Rules and regulations prohibiting religious funerary rituals are being adopted across China, as the government promotes “civilized secular” traditions.
by Li Guang
Expanding the measures to suppress people of faith, authorities throughout China are enforcing policies that prohibit religious customs and rituals to be used during funerals. Xinjiang Muslims have been banned from commemorating the dead according to their faith, and Christians ordered to stay away from religion during burials. More reports from across China on the implementation of these oppressive rules.
Only “civilized” funerals allowed
The Regulations on Centralized Funeral Arrangement, adopted by the government of Wenzhou city’s Pingyang county in the eastern province of Zhejiang, came into effect on December 1, 2019. The new rules aim to “get rid of bad funeral customs and establish a scientific, civilized, and economical way of funerals.” One of the regulations states that “clerical personnel are not allowed to participate in funerals,” and only “no more than ten family members of the deceased are allowed to read scriptures or sing hymns in a low voice.”
Similar policies are being adopted elsewhere in the country. A village official from the central province of Henan who requested anonymity told Bitter Winter that the local government convened a meeting for religious work assistants in April, informing them that all religious funerals are restricted. Soon after, the Management Measures for Village (or Community) and Township (or Town) Religious Work Assistants were issued. The document stipulates that clerical personnel should be “timely stopped from using religion to intervene in citizens’ weddings and funerals or other activities in their lives.”
Christians denied dying wishes
When a member of the state-run Three-Self Church from Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei, died in October, her family arranged a Christian funeral. While the family and friends were saying goodbye to the deceased, the police stormed in and arrested her daughter, who was praying for her mother at the time. As it turned out, somebody has reported the family to the authorities. The daughter was only released after the deceased was buried without Christian rituals two days later.
“When my father died, village officials threatened to arrest us if we didn’t conduct a secular funeral. We did not dare to go against them,” a villager from Gucheng town in Henan’s county-level city of Yuzhou said with anger. “My father had been a believer for several decades. He is persecuted even after death.”
The funeral of a well-known preacher from Wen county in Henan’s Jiaozuo city, who passed away on June 27, was stopped after government officials and six policemen came to the venue and accused the gathered people of spreading “religious propaganda.”
In November 2018, in Suiping county under the jurisdiction of Henan’s Zhumadian city, a Christian in his nineties passed away. A believer for more than 40 years, the man’s dying wish was to have a Christian funeral. Only ten minutes into the proceedings, a few government officials stormed in and harshly rebuked the family for having “a religious gathering disguised as a funeral.” No religious activities outside the church were allowed, the officials claimed. If the family wanted to sing spiritual songs, “they should go to the church and sing the national anthem instead.”
No to church choirs, and no religious symbols
In 2018, the government of a locality in Henan issued the Negative List of Persons in Charge and Clerical Personnel of Religious Activity Venue Management Committees, which stipulates that visiting groups, choirs, orchestras, and other groups are prohibited from privately holding religious activities outside places of worship. The government often uses such requirements as an excuse to intrude or disperse Christian weddings and funerals.
“The government prohibits religious funerals, and doesn’t allow church choirs or orchestras to perform during them,” said an elder of a Three-self church in Henan’s Shangqiu city. “Pastors can only sneak into believers’ homes for a hurried prayer. The situation is quite adverse, and some believers don’t even dare to accompany the deceased to the graveyard.”
In April last year, government officials commanded to stop a Christian funeral procession in Fangcheng county in Henan’s Nanyang city. They ordered the church choir and believers to leave immediately and hide the cross and other religious symbols, or else, they would be arrested. All except for the family of the deceased left, and all symbols of crosses were removed from wreaths.
In June, at a funeral in Song county under the jurisdiction of Henan’s Luoyang city, a village official demanded to remove the cross symbol from the cloth covering the coffin.
“Officials said that state laws prohibit religious funerals. We even didn’t set up a cross on the tomb,” said a Three-self church believer who arranged a funeral for her husband in Henan’s Luohe city.