Communists and religious groups cash in on reform

John Kohut

IN an ironic twist which would most likely have offended Buddha, Jesus and Karl Marx, the local communist authorities in this southern special economic zone are working with churches and temples to build capitalist enterprises.

Under communist rule, the Government controls religious organisations strictly in China, providing funds in return for political loyalty.

But both the Government and religious groups are relatively poor.

In Xiamen, the two are putting their minds and assets together to cash in on capitalist reform.

Mr Huang Zhenhui, a senior official in the Xiamen Religious Work Bureau, noted that a third of Xiamen's 13,000 religious believers have relatives or other close connections abroad.

Last year, religious groups in Xiamen managed to use their overseas connections to draw 200 million yuan (HK$267.8 million) worth of investment, he said.

For its part, the local government is helping religious organisations exploit their potential to make money.

''Religious groups in Xiamen have some great property with good locations that could be made of better use,'' Mr Huang said.

The religious work bureau is assisting these groups with feasibility studies and applications to higher government authorities for tax breaks and other preferential treatment.

In Xiamen, the Nan Putuo Si, a large Buddhist monastery, already runs a popular vegetarian restaurant which caters mainly to tour groups. Last year the restaurant earned 140,000 yuan. The monastery also runs souvenir and arts and crafts shops.

The local Catholic association operates a guest house on the historic island of Gulanyu, just off the Xiamen mainland. The hostel is called Ai Hua, which has two meanings: love China and love Jehovah. It earned about 100,000 yuan last year.

Mr Huang said Catholic and Protestant churches tended to be located in the central district of Xiamen. Much of their land was currently wasted.

For example, after the Cultural Revolution, the authorities handed back to the Protestant association a piece of property confiscated by the Government during the previous years of political chaos.

The authorities had built a factory on the land. But the Protestant church was not able to make use of the plant. Now, the church is planning to develop a 1,000 square metre shopping plaza there.

Meanwhile, the Catholic association is building a high rise on a piece of prime property it owns in central Xiamen.

''We encourage religious people to make more contributions to the material and spiritual culture of the special economic zone,'' said Mr Huang. ''We make the point that to be a good religious person one should also be a good citizen.