| Religious Freedom Ranking:
1 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations
China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau) (one star)
Reports on Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau are added at the end of this report.
The Constitution declares that Chinese residents “enjoy freedom of religious belief.” It forbids the state, public groups and persons from forcing citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion. The Constitution protects “normal religious activities,” which are managed by the five authorized “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant). Chinese Communist Party (CCP) followers are dissuaded from participating in religious activities. The government allows proselytizing only in registered places of worship and in private locations.
The Falun Gong is an outlawed spiritual organization, and its members have been severely persecuted in attempts to lessen the numbers of Falun Gong practitioners. Several other groups are also listed as “heretical (or evil) cults.” Religious groups such as Catholics loyal to the Vatican are not allowed to openly hold religious services. Authorities in parts of the country have charged religious followers unaffiliated with a patriotic religious organization with “illegal religious activities” or “disrupting social stability.” Penalties for these charges vary from fines to imprisonment.
The country has a population of 1.3 billion. A February 2007 survey recorded that about two hundred million respondents described themselves as Buddhist, Taoist or worshippers of traditional folk gods. According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 21 million Muslims, 16 million Protestants and 5.3 million Catholics. It was reported that prior to its ban in 1999, an estimated 70 million people followed Falun Gong, based on the teachings of founder Li Hongzhi. Falun Gong members were subjected to several methods of physical and psychological coercion—including physical torture and incarceration in “re-education” centers and mental hospitals—in efforts to force them to deny their beliefs.
The government cannot be sued on the basis of religious freedom protections in the Constitution. Religious organizations were susceptible to action by regional officials who frequently regulate through managerial orders. A stipulation in the criminal law permits the state to sentence government administrators for up to two years in prison if they infringed on religious freedom.
Along with its ban on Falun Gong, the government-banned spiritual groups include the Guan Yin (also known as Guanyin Famin or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy) and Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline). The government considered numerous Protestant Christian groups to be “evil cults,” including the “Shouters,” Eastern Lightning, the Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church, Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (or San Ban Pu Ren), Association of Disciples, Lord God Sect, Established King Church, Unification Church, Family of Love and the South China Church.
Religious organizations separate from the five patriotic religious associations often have great trouble getting legal status and are vulnerable to coercive and penal action by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) and the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB).
Individuals wishing to enroll in an official seminary or institution of religious learning must get the support of the patriotic religious associations. The government obliges students to show “political reliability,” and political issues were added in tests of graduates of religious schools.
In 2005 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that parents were allowed to teach religious beliefs to children under the age of 18. However, atheistic ideas are often taught in schools, based on the ruling party’s commitment to Marxism-Leninism.
The PRC Labor Law states that job applicants shall not experience religious discrimination; however, many employers explicitly discriminate against religious believers. Employers were dissuaded from hiring Falun Gong practitioners. Numerous Protestant Christians report being fired by their employers because of their religious background.
Chinese government apprehensions over “separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism” have resulted in repressive limitations on religious activities by Uighur Muslims. Authorities usually failed to differentiate between peaceful spiritual practice and illegal terrorist activities. In contrast, Hui Muslims engaged in spiritual activities with less government meddling.
Registered and unregistered religious and spiritual groups experienced continued harassment from government officials. Several religious leaders and adherents were detained, arrested or sentenced to prison because of their religious activities. These activities comprised of gatherings for religious worship, publicly and privately expressing religious beliefs and publishing religious texts and materials. Members of unregistered religious groups were subject to administrative detention, such as imprisonment at reeducation through labor (RTL) camps.
In its 2009-2010 National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), the government claimed that it would “encourage and support religious circles in launching social welfare programs [and] exploring methods and channels for religions to better serve society and promote the people’s well-being.” The government provided the work of social services of registered religious organizations by freely stating the positive role that religious organizations can have on society. Some international faith-based aid groups were permitted to deliver services in accordance with regional authorities and domestic registered religious organizations.
In February 2012, ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese met in a clash in the Northwest region of China. Between twelve and sixteen people were killed in the riot, and at least two were shot by police. The Chinese government blames the Uighurs, predominantly Muslim ethnic Turks who are culturally distinct from ethnic Chinese, for these riots. Uighur-Han violence was at a high in 2009, when riots killed nearly 200 people and injured 1,700 others. The government has been severely restricting the freedom of Uighurs in an effort to prevent more violence, further angering them.
