The regime tightens control over finances of state-approved churches, as a tool to limit religious activities to the minimum and ultimately take over them entirely.
by Jiang Tao
Next to the suffocating control of religious activities and personnel in state-approved churches, the supervision of their finances has been one of the primary methods through which the Chinese government has been suppressing places of worship: from surveillance of donation boxes to restrictions on spending to the outright seizure of funds.
The increasing limitations on how churches can use donations and manage their finances in general are evident in various internal documents adopted by all levels of government throughout the country and the new measures initiated by them.
In July, specially-prepared boards were distributed to over a dozen state-sanctioned meeting venues in Zhutian town, administered by Linyi city’s Fei county in the eastern province of Shandong. The panels, entitled “Public details of donations at religious activity venues in Fei county,” list sums of money, representing bill denominations from 1 to 100, that should be entered by church managers after donation money is tallied. Even the amount of coins found in donation boxes must be publicized.
In a democratic country, similar measures may seem like a strive to ensure transparency, but not in China. The recent drive by the regime has a different goal: to impose more control measures on the daily lives of believers and their religious practices.
According to local churchgoers, the boards have been displayed by personnel from Zhutian town’s Comprehensive Management Office, ordering the churches to enter onto them the amount of money found in donation boxes after each Sunday service. After the information is entered on the boards, photos of them have to be taken and sent to the authorities. To make sure that the entered data is accurate, grid administrators supervise the process by taking photos.
Similar donation money management measures have been implemented in other provinces. The staff of government-approved Protestant and Catholic churches in the central Henan Province have provided Bitter Winter with government regulations on the financial management of their venues.
Among them – the (Trial) Measures for the Financial Supervision and Management of Religious Activity Venues were issued by Henan’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee on December 7, 2018. The edict stipulates that the money received by religious venues must be deposited into a bank account dedicated to each church’s donation money the same day it was received. Religious venues must regularly submit detailed financial reports, including a balance sheet, statement of financial activities, cash flow statement, acceptance and use of donations, to religious affairs departments, which will review these reports and “promptly urge and guide religious venues to conduct self-examination and rectification if any issues are discovered.”
(Trial) Measures for the Financial Supervision and Management of Religious Activity Venues in Henan Province.
A collection of financial and accounting management regulations for Catholic venues in Henan Province.
“Everyone is aware of this. They audit our accounts and make us submit reports,” the person in charge said. “This is being done to control the church’s money. After we finish gatherings on Sundays at 11:00 a.m., we have to count and record the donations in front of the village secretary, who records the process with his smartphone. Donations are supposed to be used to support and nurture believers and to spread the gospel, but the CCP won’t allow that. They won’t let us visit and assist believers, and they even say that doing so may be treated as an illegal activity. We’re only allowed to use the donations to buy propaganda materials promoting CCP’s ideology or books on traditional Chinese culture. As long as we buy them, the CCP will always say it’s fine, no matter how much we spend. Through these measures, they are ensuring that the church is unable to continue growing.”
An Extract from the (Trial) Measures for the Financial Supervision and Management of Christian Activity Venues in Henan Province.
The person in charge of a Three-Self church in Henan’s Yongcheng city complained that the authorities don’t care how much of the church’s money is spent on the activities and things that they approve. “We had to spend over 10,000 RMB [about $ 1,400] of our donation money to prepare for a government inspection just to decorate the church and to buy cigarettes and alcohol for government officials. If you don’t agree to do these things, they’ll shut down the church,” the in-charge said.