To advance CCP’s religion “sinicization” policy, crackdowns are launched to confiscate faith-related materials that are not approved by the state.
by Wang Anyang
The Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of a locality in the northeastern province of Liaoning issued a document in April, demanding to investigate how “illegal” religious publications, i.e., not approved by the state, are published and sold. The edict foresees punishment for publishers that undertake to print such materials and ways to block entry of overseas religious publications and printed products. It also orders to curb sales and dissemination of religious texts for youth and children.
Printed materials in religious activity venues are given particular attention. All publications not approved by the state, including the Bible and the Quran, are to be immediately confiscated after investigations have been carried out. The document stipulates that religious venues are not allowed to keep or distribute any religious calendars, books, audio-visual products, and even internal publications and periodicals. The decree states that confiscations should be carried out by “organizing network-style investigations into every corner” and “maintaining ideological safety.”
A local government insider explained to Bitter Winter that the new order had been issued to supplement the “four requirements”—a nationwide campaign, launched in 2018 to promote the “sinicization” of religion—which primarily focus on nationalist, socialist, and cultural aspects but omit religious materials. Therefore, the government is stepping up efforts to eliminate all unapproved publications to accelerate “sinicization.”
Since last year, the CCP has been confiscating not approved religious publications, including folk hymnbooks and materials printed abroad, under the flag of the nationwide campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.”
In October last year, four officials from the Culture Broadcasting Bureau of Jiujiang city’s Hukou county in the southeastern province of Jiangxi came to inspect a local Three-Self church and confiscated Bibles, hymnbooks, evangelism handbooks, and other religious books because “they were not produced by approved publishers.”
“The state controls all Three-Self churches, and there is nothing we can do about it,” a preacher from the church said helplessly. “The Communist Party does not allow religious belief and persecutes us out of fear that we will not follow their ideology.”
In early June 2018, over 30 personnel from the local National Security Division, Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, and other government institutions raided the “Home of Christ” fellowship at Shantou University in the southern province of Guangdong. They confiscated over 5,000 books, including 200 Bibles, to the value of over one hundred thousand RMB, and questioned the fellowship’s director.
According to a fellowship member, the “Home of Christ” hired a lawyer attempting to negotiate with the government to reclaim the books. Officials told them in response that the publications were illegal, and they will be burnt if the fellowship insisted on getting them back.
The CCP has long imposed bans on religious books from abroad. In November last year, local police summoned a house church elder from the central province of Henan because he bought online two years ago a religious book published by the Kernel of Wheat Christian Ministries in the United States. The police confiscated his book, warning that it was illegal to buy spiritual books from abroad in China.
“This is an issue of ideology,” the elder believes. “Investigations are now targeting all religious books published without the government’s permission. It has banned the sales of Bibles that it does not approve, planning to issue its own version based on Chinese socialism. This is altering Christian theology in disguise.”
In November last year, the government of the Baqiao district of Xi’an, the capital of the northwestern province of Shaanxi, confiscated more than 100 Buddhist books from the Lotus Temple as “illegal publications.” A local Buddhist said that the books, donated by lay Buddhists, were published in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and other countries.
“It’s easy to find a stick to beat a dog,” the Buddhist used an idiom to describe the CCP’s religious policies. “People in China will never be able to argue the government down or change its policies.”