Zhejiang and Other Provincial Governments Issue New Religious Regulations
The Zhejiang provincial government issued an amended provincial regulation on religious affairs on March 29, making it the fourth provincial-level government to promulgate a new or revised comprehensive regulation on religious affairs since the State Council Regulation on Religious Affairs (RRA) entered into force on March 1, 2005. The Zhejiang regulation amends the provincial government’s 1997 regulation on religious affairs and will enter into force on June 1, 2006.
The Zhejiang provincial government issued an amended provincial regulation on religious affairs on March 29, making it the fourth provincial-level government to promulgate a new or revised comprehensive regulation on religious affairs since the State Council Regulation on Religious Affairs (RRA) entered into force on March 1, 2005. The Zhejiang regulation amends the provincial government’s 1997 regulation on religious affairs and will enter into force on June 1, 2006. The other new or amended provincial-level regulations on religious affairs were adopted by the governments of Shanghai municipality (amended from the 1995 regulation), Henan province (new regulation), and Shanxi province (new regulation).
The national RRA does not mention whether existing local regulations are to be amended to conform to the RRA. It provides only that the 1994 Regulation on the Management of Venues for Religious Activity is annulled upon the RRA’s entry into force. (In April 2005 the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) issued new Measures on the Examination, Approval, and Registration of Venues for Religious Activity.) Article 79 of the Legislation Law says that national regulations have higher force than local ones, and articles 64 and 88 call for amending or canceling local regulations that conflict with national legal sources. Vague wording within the RRA makes it difficult, however, to determine how some provisions in pre-existing and new local regulations may conflict with the RRA. To date, at least one provincial government has reported it annulled an existing legal decree to conform provincial law to the national RRA. In July 2005, the Hunan provincial government canceled its implementing measures for the now-annulled 1994 Regulation on the Management of Venues for Religious Activity.
While legal guidelines can indicate new trends in the government's attitude toward religion, Communist Party policies and local government variations in dealing with religious issues also affect the actual implementation of religious policy.
For additional information about religion in China, see section III(d), Freedom of Religion, in the CECC 2005 Annual Report, and recent CECC analyses on restrictions placed on the practice of Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, and Protestantism.
China's Five Official Religions
The Chinese government recognizes only five belief systems as authorized religions (see, for example, its 1997 White Paper on Freedom of Religious Belief, available on the People's Daily Web site and a current summary of officially approved religions on the SARA Web site), but the national RRA neither mentions this limitation nor lists the seven state-controlled patriotic religious associations by name. The absence of such mention in the RRA has led some observers to wonder if the Chinese government will recognize additional religions. (See the 2005 CECC Roundtable on China's New Regulation on Religious Affairs and papers from the Christian Leadership Exchange and Fuller Theological Seminary Forum on China's Religious Regulations for more information.) Local authorities have registered Orthodox Christian groups in parts of China, but their status under national law is unclear. Among provincial-level areas, the Heilongjiang Regulation on the Management of Religious Affairs recognizes the Orthodox Church. Article 2 states, "'Religious affairs' as used in this regulation refers to the public and social affairs existing between the state, society, and masses [on the one hand,] and Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy [on the other]." The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Implementing Measures for the Management of Venues for Religious Activity also recognizes the Orthodox Church. Article 2 states, "'Venues for religious activity' refers to Buddhist temples and convents, Daoist temples, Islamic mosques, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches, and other fixed points for simple religious activity." At least one county-level government Web site and one local United Front Web site, both outside of Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia, list the Orthodox Church as one of China's religions, but appear to place it within the category of Protestantism. The Shilin Yi Autonomous County (Yunnan Province) government Web site states that China's religions belong to the five categories of "Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism (Orthodoxy)." The Jiuquan City (Gansu Province) United Front Web site provides that China's religions belong to "such" categories as "Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism (Orthodoxy), etc."
The new, newly amended, and pre-amended regulations vary in their treatment of the five religions:
- Article 2 of the new Henan regulation states that "'Religion,' as used in this regulation, refers to Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism."
- The newly amended Shanghai regulation and the newly amended Zhejiang regulation do not state that Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism constitute China's officially approved religions, but article 3 of the original 1995 Shanghai regulation and article 2 of the original 1997 Zhejiang regulation defined religion to mean these five religions. Article 9 of the original Shanghai regulation also defined "religious organizations" to mean China's patriotic religious associations associated with each religion, as well as "other legally established religious organizations" within Shanghai. Article 15 of this regulation defined religious personnel to mean clergy affiliated with the five religions, as did article 13 of the original Zhejiang regulation.
- The new Shanxi regulation, like the amended Shanghai and Zhejiang regulations, does not define religion to mean these five categories, but two other articles single out the associations and clergy affiliated with these faiths. Like the original Shanghai regulation, Article 7 of the Shanxi regulation defines "religious organizations" to mean the national patriotic religious associations "and other legally established religious groups," while article 16 defines religious personnel to mean the clergy affiliated with the five religions.