Religious repression against the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhists remained high. The government forced monks and nuns to undergo “patriotic education” in monasteries and nunneries that incorporated important amounts of “legal education.” During the patriotic education sessions, administrators forced monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama and to study texts worshipping the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) and the socialist system.
Tibetans repeatedly faced discrimination and persecution, particularly in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. Such discriminations included being denied access to passports and rooms at hotels.
The Tibetan population within the Tibetan Autonomous Region was 2.4 million, or less than half the total of ethnic Tibetan population of China, which is 5.4 million. Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, and a very small percentage practice Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Other religions include Daoism, Confucianism and traditional folk beliefs. There are a small number of people who practice the banned spiritual group, Falun Gong.
The CCP organization, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), with support from the officially recognized Buddhist, Catholic, Islamic and Protestant “patriotic religious associations,” were accountable for expanding religious management policies in Tibet. The Management Measures on Reincarnation (MMR), issued by SARA, provides rules and regulations over Tibetan religious traditions. It has control over the choice of Tibetan religious figures, including individuals who have been designated as “reincarnated” lamas. Only officially recognized lamas may carry out religious work. The Religious Affairs Regulations (the Implementing Regulations), also issued by SARA, directed Tibetan Buddhism matters.
China has seen a rise in protests from Tibetan monks recently. According to the New York Times, at least 27 people have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese rule, and at least 18 have died from this. These protests have risen in number due to incidents in which police attacked Tibetan and Uighur protestors. During one incident, which happened on January 14th, it is reported that two people were wounded. On another, just weeks later on January 23rd, at least 31 people were wounded and at least one died. It has been difficult to obtain accurate reports because the Chinese government severely censures all information.
The Basic Law, which serves as the Constitution of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), provides for the generally free practice of religion. It upholds the principal statement of “one country, two systems.” There have been no reports of abuses or discrimination based on religious belief.
Hong Kong has a population of seven million. There are approximately 1.5 million Buddhists and Taoists; 550,000 Protestant Christians; over 400,000 Roman Catholics; 20,000 Mormons; over 100,000 Muslims; over 40,000 Hindus; 2-3,000 Sikhs; and 3-4,000 Jews. Confucianism is often blended with Taoism and Buddhism. There are about 300 to 500 Falun Gong members in Hong Kong.
The Bill of Rights Ordinance includes the religious freedom protections of the Internal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It offers individuals the right to freely worship a religious belief privately and publicly. The ordinance also defends the right of parents or legal guardians to “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
The purpose of The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) is to provide the necessary links between religious organizations and the government. The government often invited affected religious groups and individuals to present their views on whether suggested measures persecuted them on the basis of religion. The only direct government role in handling religious affairs is the Chinese Temples Committee, which the Secretary for Home Affairs leads. It members are selected by the Chief Executive.
It is optional for religious groups to register with the government if they wish to have government benefits.
The Basic Law, which serves as the Constitution of the Macau Special Administrative Region (Macau SAR), provides for religious freedom. There were no reports of abuses or discrimination based on religious belief.
According to official 2008 statistics, there is a population of 549,200. Buddhism is the predominant religion constituting 80 percent of the population. Roman Catholics comprise 5.2 percent of the population and more than 1 percent is Protestant. Other religious groups include Baha’is, 2,500 persons; Muslims, 100 persons; and a small number of Falun Gong members.
About 50 percent of primary and secondary schools have been managed or funded by religious organizations. These schools are allowed to provide religious education.
Article 34 of the Basic Law declares that, “Macau residents shall have freedom of religious belief, and freedom to preach and to conduct and participate in religious activities in public.” Additionally, Article 128 of the Basic Law specifies, “the government, consistent with the principle of religious freedom, shall not interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or in the efforts of religious organizations and their believers to maintain and develop relations with their counterparts outside Macau or restrict religious activities which do not contravene the laws of the Special Administrative Region."
The 1998 Freedom of Religion and Worship Law provides for religious freedom, privacy of religious affiliation, freedom of religious gathering, freedom to hold religious demonstrations and freedom of religious instruction. The Freedom of Religion and Worship Law permits religious groups to directly register with the Identification Bureau.
There have been no reports of religious prisoners or forced religious conversions.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom China, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau
China Country Profile- BBC News
Tibet: Another Monk Sets Himself Afire- NYTIMES.com
In China, reporting on Tibetan and Uighur unrest is nearly impossible- Christian Science Monitor
Police Roundup Follows Riot in Northwest China, Uighurs Say- CNN News