Extending persecution of religious venues, the CCP demands them to contribute to the coronavirus relief fund, or they won’t be allowed to reopen after lockdown.
by Jiang Tao
“Five renminbi for four steamed stuffed buns,” a Buddhist nun offers passersby on the streets of Chengshan, a town in the county-level city of Zhuanghe in Liaoning Province. The Fahua Temple in the town’s Gucheng village, where the nun is from, has not yet been allowed to reopen after the coronavirus outbreak. Since most temples live on donations from visitors and believers, they now must find other means of income to survive—like selling vegetarian buns on the street.
In May, a Buddhist temple keeper in Xiantao city in the central province of Hubei received a notice from the local Religious Affairs Bureau, demanding the temple to donate to the areas hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
“I live a difficult life myself and have no money to give away,” the keeper said helplessly. The temple has remained shut since January 24, and without donations, the keeper survives on food from believers. “It’s enough for me, but the government’s demand to donate for epidemic relief has put me into difficulties,” the man continued. “They collect information about temples’ contributions, and if we miss a payment, we’ll be punished and even closed down.”
A Three-Self church director from Heze, a prefecture-level city in the eastern province of Shandong, explained that state-run churches are also told to collect money for coronavirus-affected areas. He added that officials from the local Religious Affairs Bureau threatened to shut down many churches if they did not donate.
In February, authorities in Zhangcun town, administered by Dengzhou city in the central province of Henan, issued donation quotas ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 RMB (between $ 560 and 1,400) to Three-Self churches. Congregations were unwilling to give money to the government and required to deposit their contributions directly into the pandemic victims’ bank accounts. But officials from religious affairs departments refused.
On February 3, some Three-Self churches in Xianju, a county administered by Taizhou city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, received notices from the town government and the Two Chinese Christian Councils, demanding each congregation member to donate 100 RMB (about $ 14) to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Churchgoers in Zhejiang’s Hangzhou city were also forced to donate,” a Three-Self church director in the city explained. “Some elderly congregation members live alone and have no sources of income, but are also forced to give money.”
Places of worship in China are also exploited in regular times, not only during a pandemic. They are forced to contribute to poverty alleviation or other government’s “charity” projects.
“Last year, the Religious Affairs Bureau demanded us to collect money to fix a slide on a kindergarten playground,” a deacon from a Three-Self church in Henan’s Zhumadian city told Bitter Winter. “Government departments ask us for charitable donations every year. If we refuse, our church will be closed.”
According to the China Religion Survey 2015, conducted by the Renmin University of China, clergy members of the five official religions in China receive, on average, 506 RMB (about $ 70) as a monthly salary. Forty-one percent don’t have old-age insurance. Buddhist monks generally get 397 RMB (about $ 50) per month, while a Buddhist temple must ordinarily donate 41,000 RMB (about $ 5,800) for charity per year.