Establishing Religious Organizations
National and local regulations, including those promulgated before the national RRA entered into force, require religious organizations to apply for registration with local authorities. The 1991 national Implementing Measures on the Management of the Registration of Religious Social Organizations (which states that it was drafted in accordance with the 1989 Regulation on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations) requires religious organizations to go through a process of examination with its local RAB and then apply to register with the corresponding bureau of the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA). The RAB must then report the registration for the record to the RAB at the next higher administrative level. Catholics, who are singled out for separate procedures, complete their registration process via the provincial-level RAB and MOCA; the provincial RAB reports the registration for the record with the national RAB. The new RRA provides in article 6 that religious organizations should register in accordance with the 1998 Regulation on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations. The 1998 Social Organizations Regulation requires, among other things, that organizations applying to register have qualified staff, legally sufficient financial resources, and 50 or more individual members (article 10). Articles 6, 26, and 28 task MOCA offices at the county level and higher, and designated sponsor organizations, with managing and supervising social organizations.
- All of the new, amended, and original regulations, except the one from Shanxi province, call for registration in accordance with the Regulation on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations (sometimes specifying the regulation by precise name), noting (with the exception of the original Shanghai regulation) the need to go through some type of examination with the county-level RAB before applying to register with the MOCA. (See article 9 of the amended Zhejiang regulation, article 8 of the original Zhejiang regulation, article 7 of the amended Shanghai regulation, article 10 of the original Shanghai regulation, and article 7 of the Henan regulation.)
- In addition, article 8 of the new Henan regulation details a special procedure to establish Catholic organizations, requiring the provincial-level "Catholic Religious Affairs Committee" to put forth an application and go through the registration process with the provincial-level RAB and MOCA.
- Article 8 of the new Shanxi regulation requires applying to the provincial-level RAB to establish a provincial-level religious organization or Catholic diocese. Establishing religious organizations at other levels requires applying to the RAB at that level. The article also sets forth several conditions that must be fulfilled to apply for registration, such as having lawful financial resources and having texts, doctrine, and canons that do not violate the religious organization's constitution.
Venues for Religious Activity
Article 12 of the national regulation states that "in general" collective religious activities be held at registered venues for religious activity. The new, amended, and original provincial-level regulations also specify that religious activities be held at registered venues, though none except the Henan regulation includes the term "in general." The RRA and most of the other regulations define these sites as Buddhist and Daoist temples, mosques, churches, and "other fixed places for religious activities." None of the regulations provides specific detail on which places qualify as "other fixed venues," but the new Measures on the Examination, Approval, and Registration of Venues for Religious Activity state in article 2 that "standards for concretely differentiating between [temples, mosques, and churches and "other fixed venues"] are formulated by the religious affairs bureau of the people's government in each province, autonomous region, or directly administered municipality, based on the actual conditions of the locality, and then reported for the record to the State Administration for Religious Affairs." Article 13 of the RRA sets forth an application process whereby religious organizations first apply to the county-level RAB to "prepare" to establish a venue for religious activities. This RAB has 30 days to consider the case before submitting it to the [prefectural] city-level RAB. It has 30 days to consider the case before submitting it to the provincial-level RAB, which has 30 days to make a final decision. If an "other fixed venue for religious activities" is under consideration, the [prefectural] city-level authorities issue the final decision. Article 14 sets forth a number of conditions to be met in order to establish a venue, including local religious believers having "a need to frequently carry out collective religious activities." Under the now-annulled 1994 Measures on the Registration of Venues for Religious Activity, the venue applying to register submitted an application to the RAB at the county-level or higher, which had 15 days to consider whether to proceed with the application and 60 days to make a final decision on whether to grant registration.
Under the new Measures on the Examination, Approval, and Registration of Venues for Religious Activity, establishing a venue for religious activity "in general" (article 3) involves a religious organization submitting an application to the county-level RAB. The Measures do not stipulate time limits or state that the application goes up through the levels of local government. The Measures also establish a two-part process whereby a religious organization applies first to the county-level RAB to "prepare" to establish a venue, and then applies to the same RAB to register the venue.
The new and amended provincial-level regulations either make specific reference to following the procedures in the RRA or stipulate a process that mirrors the process described in the RRA and the related new 2005 Measures on the Examination, Approval, and Registration of Venues for Religious Activity. See article 22 of the amended Zhejiang regulation, article 12 of the new Shanxi regulation, article 17 of the amended Shanghai regulation, and articles 16-18 of the new Henan regulation.
The national RRA does not include a separate chapter on religious activities but deals with this issue throughout the regulation. According to article 3, the state "protects normal religious activities." (This protection of "normal religious activities" is also stated in article 36 of the Chinese Constitution.) All of the new and amended regulations, as well as the older versions, also include a similar clause. These regulations all call for holding religious activities at registered venues. (The Henan regulation says that "in general" activities should be held in such places.) All of the regulations also appear to permit a degree of space to observe a recognized religion within one's own home, though the wording on this varies.
- Article 29 of the old Zhejiang regulation stated, "Religious citizens may, in accordance with the doctrine, canon, and customs of their religion, live a religious life within a venue for religious activities, and also may live a religious life [guo zongjiao shenghuo] within their own homes." Article 36 of the amended regulation states, regarding religion within the home, "Religious citizens may ... live a religious life within their own homes but must not affect the normal lives of other people."
