National Conferences Highlight Restrictions on Buddhist and Taoist Doctrine

October 27, 2010

National conferences of China's state-run Taoist and Buddhist "patriotic religious organizations" from the past eight months have highlighted the restrictions that the Chinese government places on the religious activities of those communities. Few reports regarding the restrictions that the Chinese government places on China's Taoists and non-Tibetan Buddhists reach the international media. However, like members of other officially recognized religious communities in China, Buddhists and Taoists who worship at officially sanctioned temples in China encounter state interference in their religious practice and teaching. Chinese government policy requires that Taoist and Buddhist religious groups affiliate with state-run "patriotic religious organizations" that manage their affairs. Those who practice these faiths at religious sites that the government does not recognize face the possibility that their places of worship will be closed or demolished. China's state-controlled Buddhist and Taoist organizations modify doctrine to eliminate some elements that the Communist Party regards as incompatible with its goals. In addition, authorities designate some religious groups that function independently of state control as "cults," raising the possibility of administrative or criminal punishment for religious leaders and followers.

Buddhist and Taoist National Conferences Infuse Political Themes Into Religious Practice

According to Chinese media sources (see below), the Buddhist Association of China (BAC) and the Chinese Taoist Association (CTA)―both state-controlled "patriotic religious organizations"―held their eighth national conferences in February and June 2010, respectively. In a speech to the eighth national conference of the BAC (via a February 1, 2010, transcript on the Buddhism Online Web site), Wang Zuo'an, director of the government's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), praised the BAC's adherence to its 2002 seventh national conference agenda, making contributions to the advancement of "economic development, social harmony, ethnic unity, [and] unification of the motherland." He also said that BAC-affiliated communities need to work to improve the "patriotic quality" of religious personnel and believers, that clergy must be "politically reliable," that Buddhist education should lead followers to "uphold the leadership of the Communist Party," and that Buddhists should "follow the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics." Wang also highlighted the "political quality" of official controls over Buddhist doctrine when he praised BAC-affiliated communities for their repudiation of the Tibetan organizations and individuals, and their supporters, whom Chinese officials collectively refer to as the "Dalai clique," as well as the Lhasa protests and rioting of March 2008. According to the transcript of Wang's remarks posted by Buddhism Online, Wang stated:

...our struggle with the Dalai clique is not a question of religious belief, but is rather a major political struggle to oppose separatism and to protect the unity of the motherland and ethnic solidarity. The masses of religious personnel and believers ... must resolutely oppose and consciously resist the Dalai clique's activities that exploit religion to split the motherland, to damage ethnic solidarity, and to disrupt social order…

The June 2010 eighth national conference of the Chinese Taoist Association (CTA) reportedly sounded similar themes. According to a June 2010 article from the CTA Web site, the CTA conference focused on encouraging "progress" and "unity," "implementing Party religious policy," and "taking an active role in the development of social harmony and economic development." A June 2010 article from the Eastern Taoism Web site stresses the need to engage in "serious study" of Party policy and the words of high-level Party officials and SARA officials. According to a June 2010 Xinhua report (via the Web site of the Central People's Government), in a visit with representatives of the conference, Politburo Standing Committee member Jia Qinglin commended the CTA's commitment to the Chinese Communist Party and stated his appreciation for its "adherence to the socialist road, its work to maintain social stability, and its contributions toward realizing ethnic unity and the unification of the motherland." Jia further stressed the need for the CTA to "encourage patriotism" among its followers.

Officials Continue Campaign Against "Unauthorized Religious Sites"

One theme that emerged in both conferences was that Buddhist and Taoist sites of worship must be approved by the government, and that unregistered sites should be closed or demolished. Wang Zuo'an's speech and the CTA article both emphasize the construction of "harmonious" temples, echoing a SARA campaign started in early 2009 and described in a June 2009 article on the Web site of the Zhouzhi County People's Government, Xi'an city, Shaanxi province. According to the article, "harmonious" temples, churches, and mosques must maintain high "patriotic" standards and "safeguard the unification of the motherland, ethnic unity, and social stability." On October 19, 2009, the Wuxi City Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, Jiangsu province posted a manual on its Web site outlining how to manage unauthorized temples. The manual describes some unauthorized religious sites as centers of "superstition, cults, and illegal criminal activities" and claims that they "distort, mislead, and debase religious belief" and "influence the true implementation of the Party's policies on religious freedoms." The manual offers four methods of dealing with unauthorized temples: "transform," "demolish," "change," or "co-opt"; the manual specifies that the majority of unauthorized temples should be dealt with through "demolition" or "changing." A plan for handling unregistered religious spaces published on the official Web site of the Dingshu town People's Government, Wuxi city, Jiangsu province criticizes "privately erected, indiscriminately constructed" (sida luanjian) temples and indicates that official investigations had uncovered 13 such unregistered religious venues within Dingshu town limits. The plan recommends that these unregistered sites be demolished and that their grounds be reclaimed or be made into green space.

Authorities Continue To Label Unauthorized Groups of Buddhist and Taoist Origin as "Cult Organizations"

As reported in the Commission's 2010 Annual Report (p. 105), the Communist Party's 6-10 Office, an extralegal security apparatus created to enforce a ban against Falun Gong, targets other groups that the government deems "cult organizations," including groups of Buddhist or Taoist origin. Lists of officially designated "cult" organizations, such as a list of Chinese government and Party-designated "cults" issued by the Ministry of Public Security (available via the Zhengqi Net Web site, 5 February 07) include two alleged "cults" primarily of Buddhist progeny: the Quan Yin Method (also known as Guanyin Famen), led by Ching Hai, and the True Buddha School (lingxian zhen fozong), a syncretic sect that combines elements of Tibetan Buddhism and Taoism. While the most prominent example of a religious or spiritual group officially designated as a "cult" in China is Falun Gong―a spiritual movement based on Chinese meditative exercises called qigong and the teachings of Falun Gong's founder, Li Hongzhi―authorities continue to use the "cult" designation to interfere with the activities of various religious communities that run afoul of government or Party policy, including some Buddhist and Taoist-inspired organizations. In some cases, authorities use Article 300 of the Criminal Law as a basis to punish people deemed to "use" cults to undermine state laws or commit other crimes. Authorities placed particular emphasis on anti-cult propaganda and education in the lead-up to and during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. See, for example, a brief June 2010 introduction to cults published on the Qidong City People's Government Web Site, Jiangsu province and an April 2010 announcement from the Wushan Community Web site, Gulou city, Fujian province, specifically stating that increased supervision of religious organizations is attributable to the Shanghai Expo. A December 2009 Mashang town, Shandong province work summary found on the Zhangdian District Public Information Network particularly emphasizes the need for education campaigns against the Quan Yin Method and Falun Gong. An April 2010 article posted on the Shanghai People's Government Web site also announced the launch of a campaign to "Welcome the World Expo, Speak in a Civilized Way, and Oppose Cults."

For more information about the patriotic religious organizations, China's policies on religion, harmonious temples, and government and Party control of Buddhist and Taoist practice in China, see Section II—Freedom of Religion in the CECC's 2010 Annual Report. For more information on the Chinese government's crackdown on cults, see the CECC's 2010 Annual Report (p. 103-105, 110-111), a CECC analysis, and an October 1999 report on the Web site of the Chinese Embassy to the United States.