In September, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) launched its first-ever nationwide supervision program initiated by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee to check on the implementation of religious policies in provinces and municipalities across the country.
The documents and audio recordings of meetings accessed by Bitter Winter verify that nation-wide supervision of anti-religious programs on such a scale has never been implemented in China before.
One of the documents from the north-central province of Gansu states: “This time, the party’s Central Committee decides to conduct a nation-wide supervision on religious work, the first time in China’s history, with the aim to examine and measure how the central government’s policies and arrangements are promoted and implemented in practice through this high-degree, widespread, and in-depth supervision work.” Similar wording has been used in official papers from other provinces.
The program consists of two stages. During the first one, called “self-inspection and correction,” provincial and municipal authorities were ordered to evaluate the anti-religious measures being implemented under their jurisdiction and report back to the UFWD.
The second stage was launched on October 25, when teams of central government officials were dispatched across the country to examine the results of “self-inspection” and identify the issues that need changes for future religious policies.
For example, authorities in a city of the central province of Henan have identified a list of anti-religious measures in need of improvements, such as online propaganda, the promotion of “patriotic” clergy, the crackdown on the Underground Catholic Church and South Korean religious venues, the prevention of evangelism in schools and universities, among other issues.
Other problematic areas, such as the control over the finances of religious venues, including the government-approved churches, and the elimination of religious belief among Communist Party members have been identified in other provinces and municipalities.
For the first stage of “self-inspection,” authorities in the eastern province of Shandong convened a video conference for local officials in September. During the meeting, it was reiterated that considering a large number of believers in China, “religious issues are, inevitably, political issues.” It was also emphasized that religion is not merely a matter of personal belief but “has a bearing on the fundamental issue of whom one listens to, believes in, and follows.”
The officials in the meeting repeatedly emphasized the issue of confidentiality of the campaign to avoid any “unfavorable public opinion about the government.” To ensure it, “no documents or notices will be sent to the religious communities, and no meetings will be organized” with them to avoid backlashes. Government personnel were prohibited from discussing such topics freely amongst themselves or researching about it in public places. Much emphasis was given on the prevention of information leaks abroad that could result in the international community criticizing China’s religious policies.
To ensure the confidentiality of the inspections, central government officials are not allowed to accept reports from the general public about the misconduct or violations made by local officials.
“This work deals with the big picture; it involves the entire nation. We must avoid problems occurring as a result of the work not being done meticulously,” a local government official said.
Instructions to the inspection teams in Henan reiterate the confidentiality requirement: “Adhere to being ‘intense inside and relaxed outside’ and ‘just do it, but don’t say it’; do not send inspection and supervision notices to the religious community, do not report the progress of inspection and supervision work, and do not accept media interviews.”
As per an internal CCP document, from January 2019 onwards, the central inspection authorities will focus on implementing “rectification” tasks based on results from this year. With that, a new round of religious persecution is likely to emerge.
Reported by Jiang Tao