- The Shanxi regulation stipulates in article 22 that religious citizens may "in accordance with the customs of their religion, carry out normal religious activities [jinxing...zhengchang zongjiao huodong] within their own residence that are participated in by religious members of a family."
- Article 30 of the old Shanghai regulation allowed religious citizens to "live a religious life in their own homes" while article 27 of the amended regulation permits "religious members of a family" to "live a religious life in their own homes." In both cases, this is to be done "in accordance with the doctrine, canon, and customs of their religion."
- Article 21 of the Henan regulation permits religious citizens to "live a religious life" in their homes "in accordance with the conventions of their religion."
- Two regulations give examples of religious activities. Article 20 of the Shanxi regulation states that religious activities indicates a series of practices including Buddhist worship, Ramadan, preaching, baptism, observing religious holidays, and Catholic mass. Article 30 of the older Shanghai regulation similarly listed such activities. The amended Shanghai regulation does not include such information.
The national RRA contains no such provision on "living a religious life" or "conducting religious activities" at home. China's 1997 White Paper on Freedom of Religious Belief states, "There is no registration requirement for, to quote from Chinese Christians, 'house services,' which are mainly attended by relatives and friends for religious activities such as praying and Bible reading." Nonetheless, authorities have shut down services held in homes. Article 20 of a temporary regulation from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region specifies that some religious activities may be conducted for friends and family at home, but they appear to be limited to rites related to illness, funerals, and memorials.
Article 27 of the national RRA stipulates, "Religious personnel confirmed by a religious organization and reported for the record to the religious affairs bureau of the people's government at the county level or higher may engage in professional religious activities." The article includes special provisions for the succession of living Buddhas and appointment of Catholic bishops, both of which require higher levels of recording, and in the case of living Buddhas, government approval. Most of the provincial-level regulations similarly state that religious organizations confirm the status of religious personnel and report it to county-level RAB. The original Shanghai version, however, specified in article 16 that the municipal-level religious organization confirms personnel and reports this to the municipal RAB; the amended Shanghai regulation requires in article 12 reporting this to municipal, county, and district RABs. In addition, some of the regulations specify the titles of religious personnel.
- Article 13 of the original Zhejiang regulation indicated that "religious personnel" referred to a list of titles that fall into the categories of the five recognized religions, including Buddhist monks and nuns, Daoist monks and nuns, Islamic imams, Catholic bishops and priests, and Protestant pastors. The amended Zhejiang regulation does not specify these titles.
- The new Shanxi regulation specifies, in article 16, titles of clergy belonging to the five official religions.
- The original Shanghai regulation specifies titles in article 15, but the amended version does not, and nor does the new Henan regulation.
Each of the new or amended regulations provides administrative penalties and disciplinary sanctions for violations of the regulations, such as disciplinary sanctions for violations by state functionaries charged with carrying out religious work. The national RRA leads its chapter on liability with this provision on state functionaries (article 38). In addition, the regulations all include boilerplate language referring to the necessity of pursuing a criminal investigation in the event a "crime is constituted." This language is directed against both functionaries with oversight over religious affairs as well as potential violators of the regulations among ordinary Chinese citizens, organizations, or religious venues. The bulk of all of the regulations' sections on liability focuses on violations likely to occur by such ordinary citizens, organizations, or religious venues that do not adhere to the regulations. The new and amended regulations vary in their presentation of such issues, but their provisions on the liability of state functionaries are mostly similar.
- The amended Shanghai regulation includes more provisions than the original and rewords some older stipulations. Article 60 of the amended Shanghai regulation states that "if functionaries from the RAB or other administrative management offices, in the course of their work on religious affairs, abuse their authority, are derelict in their duties, or commit irregularities, the work unit at that site or higher-level controlling department shall render disciplinary sanctions; if conditions are serious and constitute a crime, criminal liability will be pursued according to the law." This is almost identical to the provision in the national RRA. The original Shanghai regulation stated in article 58 that "if state functionaries violate provisions of this regulation, punishment may be given according to the pertinent stipulations of the regulation, and the local work unit can give disciplinary sanctions." This provision did not specify that such liability would be for violations committed in the course of a functionary carrying out her duties.
- The original and amended Zhejiang regulations and the Shanxi regulations include language almost identical to the amended Shanghai and national RRA stipulation on functionaries who abuse their authority in the course of their work. Article 51 of the original Zhejiang regulation, however, applied only to functionaries from religious affairs bureaus, whereas article 49 in the amended version applies to all state functionaries acting in the course of religious work.
- The Henan regulation has a more extensive provision on state functionaries. Article 26 provides that "state functionaries who, in the course of religious management work, infringe on the lawful rights and interests of religious groups, venues of religious activity, religious personnel, or religious citizens; or who are derelict in duty, abuse their authority or commit irregularities, will be given disciplinary sanctions according to the law. If a crime is constituted, criminal liability will be pursued."