Wang Zuoan's department - the State Administration for Religious Affairs - is an 'organisation' under the State Council. Its director, Ye Xiaowen, enjoys the rank of a vice-minister. This means the administration, which has a staff of only 60 - the smallest of all State Council organisations - is one rank below ministries such as Foreign Affairs or Public Security. China officially has more than 100 million religious believers. Among them, 15 million are Protestants and more than four million Catholics. There are more than 85,000 religious sites - churches and temples - and over 300,000 clergy. And they are all under the control of Mr Wang's department. These figures do not include the numerous indigenous religious groups that are popular in the countryside. In addition, cults have attracted big crowds in recent years. Cults are not directly Mr Wang's responsibility but when they get out of hand, he cannot just shake them off either. According to Mr Wang, the administration's main responsibility is to implement decisions on religions by the Communist Party and State Council and to ensure government bodies follow the law in administering religions. In Mr Wang's eyes, religious bodies are social groups to be administered - not assemblies of spiritual men and women. 'We emphasise 'rule by law' now,' Mr Wang said. 'I often tell provincial religious officials why we draft all these rules is because we need to restrict government behaviour. What it means is when government rules, it must rule in accordance with the regulations. 'You [local cadres] can't supersede the rules. And you can't introduce a rule because this will help you to suppress the public. 'You can't say that when we have a religious regulation, then we have something special to deal with religions. No, you can't just do what you want, you must follow the rules.' But Mr Wang conceded that implementing the rules could be tricky. 'Anything can happen in a big country like China. Very often, the central Government's policies are good but they become twisted in the local level.' Moreover, provincial religious officials are not chosen by Mr Wang's administration but picked by provincial governments. Another recent trend affecting Mr Wang's office related to the downsizing of government bureaucracy. Announced by Premier Zhu Rongji three years ago, more than a dozen government ministries have been merged and streamlined. Mr Wang's office lost 13 staff as a result. The downsizing was more visible at provincial level, Mr Wang said. Except in Sichuan province, most provincial religious affairs bureaus have now been merged with their counterparts from the Ethnic Affairs Commission. 'This happens because the nature of work [of both authorities] is often similar,' he said. Another delicate issue the administration faces is what constitutes a religion in China. According to Mr Wang, China officially recognises five religions - Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism - but he acknowledged the rapid rise of many new religions. 'Yes, there is the Orthodox church in the northeast, but they are still relatively small and mostly involved people of Russian descent,' he said. But whatever definitions Beijing followed, Mr Wang said 'evil cults' - a phrase Beijing uses to describe the Falun Gong and other groups - would never be recognised as religions in China. The Deputy Director-General said similar problems existed within the Protestant circle because there were many 'heretical groups' which were not welcomed by mainstream protestants. He said it was up to clergy to determine which groups were heretical and the responsibility of police to control them. 'There are very clear provisions in our criminal laws which deal with cults,' he said.