With restrictions imposed by the new law on religion in China, many private orphanages across the country were closed, depriving children of love and care.
by Shen Xinran
The new Regulations on Religious Affairs, enforced in February 2018, stipulate that “public interest charitable activities must not be used to proselytize by any organization or individual” in China. Using this clause, authorities throughout the country clamp down on Catholic and Protestant orphanages and other church-run institutions, leaving many disadvantaged in the care of spiritless and cold state welfare establishments.
No religious affiliation allowed.
In August 2019, over 40 personnel from the Civil Affairs Bureau and other government institutions stormed into a Catholic orphanage in Taiyuan, the capital of the northern province of Shanxi. They ordered to take all the children who lived there away, threatening to accuse the leaders of the orphanage of “illegal adoption” practices. All orphans were relocated to a local state-run welfare house. Before the crackdown, the local government ordered to shut down the establishment because “the state did not authorize it.”
One of the employees told Bitter Winter that during over 20 years of activity, the orphanage took care of more than 100 children and was praised by local people. “The government tried every possible means to shut the orphanage down just because it had a religious affiliation,” the worker said helplessly. “This is a national policy, and we can do nothing about it.”
In May last year, the Cangzhou city government in the northern province of Hebei ordered the director of a local Catholic orphanage for disabled children to remove paintings of the Virgin Mary, liturgical calendars, and all other religious symbols from a small church on site. The director was demanded to sign a statement promising to stop using the church. Children’s religious textbooks were also banned. A statue of the Virgin Mary and a cross were removed from the orphanage already before May. The authorities claimed that “charitable institutions are not allowed to have religious overtones.”
To shut down the orphanage, the government pressured the director to send away some of the disabled children and restricted new adoptions on trumped-up pretexts.
“The Communist Party has been trying to restrict our activities, fearing that children would be exposed to religion,” a local churchgoer said. “All religious orphanages for disabled children will gradually disappear in the future.”
“You can’t indoctrinate children with religion.”
A Catholic priest, who is a member of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, established a welfare house in Binzhou city in the eastern province of Shandong in 2009 after receiving approval from the local Civil Affairs Bureau. In autumn 2018, however, the government ordered him to relocate all orphans to a state-run institution and close down the welfare house before December 30. Officials claimed that his welfare house did not meet the government’s newly formulated standards for charitable organizations.
“A government official told me that because we were believers in God and had contacts with foreigners, we were not allowed ‘to indoctrinate children with religion,’” a nun who used to work in the welfare house recalled.
“We not only took care of these children’s physical needs but also their spiritual lives: they were all baptized, and with our care, they could keep their belief,” the priest added. “But the government always made trouble for us, and we could do nothing about it.”
After the children were relocated, the priest and nuns often visited them but noticed that there was no love in the state-run welfare house. The children looked emaciated and low-spirited. The priest then wrote an article describing the conditions the children lived in. After the text was posted online, causing a wave of concern among citizens, a government official visited the priest and threatened to detain him for “challenging the government.”
80 orphans dispersed
In August 2018, government officials from the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in the southwestern province of Yunnan stormed into a local orphanage. They looted all valuables in the orphanage and dispersed its 80 residents.
The orphanage was established with donations of 1.6 million RMB (about $ 230,000) by local Christians. All teachers in the orphanage were Christians as well. One of them told Bitter Winter that the day before the orphanage was cleared out, all teachers and children prayed day and night, hoping to save it. “The next day, everything in the orphanage was still looted,” the teacher remembered. “It was heartbreaking to look at these children as they were ruthlessly driven out of the orphanage. I could understand what they felt: their hearts were filled with fear because they did not know where they were going.”