Chongqing Municipality and Hunan Province Issue New Religious Regulations

January 4, 2007

Two provincial-level governments issued new religious regulations in September that enter into force in December and January. The Chongqing Municipal People's Congress Standing Committee issued the Chongqing Municipal Regulation on Religious Affairs (Chongqing RRA) on September 29. The Chongqing RRA, effective on December 1, makes void the 1997 Chongqing Municipal Regulation on the Management on Religious Affairs. The Hunan Province People's Congress Standing Committee passed a new Hunan Province Regulation on Religious Affairs (Hunan RRA) on September 30.

Two provincial-level governments issued new religious regulations in September that enter into force in December and January. The Chongqing Municipal People's Congress Standing Committee issued the Chongqing Municipal Regulation on Religious Affairs (Chongqing RRA) on September 29. The Chongqing RRA, effective on December 1, makes void the 1997 Chongqing Municipal Regulation on the Management on Religious Affairs. The Hunan Province People's Congress Standing Committee passed a new Hunan Province Regulation on Religious Affairs (Hunan RRA) on September 30. The Hunan RRA becomes effective on January 1, 2007, and annuls the 2000 Hunan Province Regulation on the Management of Religious Affairs on that date. These two provincial-level areas join the governments of Shanghai, Shanxi, Henan, Zhejiang, Anhui, and Beijing in issuing new or amended regulations on religion since the national Regulation on Religious Affairs entered into force on March 1, 2005. Key features of the new Chongqing RRA include:

  • China's Five Recognized Religions. Like the old Chongqing regulation, the new Chongqing RRA does not include a provision mentioning China's five recognized religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. It also deletes mention of the titles of religious clergy affiliated with these religions, included in Article 19 of the old regulation. Elsewhere, however, the new regulation includes a provision suggesting that the government restricts religion to these five categories. Article 8 of the new Chongqing RRA lists the names of the seven official religious associations affiliated with the government's five recognized religions and defines religious organizations to mean groups "such as" these. Article 26 of the old regulation also mentions some of these associations. These associations are "mass organizations" established under the Communist Party and designed to lead each recognized religion. The national RRA does not make reference to five recognized religions, and recent provincial regulations vary on this issue. The national RRA does not cite each religious association by name, nor do most other new regulations, but Hunan, Anhui, and Shanxi include similar provisions naming the associations.
  • Patriotic Education. Article 12 of the new Chongqing RRA states that religious organizations shall educate religious clergy and followers in patriotism and law, similar to provisions in most other recent local regulations. The old Chongqing regulation does not specify such a requirement, nor does the national RRA, but recent policy statements and clergy confirmation rules indicate a policy to inculcate patriotism among clergy and other religious followers has been implemented nationwide. (See, for example, an August article by State Administration for Religious Affairs Director Ye Xiaowen in Qiushi, the Communist Party Central Committee's official journal, Hu Jintao's speech at a July 10-12 National United Front Work Meeting, as reported July 13 by Xinhua, and provisions on the initiation of Daoist monks amended in 2005 by the state-controlled Daoist Association.)
  • Worship at Home. Article 29 allows individuals to carry out "normal religious activities" at home with "mainly religious family members" as participants [emphasis added]. The 1997 Chongqing regulation enumerated in Article 31 a series of religious activities that religious adherents could perform within private homes, without specifying inclusion by family members or others. The national RRA is silent on the issue of worship at home, though all other new provincial regulations have provisions allowing individuals to "live a religious life" or "carry out religious activities" at home, sometimes specifying inclusion by family members. Among these recent local regulations, the Chongqing regulation is the first to use language broad enough to suggest some non-family members also may participate in religious activities within a private home, in addition to participating in activities at registered religious venues.
  • Administrative Reconsideration. Like Article 54 of the 1997 Chongqing regulation, Article 47 of the new Chongqing RRA retains a provision allowing people to apply for administrative reconsideration or to bring an administrative lawsuit to challenge a government action. The national RRA includes a similar provision, but none of the other recent provincial regulations specify this except for Shanghai.

