the nation, and the people are bound tightly together.”
Following the conference, religious venues were required to begin putting up China’s national flag at prominent locations, making sure that the red-and-yellow flag is ahead of religious flags in any row. The raising of the national flag will be used to evaluate if a temple or church is indeed a “harmonious,” officially-sanctioned institution.
The Global Times quotes the Shaolin Temple as stating that raising the flag would aid those involved in increasing their awareness as Chinese citizens and help them “better practice socialist core values and stick to the way of the sinicization of religions by integrating religious doctrines into Chinese culture.”
Another temple official was quoted as saying the new government requirement will “bring the Constitution, new law, socialist core values and excellent traditional Chinese culture into religious venues.”
An officially atheistic state, religion is viewed with suspicion by China’s ruling party and Communist Party members are instructed to abandon their religious beliefs or face punishment. In recent years, there has been a religious revival in China and government officials have been busy trying to figure out how to make this spiritual comeback work for them.
“Religions are exclusive,” reads a Global Times editorial published earlier this month. “The key to make them live in harmony is to sustain their national identity. If the shared sense of national identity collapsed, the country would be divided or even lurch toward war… Without a stable country as the foundation of religious belief, religion will only cause division.”
[Images via Shaolin Monastery]