Gansu and Shandong Provinces Issue New Regulations on Religion

January 18, 2012

Since China's national Regulation on Religious Affairs entered into force in 2005, a number of provincial governments have followed suit with new or amended local regulations on religion. In some respects, new regulations from Shandong and Gansu provide more clarity, legal protections, and consistency than the older regulations they replace, but all within the restrictive framework of China's controls over religious practice. Such framework offers some limited protections but falls far short of international standards for religious freedom. The regulations also codify more extensive controls over religious practice in some regards, and many legal protections are limited to groups and venues registered with the government. The regulations differ from each other in some respects, reflecting a trend in variation among provincial regulations, even as local regulations on religion move toward greater uniformity with the national regulation.

Gansu and Shandong provinces have issued new regulations on religious affairs, following implementation of the national Regulation on Religious Affairs (national RRA) in 2005 and subsequent passage of several other provincial-level regulations on religion. The Gansu provincial People's Congress Standing Committee passed the Gansu Province Regulation on Religious Affairs (Gansu RRA) on September 29, 2011. It entered into force on December 1. The region's earlier legal measures on religion, the 1991 Gansu Province Temporary Provisions on the Management of Religious Affairs, were annulled in 2005. The Shandong provincial People's Congress Standing Committee passed the Shandong Province Regulation on Religious Affairs (Shandong RRA) also on September 29, 2011. The regulation entered into force on January 1, 2012, and replaces the province's 2000 Shandong Regulation on the Management of Religious Affairs. Since the national RRA entered into force, the governments of Qinghai, Jilin, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Hubei, Hainan, Shanghai, Shanxi, Henan, Zhejiang, Anhui, Beijing, Chongqing, Hunan, Liaoning, Sichuan, Tibet Autonomous Region, Hebei, Jiangxi, and Shaanxi also have reported issuing new or amended regulations on religious affairs.

More Clarity But More Formal Controls
Like other provincial-level regulations, the new Gansu and Shandong regulations provide more clarity, legal protections, and consistency in some respects over the regulations they replace, but all within the restrictive framework of China's controls over religious practice. Such framework offers some limited protections but falls far short of international standards for religious freedom. (See Section II—Freedom of Religious in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2011 Annual Report for additional information on this framework.) The regulations also codify greater formal controls in a number of areas. For example, the Gansu RRA now clarifies that outdoor religious statues may be built outside religious venues (Article 18, compared to no mention in the earlier regulation), but links the process to stipulations in the national RRA requiring several stages of government approval (Article 24). Both the Gansu and national regulations also stipulate that non-religious groups and venues may not build outdoor statues, a prohibition that would appear to apply to religious entities not registered with the government. In addition, the Shandong RRA provides more detailed stipulations on religious publications than the earlier regulation from the province (Article 8 compared to Article 6), clarifying the required process for publishing different types of materials though also reinforcing government control over the process. The Gansu and Shandong regulations also now specify new formal restrictions in areas such as Tibetan Buddhist practices (in the Gansu RRA, per below) and large-scale religious activities (Articles 27 and 29 in each regulation, respectively). In addition, as in the case of constructing outdoor statues, most of the legal safeguards within the regulations apply only to registered religious organizations and venues, thereby excluding religious communities that choose not to submit to state control or that are unable to meet the qualifications to register with the government.

State-Sanctioned Religious Groups
The Shandong RRA specifies Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism as the religions covered by the regulation (Article 48), as did the province's older RRA (Article 37) and Gansu's earlier temporary provisions on religious affairs (Article 3). The national RRA does not specify five state-sanctioned religions, nor does the new Gansu RRA, thus appearing to allow the possibility under law that some other religions could be recognized, though the Chinese government has not done so to date at the national level. Among local-level regulations, a limited number recognize the Orthodox Church.

Worship at Home
The national RRA and the new provincial regulations require that collective religious activities "in general" be held at registered venues (National RRA, Article 12; Gansu RRA, Article 25; Shandong RRA, Article 25). The Shandong RRA also includes a stipulation recognizing that religious believers may carry out some religious activity within one's own home (Article 26). Some other recent provincial-level regulations include similar provisions, though wording on this varies. (See, for example, a previous CECC analysis for a comparison among four provincial regulations.) The Shandong RRA provides that "citizens who believe in a religion and their relatives may, in accordance with religious custom, live a religious life within one's home, but may not influence other people's normal work and lives." (See a similar provision in Article 21 of the older Shandong regulation, minus the qualification on influencing others' work and lives.)

While the new Gansu and national RRAs are silent on home worship, the central government has addressed this issue. The 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" (White Paper from the Web site of the State Administration for Religious Affairs and also available in English on the Web site of the China Internet Information Center). The statement does not clarify the permitted scope of such services, however, nor does it address services held outside the home at venues unregistered with the government (also sometimes referred to as house churches). In a November 11 interview with Phoenix TV (via Open Source Center, subscription required, CPP20111116702009), Wang Zuo'an, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, appeared to dismiss the prevalence of house churches as religious venues independent of state control. He noted in the context of a survey conducted on Chinese Christianity, "I personally do not recognize the notion of this so-called 'house church,' there is no such a problem as with this church...." Against the backdrop of ambiguous policy statements, coupled with lack of clear legal protections in the law, authorities have targeted for closure religious meetings in private homes as well as unregistered venues. (See, e.g., CECC analyses 1, 2, 3.)

Controls over Tibetan Buddhism
The Gansu RRA includes a stipulation (Article 21), absent in the earlier provincial provisional measures, giving the authority to supervise and approve the succession of living Buddhas to the state-controlled Buddhist associations, and mandating that succession procedures follow existing "relevant provisions"—a reference to the 2007 national measures regulating the reincarnation of living Buddhas. The stipulation also forbids individuals and groups from engaging in activities related to this without authorization and forbids "interference or domination from any organization or individual outside the borders." The provisions accord with and reinforce the national measures regulating the reincarnation of living Buddhas (analysis here), amid a trend of tighter formal controls over the fundamental institutions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.

For more information on regulation of religion in China, see CECC analyses of the Jiangsu, Hubei, and Hainan regulations, Shanghai, Shanxi, Henan, and Zhejiang regulations, amendments to the Anhui regulation, amendments to the Beijing regulation, and regulations from Chongqing and Hunan. See also Section II—Freedom of Religion in the CECC 2011 Annual Report.