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ICC NOTE: Chinese president Xi Jinping’s speech last week towards religions has for importance reasons created a media buzz. While many in the international community would agree religion in China has been on rough terrain since the Chinese civil war of the 20th century. What it interesting in his recent speech is according to linguists from a Hong Kong university, it is the use of certain words in Chinese which have greater meaning to his intentions than the body of the speech. The words used by the president seem to be channeling more force and authority towards how religions should be governed. Ironically, proponents of the president’s speech believe it to be a clear understanding of the seperation of religion from the state. Yet if the interpretation of the language is correct, it seems as if he wishes to integrate the two but with complete government control. If the past three years and the recent rhetoric from party leaders are any indication, Christian in China will be facing an uncharted road ahead. 

4/28/2016 China (Asia News) – The keynote speech Xi Jinping gave last week on religions has generated many comments with different nuances and positions.

Most commentators see the speech as the usual “old wine in new bottle”.  Conversely, some pro-Beijing commentators have praised it because it finally recognised the “separation between state and religion”, and shows religions some respect since, in his speech, Xi uses the term Yindao “(引導), to channel, and not” Zhidao “(指導), which indicates a more heavy-handed leadership role.

AsiaNews has asked John Mok Chit Wai, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, for a comment. AsiaNews has already published a memorable piece he penned after  Asia Times published an interview with Pope Francis on Chinese New Year.

Reading Xi Jinping’s speech, I am quite doubtful about his view. It is true that “yindao”(引導) can be seen to have a softer tone than “zhidao”(指導). While both terms mean “to guide”, “yindao” is more like “to channel”, while “zhidao” has a meaning of “to instruct”.  But one should also note that “yindao” also has the meaning of “to lead”. The differentiation is not concrete, as “yindao” does not necessarily indicate “a reaction”.

In the speech, Xi made it very clear that there would be no religious activities outside the control of the party. Xi pointed out that the emphasis is on “dao”(導): the party has to “effectively” and “forcefully” guide all religions (導之有效、導之有力), and to “firmly grasp hold of the leading role of all religious works” (牢牢掌握宗教工作主導權).

On the other hand, Xi also instructed that when dealing with religions, one must “adhere to the leadership of the party, strengthen the party’s position in office”, and all religions must “serve the highest interest of the state and the overall interest of the Chinese nation: supporting the leadership of the CPC, supporting the socialist system, and adhering to the socialist way with Chinese characteristics”.

For the issue of some party members privately having religious faith, Xi also pointed out that they “must not seek their own values and beliefs in religions”. Instead, they “must be remain staunchly Marxist atheists”.

If we read the above lines, I think it is quite clear that Xi has no intention at all in making a “linguistic/philosophical compromise in the role and religious groups”. On the contrary, Xi is making clear that there cannot be any compromise, the party must be above religions.

Sang Pu (桑普), a Chinese commentator and lawyer, strongly criticized Xi’s speech, arguing that by making such a speech, the CPC has “torn the masks of moderation worn by Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao”,  and is launching a “Second Cultural Revolution” to “decimate all religions”. In fact, as far as I know, no one in Hong Kong sees Xi’s speech as good news.

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