Rescuing and serving persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

ICC Note: China has consistently sought to control the social life of its citizens, especially in the realm of religion. The state has allowed for certain religious bodies to operate under government oversight and within specific boundaries designated by the government. This high level of government interference in religion has been a perpetual hindrance to religious freedom and has led to numerous cases of direct persecution.
By Magda Hornemann
9/16/2013 China (Forum 18) – The official monopoly over all religious activity by communities of the five state-backed religious headquarter bodies is gradually being eroded, Forum 18 News Service notes. In a system established by China’s communist rulers in the 1950s, only Buddhist, Catholic (independent of the Vatican), Daoist, Islamic and Protestant Christian groups under these headquarter bodies can gain legal status. Russian Orthodox and Jewish leaders have pushed for state recognition for their communities, that have restricted approval to function. Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon and Baha’i communities might be next. More difficult perhaps for the Chinese authorities would be allowing independent home-grown Protestant churches or mosques to gain legal status, or Catholic churches which owe allegiance to the Pope. Even more difficult still would be allowing religious communities to function openly without any kind of legal status, as is their right under China’s international human rights commitments.
In a system established by China’s communist rulers in the 1950s, five state-backed religious headquarter bodies have an official monopoly over all legal religious activity in the country. Only Buddhist, Catholic (independent of the Vatican), Daoist, Islamic and Protestant Christian groups under these headquarter bodies can gain legal status. Yet while this monopoly is gradually being eroded, Forum 18 News Service notes that other religious communities wonder if, when and how the Chinese government will open up to allow any religious community that wants it to gain legal status.
A handful of Orthodox Christian churches have state approval to remain open outside this framework, while foreign adherents are allowed to worship in separate Protestant, Jewish and other religious communities to which their Chinese co-religionists are denied access.
At the same time, millions of China’s citizens worship in religious communities that have no state recognition, including members of numerous Protestant “house churches” and Catholics loyal to the Vatican.
Yet to achieve recognition
Under the current restrictive system, legal registration status allows a religious community to conduct regular meetings in permanent venues that can also be publicised without fear of state crackdowns. In general, registered Buddhist, Catholic, Daoist, Islamic and Protestant Christian groups in China within the state-approved hierarchical structures all enjoy these advantages. Conversely, unregistered religious groups (including those of these five faiths but which are outside the state-approved hierarchical bodes) are unable to enjoy either some or all of these advantages.
For instance, unregistered Protestant and Catholic groups (especially those visibly loyal to the Vatican) always face the prospect of state crackdowns. Other unregistered groups, such as the Protestant Christian community of Taiwan residents in Shanghai, are unable to establish permanent venues despite the fact that the Shanghai government has allowed the community to function.
These and other challenges confront a variety of faiths which have some measure of religious practice but have yet to achieve state recognition in China. Such faiths include Judaism, Russian Orthodoxy, Seventh-Day Adventism, the Baha’i faith and Mormonism.
Persistent problem
The issue of state recognition is a persistent problem not only for religious communities but for other non-state organisations in China. The formal manifestation of state recognition is legal registration. Like all states with corporatist lineages, China requires all non-state organisations to register with the state. All unregistered religious activity is illegal and subject to punishment. At a fundamental level, state registration is an important means by which the state controls non-state organisations.
Naturally, the state offers incentives to non-state organisations to register with the state, which include public legitimacy and access to valuable resources that are controlled by the state. The main reason that state recognition, especially legal registration, is a problem is that the Chinese state and its agents have in practice made it extremely difficult for non-state entities to achieve that status (see F18News 12 July 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1720).

[Full Story]