Key features of the Hunan RRA include:

  • China's Five Recognized Religions. The new Hunan regulation eliminates a previous reference in Article 2 of the 2000 Hunan regulation that defines "religious affairs" to involve only Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. The new Hunan RRA also deletes reference to titles of religious clergy, which Article 11 of the old regulation included.
  • Government Supervision. Article 6 of the new Hunan RRA adds neighborhood and village committees to the levels of government involved in the administration of religious work. Like Article 6 of the old regulation, it also calls on village and town governments to assist in such work. The national RRA states that all levels of government shall coordinate religious work but does not specifically mention these lower levels of government, though some other recent provincial regulations do.
  • Religious Activities. Both the new Hunan RRA and the 2000 Hunan regulation lack any mention of "normal religious activities," and do not state that religious activities in general receive state protection. The national RRA and all other recent local regulations use this term, though they leave it undefined, and state that such activities receive state protection. The Hunan RRA defines religious activities in Article 29 to mean "activities that citizens who believe in religion carry out in accordance with religious canons, doctrine, or customs, in legally registered venues for religious activities or temporary venues for religious activities legally designated as such by the religious affairs bureau at the county level or higher. [It also means] the religious lives that citizens who believe in religion live out in their homes in accordance with religious customs." The Hunan RRA adds in Article 30 that "carrying out religious activities must be done in observance of the Constitution, laws, and regulations, and may not obstruct social order, order in production, or order in livelihood, and must not injure citizens' health." These provisions are similar to Articles 23 and 26 in the 2000 Hunan regulation.
  • Folk Beliefs. Article 48 provides for the registration of venues for activities involving folk beliefs. Such legal regulation of folk beliefs is absent from the national RRA and other recent and old provincial-level regulations on religion, except 2005 provisions from Hunan establishing a management system for folk beliefs. This new article in the Hunan RRA may signify a new trend in drawing folk religions into the government system of religious regulation, which could provide some limited legal protections but also subject more aspects of folk practice to government control. Although the national government sustains a framework on religion that recognizes and offers limited state protections to only five religions, the national State Administration for Religious Affairs has an office that oversees religions outside the five recognized groups, including folk beliefs. Outside of Hunan, and outside the area of religious legislation, the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in Licheng district, Putian city, Fujian province, has posted material on its Web site referencing folk beliefs in an overview of local religious organizations.

Experts on religion in China have been divided on the impact of the RRA and subsequent provincial-level regulations on freedom of religion in China. At the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's November 20 roundtable on China's National and Local Regulations on Religion: Recent Developments in Legislation and Implementation, Eric R. Carlson's written statement noted, "The [national] RRA offered few unrestricted rights -- most contained qualifications, provisos, and restrictions. The omissions that were thought perhaps to signal a new openness did not grant any new rights, and religious groups are not fundamentally on more solid legal ground than before." The statement also noted, "New and amended regional regulations issued after the RRA [...] are sometimes at odds with the RRA and pose questions for religious groups. While these regulations reveal some tinkering around the edges, these regulations can be seen as more of a codification and reaffirmation of existing policies established under the RRA than a radical departure from the RRA framework. ...Conflicts between provisions in the RRA and regional regulations leave religious groups in a state of legal and practical uncertainty." According to Pastor Bob Fu's written statement, the national RRA and new amendments to provincial regulations indicate that "the Chinese government, at the central and local levels, has shifted the regulative emphasis on religious activities from the singular target of religious activities sites to more comprehensive religious undertakings[.]" The statement added that these changes "result in more comprehensive, rigid, and diverse regulation measures." In contrast, James Tong's written statement noted, "In both statutory enactment as well as policy implementation, and at both the central and provincial levels, the overall trend has been one of the increasing institutional autonomy of religious organizations, greater protection of religious organizations, venues, and personnel. Even for the more authoritarian provinces, no retrogression toward greater restriction on religious freedom is evident either in the legislative stipulations or policy enforcement of its new provincial regulations. To date, a great majority of provinces has not enacted new religious affairs regulations, but for the six that have, they promise an even more benign milieu for religion in China."

For more information on recent provincial regulations on religion, see CECC analyses of the Shanghai, Zhejiang, Hunan, and Shanxi regulations, amendments to the Anhui RRA, and amendments to the Beijing RRA. See also the written statements of Eric Carlson, Bob Fu, and James Tong from the CECC roundtable on religious regulations for their analyses of the regulations. For additional information on religion in China, see section V(d), "Freedom of Religion," in the CECC 2006 Annual Report.