The Communist Party of China (CPC) has once again chosen to set its sights on religion in its constant battle against state subversion.
Earlier this week, Party officials reiterated the significant role which atheism plays in maintaining the strength and integrity of the Communist Party. Members of the CPC have officially been instructed to abandon their religious beliefs. Those who disobey are to be punished.
According to the Global Times, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), announced that “Party members should be firm Marxist atheists, obey Party rules and stick to the Party’s faith… they are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion.”
Party members are also expected to refrain from participating in or supporting any sort of religious activity, even if they are doing so in the hopes of promoting diversity and economic growth. Zhu Weiqun, the chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, believes that possessing religious beliefs threatens the CPC on a fundamental level. On Tuesday, Zhu talked to the Global Times, warning that those who have supported religious practices under the guise of helping the CPC have “undermined the Party’s values based on dialectical materialism.”
While China is officially recognized as an atheist state, it still provides its citizens with a measure of religious freedom. But in recent years, it has become clear that that “freedom” does not apply to Party members. In 2015, a CPC newsletter published an article stating that “Chinese citizens have the freedom of religious belief, but Communist Party members aren’t the same as regular citizens; they are fighters in the vanguard for a communist consciousness.”
Since then, Party members have been subject to increased scrutiny about their personal values. Last year, Wang Qishan, Politburo Standing Committee member and Secretary of China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), warned cadres against believing in “ghosts and supernatural beings” because such beliefs undermine the founding principles of socialism. This March, the government in Xinjiang launched a crackdown on various religious “behaviors,” including growing “abnormal” beards and wearing veils. Then, in April, a local official was demoted for his “timidity in fighting against religious extremism.” The offense behind this infraction? He refused to smoke in front of religious leaders in his community.
The CPC has a particularly strong aversion to Judeo-Christian religions, which are often viewed as proponents of Western imperialism. In his conversation with the Global Times, the director of the SARA made this clear when he added that “some foreign forces have used religion to infiltrate China, and extremism and illegal religious activities are spreading in some places, which have threatened national security and social stability.”
But, Wang Zuoan did offer some advice as to how religion can be acknowledged in an atheist state: “Religions should be sinicized… We should guide religious groups and individuals with socialist core values and excellent traditional Chinese culture and support religious groups to dig into their doctrines to find parts that are beneficial to social harmony and development.”
Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Chongqing Committee, also believes that other religions, such as Islam and Christianity, can be adapted to align with Party beliefs, and “Chinese customs,” making them a more tolerable aspect of society, reports the Global Times.
For those who are strongly attached to their spirituality, these new restrictions are particularly worrisome. It’s not clear what these new “punishments” might entail, but expulsion from the Party is not out of the question.
One thing’s for certain: the CPC still has a particularly strong aversion to any external forces which may dictate people’s world views and moral values.
By Emma Abrams
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