Church or Party? Party mouthpiece raps members for religious beliefs
May 28, 2015 by Blog Editor
When it comes to determining party member allegiance, even the forces of the Church have recently emerged as an abhorrent challenge to the Communist Party’s consolidation of power.
The official mouthpiece for China’s Ministry of Supervision, China’s Newspaper for Discipline Inspection and Supervision, has recently published an opinion article warning of a ‘loyalty loss’ among party members who harbor religious beliefs or participate in religious activities.
A worship session being held in Nujiang, Yunnan
The article associated some party members’ lack of efforts in work with their increasing involvement in religious activities and criticized some party officials for taking up leadership roles in religious worship, spelling out the potentially disastrous consequences such activities could create: “If we don’t contain this trend, it will muddle the thinking of the members and collapse the organization”.
Just before the article was published, Wenzhou, a coastal city often dubbed as ‘China’s Jerusalem‘ due to its substantial Christian population, launched a crackdown on party members with religious beliefs and threatened to expel those ‘disqualified’ party members who display little loyalty or ideological faith towards the party.
Party Members : Not Ordinary Citizens?
The Constitution of People’s Republic of China states that:
”Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion”.
However, the article in the party paper continued to stress the fact that:
“Chinese citizens might have the constitutional right to enjoy religious freedom, but members of the communist party are not ordinary citizens. They are the fighter in the vanguard for communist consciousness, they are unswerving Marxists, they are atheists.
Christianity vs State: A Post-Cultural Revolution Phenomenon?
The rise of Christianity in China and the growing tension between the Chinese government and religious groups has stoked much controversy over the past years.
In April 2014, the government demolished a landmark Protestant church in Wenzhou in the name of removing ’illegal construction’, which later sparked a mass protest by local believers. As the ‘birthplace of China’s private economy’, Wenzhou has a vibrant environment for private businesses with the number of private enterprises constituting 99.5% of its entire economy and making up 80% of the city’s total GDP. Possessing a prosperous capitalist economy and a high degree of spatial mobility among individuals, citizens of Wenzhou have greater exposure to international cultures as well as religious values imported from foreign countries.
Many believe that the Christian population in China will continue to grow. A 2011 survey by the U.S.’s Pew Research Center estimated that Mainland China now has roughly 67,070,000 Christians, constituting almost 5% of its entire population. However, since many churches are not operating with a legal, registered status, a precise number of Christians in China is hard to track.
More interestingly, a 2008 study by Pew Research Center based on interviews with over 10,000 adults across China’s 31 provinces found out that Communist Party officials and government employees were the groups that were most interested in obtaining information on religion or religious issues . During the time of socialist collectivization in 1960s, the party used to penetrate its power into communities down to the commune level, exerting influence in almost all aspects of people’s lives, including food distribution, health care and education.
To many people, especially the party cadres, information was limited and religion not in need. Scholars and China watchers believe that China’s post-reform shift to a capitalist market economy and the collapse of Mao’s socialist utopianism have created a yawning ideological vacuum. This in turn fostered the growth of Western religion, attracting many party followers to seek alternative systems of beliefs.
Could China really becomes the “world’s most Christian nation” in a matter of decades? If the Party pulls out all stops to counter this purportedly negative ideological force, as its most recent actions have demonstrated – perhaps not.
By Shirley Zhang
Shirley Zhang obtained her MSc in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science and is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Keith Tan