In my Chinese Politics class, we’ve also spent some time talking about the politics of religion. While China has official freedom of religion, stringent rules surrounding the expression of different religions means that, in practice, religion is very controlled. China’s authoritarian government is very concerned about people having allegiance to any religious figure or moral code above the government itself.
Religious groups must be registered with the state, and are then restricted in terms of public observations of faith, recognition of religious authorities, content of religious messages, and more. Some religions, like Buddhism-based Falun Gong, are outright banned. For others, like Christianity, the restrictions have led to the proliferation of underground religious groups like house churches.
When I studied abroad in Beijing, I was interested in attending a house church, but was told that it is dangerous for house churches to allow non-citizens because foreigners are so much more closely monitored by the government. I attended one service at a Three Self Patriotic Church (the only official Protestant association in the country). For most of my time in Beijing, I attended an international church, which was required by law to post a sign barring Chinese nationals from entering.
While the Chinese government is fairly hostile to Christianity, its treatment of Islam is egregious. As a part of the recent “Strike Hard” campaign, the government has been cracking down on Islam in Xinjiang, a majority-Muslim province in northwest China. Under the claim of protecting China from terrorism, the campaign involves the criminalization of Islamic religious activities and the detention of practicing Muslims in concentration camps. As of this year, it is estimated that 1 million Muslims are being held in these camps.
Although China has been receiving pushback from the international community for their human rights violations, there seems to be no softening of religious policy in sight. Meanwhile, the increase in underground religious organizations provides the means for organization against the government.