Source: Direct Reports from China
Date: June 24, 2018
The Chinese government continues to suppress the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religious belief by intensifying anti-religious activities in schools. In February, the Ministry of Education ordered its departments to pay particular attention to the moral education of elementary and middle school students and political instructions of the staff. In 2017, the country’s higher schools were forbidden to celebrate Christmas.
Bitter Winter is receiving numerous reports about stringent inspections of students’ religious faith and their indoctrination to “only believe in the Party” in schools across China. We present some of the recent reports.
At the end of March 2018, the Liaoning University of Science and Technology ordered all of its students to fill out a questionnaire about their religious beliefs; students were called into an office in groups of four and questioned on the same issue verbally. One student’s remark about “the freedom of belief” immediately earned a sharp rebuke from the tutor: “This proves you have an ideological problem! China has no freedom of belief! If you are discovered practicing religion, you’ll be expelled.”
In the afternoon of March 8, class teachers in a primary school in Shenyang told their students that it was forbidden to participate in any religious activities during holidays.
At the end of March, in a middle school in Xifeng County in the city of Tieling, Liaoning Province, a teacher of moral and ideological education announced to the class that in China, people were only permitted to believe in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and forbidden to believe in any religion. Confused, some students asked the teacher about the guarantee of the freedom of religious belief in the Chinese Constitution, to which they were told that the Constitution was just something to show the foreigners.
On May 23, in a meeting room of a school in Liaoning Province, the police showed a promotional film to students called “The Masses Must Not Believe in God” telling them to oppose any religious beliefs.
In April, teachers in a primary school in the city of Diaobingshan asked each student to fill out a questionnaire about religious faith. The content of the questionnaire was very detailed, for example: “Have you ever read any books about religious faith? Have you ever encountered any books about religion? Do any of your relatives – including your mother, father, paternal aunt, maternal aunt, paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, maternal grandmother, maternal uncle, or paternal uncle – believe in religion? If someone in your family is religious, explain why they believe. Have you ever heard anything about religious belief from someone outside your family? Has anyone ever tried to convert you? What is your understanding of religious faith?”
The use of questionnaires to seek out believers is an old trick that the CCP has been using for years. In 2013, Sugar Factory Primary School in Shenyang City’s Hunnan District offered a reward for anyone reporting on family members who believed in God. This way, using methods from the Cultural Revolution times and playing on the naivete and competitive nature of children, the CCP managed to acquire a lot of information about Christians.
In 2014, teachers of Shenyang city’s Middle School No. 60 announced to students that the state did not permit young people to have beliefs; and those who believed in God would not be allowed to study at the school. The teachers also showed the students an anti-religious film produced by the CCP to encourage them to keep an eye on each other and report anyone in their family who believed in God.
In October 2016, class teachers of the Chenxiang Central Elementary School in Sujiatun, Shenyang asked the students to kneel down and pray – a test to find out if they understood what believing in God and praying was. The students were also asked if their parents believed in God. A month later, the police came to the school to observe the students: those who displayed any unusual reactions were suspected of believing in God and their family members investigated.
In mid-April 2018, teachers at the Experimental Primary School in Taonan, Jilin Province, instructed students in grade four and above to write essays denouncing religious belief “The Smokeless Battlefield.” The essays were divided into three parts. In part 1, they were to describe the damage caused by believing in God; in part 2, what happens to those who believed in God; and in part 3 – what their attitude toward the belief in God was. The students were told to fill out all three parts and sign their names on the essays. The essays were then displayed in school’s corridor.
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Bitter Winter plans to report on how religions are allowed, or not allowed, to operate in China and how some are severely persecuted after they are labeled as “xie jiao,” or heterodox teachings. We plan to publish news difficult to find elsewhere, analyses, and debates.
Placed under the editorship of Massimo Introvigne, one of the most well-known scholars of religion internationally, “Bitter Winter” is a cooperative enterprise by scholars, human rights activists, and members of religious organizations persecuted in China (some of them have elected, for obvious reasons, to remain anonymous).