The Communist Party of China (CPC) wants its members to give up religion and seek faith and belief within the party’s ideology or face punishment, the country’s top official overseeing religious affairs has said.
Writing for CPC’s top political theory journal, Qiushi or “Seeking Truth”, Wang Zuoan, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), said CPC members should be atheists and not have religious beliefs.
“Party members should not have religious beliefs, which is a red line for all members…Party members should be firm Marxist atheists, obey Party rules and stick to the Party’s faith…they are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion,” Wang wrote.
“Officials who have religious faith should be persuaded to give it up, and those who resist would be punished by the Party organisation,” he wrote.
China is officially an atheist country but the CPC-run government recognises five religions: Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Protestantism and Catholicism.
Under China’s Constitution, citizens have the liberty to follow a religion of choice but in reality, the freedom of religion is severely curtailed.
In recent years, the government has carried out crackdowns on fast spreading Christianity, besides restricting the practise of Islam in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Wang’s pronouncement in Qiushi seems to be the latest effort to curb individual freedoms, which can be a threat to “unity” as perceived by the CPC.
His writing echoed, almost word-to-word, what President Xi Jinping had said earlier this year.
“We must resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means and prevent ideological infringement by extremists,” Xi had told a conference on religion.
In the article, Wang wrote: “Some foreign forces have used religion to infiltrate China, and extremism and illegal religious activities are spreading in some places, which have threatened national security and social stability.”
He added: “Religions should be sinicised…We should guide religious groups and individuals with socialist core values and excellent traditional Chinese culture and support religious groups to dig into their doctrines to find parts that are beneficial to social harmony and development.”
The need to renew the call to CPC members – around 89 million at the end of 2016 – to shed religion or face punishment could mean that many among them are searching for faith beyond the party’s doctrine.
Interestingly, a report published by Washington-based Freedom House earlier this year had said that overall religious controls have intensified across China under Xi’s rule.
The report added Xi had presided over an overall increase in religious persecution and four communities had borne the brunt – Protestant Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Hui and Uyghur Muslims.