Order No. 19 that came into force on September 1 negatively affects all Chinese territory and all religions. But it is even worse for Tibet and other occupied regions.
by Arya Tsewang Gyalpo
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership has announced that “Order No.19,” “Administrative Measures for Religious Activity Venues,” has started being implemented from September 1, 2023. This is another CCP’s heinous and lethal move to subjugate and gain control over the religious institutions in China and the China-occupied regions of Tibet, East Turkestan (Ch. Xinjiang), and Southern Mongolia (Ch. Inner Mongolia). It is perhaps the last deadly corrosive sword used to annihilate and smear the fundamental principles of all religions with Communist ideology.
The new decree has ten chapters with seventy-three articles and numerous sub-clauses and notes. These articles are no more than restrictive barbed wires, under the guise of national security and public safety, to obstruct and undermine the free practice of religions and religious education in the country. The ten chapters are 1) General Provisions; 2) Establishment Approval and Registration; 3) Management Organization; 4) Personal Management; 5) Management of Religious Activities; 6) Construction Management; 7) Safety Management; 8) Supervision and Management; 9) Legal Liability; and 10) Final Provisions.
Article 1 of Order19 states that the measures are formulated in accordance with the Chinese Constitution “to protect normal religious activities, and safeguard the lawful rights and interests of places of religious activity and believing citizens.”|
However, many of the articles under the ten chapters contradict article 36 of the Chinese Constitution where freedom to practice religions is theoretically granted. Therefore, the very article 1 of Order 19 is a technical faux pas at the outset. Let us look at some chapters and articles more closely.
Article 3 of the Order clearly stands out in betraying what the CCP leadership has really in mind. “Places of religious activity shall uphold the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, thoroughly implement Xi Jinping’s ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era, abide by the Constitution, laws, rules and regulations, and relevant provisions on the management of religious affairs, practice core socialist values, and adhere to the directions of Sinicization of China’s religions.”
The five major religions recognized by China are Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, and Taoism. Till now, China has used various means and pretentious laws to crush religious bodies in China, Tibet, East Turkestan, Southern Mongolia, and Hong Kong depending on the circumstances in the regions. Now with this Order, it aims to acquire blanket authority and justification to clamp down on any religion anywhere with impunity. Here China has very boldly and openly made it clear and mandatory for all religions to adopt “Xi Jinping’s ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics” in their respective religious discourses. This is blasphemous and totally unacceptable!
Where is religious freedom if the religious bodies are forced to assimilate and adopt the ideology of an individual or a system that does not believe in religion at all? How does article 36 of the Chinese Constitution govern this? Is the CCP leadership above the Constitution? These are some pertinent questions the CCP leadership must answer.
Chapter two of the Order, “Establishment Approval and Registration,” includes sixteen articles with more than twenty sub-clauses. It has made the establishment and registration of any monastery, temple, church, or mosque a very fastidious and confusing task. The need to involve local and provincial religious groups, the formation of the management organization through “democratic consultation,” and the identification of member and religious teachers are all complicated tasks. The applicants are left at the mercy of the CCP cadres in the Religious Affairs Department assigned to monitor the issuance of the Certificate of Registration of Place of Religious Activity.
Article 16 states, “The places of religious activity shall not be named after churches, sects, or persons.” But it is very common, especially in Buddhism, to name a monastery or temple after some old ancient seats of learning, the school it is associated with, or its precious teachers. So, this article is a deliberate attempt on the part of the CCP leadership to harass the religious practitioners and to deter them from establishing places of worship.
Article 24 about “Management Organization” is very ambiguous, tricky, and open to abuse and misinterpretation. The purpose of article 27, stating that the members of the management organization of a place of religious activity shall be mainland residents of Chinese nationality, is confusing and irrelevant.
Article 36 states, “Places of religious activity shall establish a study system and regularly organize the personnel of the place to study the guidelines and policies of the CCP, national laws and regulations, Chinese excellent traditional culture, religious knowledge, and so on.” This article will encourage forced indoctrination inculcating the CCP’s ideology and propaganda. It is designed to legalize the CCP’s intrusion and interference in religious premises and education. It directly claims that Chinese Han culture is superior to other minority nationals’ cultures.
Article 50 states, “Places of religious activity should reflect a Chinese style and integrate Chinese culture in the architecture, sculpture, painting, decoration, and other visual aspects.” This clearly demonstrates the CCP’s leadership’s policy to force Chinese culture upon minorities with total disregard for the latter’s religious beliefs and culture. This is an open and official declaration of Han chauvinism. The law also mentions the prohibition of building large open-air religious statues outside of temples and churches, thereby retroactively justifying the CCP’s destruction of a thirty-meter-high Buddha statue, a seven-meter-high Maitreya Buddha statue, and forty-five prayer wheels in the Drago region of Kham province of Tibet in December 2021.
The law maintains that “anyone undermining national unity and splitting the country shall be removed and that there should be a proper system of evaluating the members.” As loyalty to H.H. the Dalai Lama and promotion of the Tibetan language are considered “splittist” activities, Tibetan monks and monastic establishments are bound to face increased difficulties and repression under the new Order.
China already passed Religious Order No. 5 in 2007 to assert authority and control over the selection and appointment of the reincarnations of the Tibetan Lama in Tibetan Buddhism. The Order was implemented on September 1, 2007, to produce false and hollow religious teachers parroting communist propaganda. The current false pro-Chinese Panchen Lama is the most notable product of this policy. Now with this Order 19, implemented on the same date after 16 years, China aims to give the CCP cadres free hands to close, oppress, and crush any religious institutions not conforming to Xi Jinping’s ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
According to Boston University’s 2020 World Religion Database, there are more than 288 million Buddhists, 106 million Christians, 24 million Muslims, and 6 million Taoist followers in China. From this, we can well estimate how many people’s lives will be affected by this restrictive religious law. We can also understand the fear of the CCP leadership confronted with the number of religious believers in the land against the 98 million CCP members. However, repression and restrictive measures are not a solution. It is only by respecting the religions and cultures of the minority nationals that the Chinese authorities can win the legitimacy to rule.
Till now, minority nationals have been protesting the Sinicization of their culture and religions by the CCP leadership. But with this Order, China has made the Sinicization of religions part of its national laws and mandatory. Here Sinicization means adherence to Xi Jinping’s ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics. International and religious communities around the world should join with Chinese, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Southern Mongolians in rejecting this draconian and unlawful Order No. 19 decree and ask the regime to let both the Chinese and the minority citizens of China enjoy religious freedom as enshrined in article 36 of the Chinese Constitution and article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The silence of the international community would just embolden the Communist leadership to commit further atrocities against religion and profane the teachings of major religions like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Taoism by mixing it with the Communist ideology. This will be a great leap backward not for China only, but for the entire human civilization.