Hui Muslim protesters forced authorities to delay plans to demolish the new Weizhou Grand Mosque, in the Ningxia Hui region, in August. Photo: Handout
Hui Muslim protesters forced authorities to delay plans to demolish the new Weizhou Grand Mosque, in the Ningxia Hui region, in August. Photo: Handout

Beijing plans to continue tightening grip on Christianity and Islam as China pushes ahead with the ‘Sinicisation of religion’

  • Premier Li Keqiang tells legislature the Communist Party’s religious affairs policy must be fully implemented
  • Renewed drive comes amid growing international criticism over Beijing’s sweeping clampdown on Muslims and Christians

Topic |   Two Sessions 2019 (Lianghui)
Hui Muslim protesters forced authorities to delay plans to demolish the new Weizhou Grand Mosque, in the Ningxia Hui region, in August. Photo: Handout
Hui Muslim protesters forced authorities to delay plans to demolish the new Weizhou Grand Mosque, in the Ningxia Hui region, in August. Photo: Handout

Beijing has vowed to push ahead with its controversial campaign to “Sinicise religion”, defying growing international condemnation over its sweeping crackdown on Muslims and Christians.

Delivering his annual government work report on Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang told the national legislature that “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicisation of religion in China”.

The push to “Sinicise religion” – introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 – is an attempt by the officially atheist party to bring religions under its absolute control and into line with Chinese culture.

The campaign has coincided with an intensified clampdown on religious freedom across the country, especially on Protestants, Catholics and Muslims who the party fears could become tools of foreign influence or ethnic separatism.

In the far western region of Xinjiang, over 1 million Uygurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have reportedly been held in internment camps and forced to denounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the party.

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Expressions and observance of Islam, ethnic customs and culture have also been curbed or discouraged in what some critics called a “cultural cleansing” of the Uygur minority.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring regions of Ningxia Hui and Gansu – home to many Hui Muslims – domes, Islamic decor and Arabic signs have been taken off the streets and some mosques. No new “Arab style” mosques can be built and some Arabic-language schools have been shut down.

Outside the western regions, a wave of underground congregations – including the Zion Church in Beijing and Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, both prominent “house churches” – have been forced to shut down, with their members and pastors interrogated and detained.

Early Rain pastor Wang Yi has remained in detention facing subversion charges since a raid on his church in December.

The crackdowns – especially the mass detentions and security lockdown in Xinjiang – have been met with a rising chorus of criticism not only from human rights groups, but also academics, foreign governments and the United Nations.

But according to the government’s work report, Beijing plans to continue tightening its grip on religion. The “Sinicisation of religion” was included in Xi’s report – laying out broad policy directions for the next five years – to the party congress in late 2017 that kicked off his second term in power.

It has been included in the two government work reports that followed, for 2018 and 2019.

Last year, the party-controlled governing bodies for Protestants, Catholics and Muslims in China all released detailed five-year plans on how to Sinicise their own religions.

For Christianity, the plan calls for “Sinicised theology”, including retranslating the Bible and rewriting annotations.

It also demands Chinese traditional culture be integrated into expressions of faith, with “Chinese elements” to be added to liturgies, sacred music, clerical clothing and church buildings. Examples given include using traditional Chinese tunes to compose hymns and encouraging Christians to practise calligraphy and Chinese painting.