“Foreign hostile forces and extremist forces use religion to infiltrate and sabotage our country.” The answer: more “scientific” and “Marxist” Sinicization.
by Xia Qiao
Pastors of the Three-Self Church have been requested to study new directives on the Sinicization of religion, signed by Wang Zuo’an, who is deputy minister of the United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the CCP and the director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs (which should be replaced by “something else,” according to a 2018 announcement, but for the time being is still in place). The directives were published on March 21, 2022, in the “Study Times,” the organ of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Pastors were clearly told that this is not just a theoretical article, but the directives should be faithfully studied and implemented.
The directives, as Wang writes, come directly from Xi Jinping’s speech at the December 2021 National Conference on Work Related to Religious Affairs, where Xi “profoundly answered the questions how to understand religion and how to deal with religious issues,” and “provided fundamental guidelines for the Party’s religious work.” The key to this work remains “Sinicization,” described as “a major innovative statement made by General Secretary Xi Jinping on religious work, a major strategic measure to actively guide religion to adapt to socialist society, and a major historical task for the Party’s religious work.”
However, the directives say, Sinicization is a science, or more precisely is part of Marxism as science, and nobody should believe that grasping its meaning and techniques is an easy job. Some do not Sinicize religion “scientifically,” which has led to serious mistakes.
Sinicization, we read, “conforms to the laws of the survival and development of religions” established by Marx and Engels once and for all. The bourgeois study of religion “simply use spiritual factors to explain religious phenomena.” On the contrary, Marxism regards religion as a “product” of material factors, “the product of the development of human society at a certain stage.”
There is no denying that Marx and Engels emphasized that religions have played several “negative roles” in human history. This is especially true, the document says, when foreign religions colonize another country; and in China among the five authorized religions, only Taoism is genuinely Chinese while Buddhism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism have been imported from abroad.
However, the text says, those who believe that Marx and Engels only saw negative aspects in religion are wrong. Rather, they saw religion as “a social phenomenon in which both positive and negative coexist.” The positive in religion is the role it can play as a tool to accompany the progress of society from one stage to the next. In the stages where religious believers are still present, religions should guide them to play a progressive rather than a reactionary role. In China, we are now in the socialist stage (not yet in the final Communist one) and the positive role religions may play is to guide those who believe in them in adapting to a “socialist society” and embrace “socialist values.” Since in China most religions came from abroad, which made them problematic, this process in which religions reform themselves and become auxiliary forces of socialism has been scientifically formulated by Xi Jinping as “Sinicization.”
In fact, the document states, Chairman Mao already “guided and promoted major reforms in our country’s religious circles,” putting them “on the correct path to adapt to the socialist society.” Deng Xiaoping further “explored the correct way to deal with religious issues in light of the profound changes in our society and the new situation in the field of religion.” But, although passing through different stages, “actively guiding religion to adapt to socialist society is the fundamental goal of religious work, and has achieved positive results.”
The scientific theory of Sinicization, the document says, has been created by Xi Jinping in 2015, and is being continuously promoted, elaborated and implemented. Guided, the document wants to reiterate, by the theories and Marx and Engels, Xi told religions that the fact that they already made efforts to adapt to a socialist society is not enough. “Adaptation in the past does not mean adaptation in the present, and adaptation in the present does not necessarily mean adaptation in the future.”
Not all religions, the document explains, are capable of being Sinicized. Those who would “copy the foreign teaching model, take foreign values as their standard, and even accept the orders and domination of foreign forces” are irreformable. Worse, “foreign hostile forces and extremist forces use religion to infiltrate and sabotage our country,” try to “lead our religions in a direction that deviates from the path of socialism,” create “chaos” (recently a favorite word of Xi Jinping), and become part of a “political plot to deter China and subvert China.” Religions that refuse to follow the “correct political direction” should be resolutely suppressed and eradicated. In fact, “only religions that are compatible with socialist society and have been sinicized can contribute to the stability of our society.”
The CCP will do what is needed to “strengthen the ideological and political guidance of religious circles,” “improve the political consciousness of the religious circles,” and “guide the religious community to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system, unite closely around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, and firmly follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics”. It is necessary to “encourage religious circles to earnestly study Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, to study the history of the Party, the history of New China, the history of reform and opening up, and the history of socialist development in a targeted manner, and to carry out in-depth education on the theme of ‘Love the Party, Love the Country, Love Socialism.’”
“It is necessary to guide the religious circles to deeply and systematically study the Party’s religious work theories, principles and policies.” They should also understand that non-sinicized religion, i.e. religion that does not play the role of transmitting to believers socialism and CCP directives and instilling in them the love of the Party and socialism, is part of “illegal religious activities,” and “backward” religion, which the CCP will not tolerate.