Confucians heading equality campaign

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am

Confucians in Hong Kong are leading a nationwide campaign to lobby the central government into accepting that their religious belief should rank equal with that of Buddhists, Christians, Taoists and Muslims in China.

The movement, led by Tong Yun-kai, president of the Confucian Academy in Hong Kong, will see the establishment of a national federation of Confucians, with a plan to register Confucianism as a mainstream religion on the mainland.

'Why do Buddhists have religious freedom, Christians have religious freedom, Taoists and Muslims all have religious freedom, but Confucians are not allowed to enjoy the same rights?

'If I was not as patriotic as I am, I would have gone protesting in Tiananmen Square a long time ago,' said Mr Tong, who earlier this year received an award from the US government for promoting Confucianism.

Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism are the five mainstream beliefs officially recognised by the central government.

National groups from these religions are registered with and under the control of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, and can only preach inside designated temples, churches and mosques under strict state regulations.

Although there are no official figures for the number of Confucians on the mainland, there are more than 1,600 Confucian temples registered as academic institutes. Mr Tong said well-established Confucian thought - which stresses benevolence and loyalty to the family and the country - was a widespread belief held by both the people and state officials. He said registering as a religion would add to their prestige and help enhance a sense of national pride.

The only reason the Communist Party did not allow the revival of Confucianism as a faith was that it feared religions, he said.

The Confucian Academy, which Mr Tong heads, is co-ordinating the setting up of a national federation of Confucians, to be registered in Beijing, probably in coming months.

With the opening up of the mainland, Confucianism was recognised by state leaders, in particular former president Jiang Zemin , as a platform to promote Chinese culture overseas. There are hundreds of Confucian institutions in overseas countries.