Top Leaders Praise the Work of China's "Patriotic Religious Organizations"

March 10, 2010

Religious believers who worship at registered religious venues, the only legally sanctioned locations where religious activities may be conducted on a regular basis in China, and who belong to registered churches, temples, and mosques, continue to encounter government and Communist Party interference in their religious practice and teachings. Interference occurs in a regular and institutionalized fashion through seven state-led entities called "patriotic religious organizations," which exercise authority over registered religious groups in matters ranging from dictating doctrine to controlling clergy appointments. In recent months, top Party and government leaders have met with the leaders of the patriotic religious organizations to commend them for their support of the authorities in 2009 and to outline goals for their work in 2010.

In early February, central Party leaders and top officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) held meetings with representatives of China's "patriotic religious organizations" and the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference to commend them for their work in 2009 and to outline the Party's and government's priorities for 2010. Six patriotic religious organizations attended these meetings, representing the five officially recognized religions in China: the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Catholic Patriotic Association, the China Christian Council and the Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) of Protestant Churches.

The director of SARA, Wang Zuo'an, addressed the meeting of over 200 leaders of patriotic religious organizations on February 9 at the Beijing headquarters of the Central Party United Front Work Department, according to a February 10 SARA report (posted on the official Web site of the Central People's Government). Wang described 2009 as an "important year" in which patriotic religious organizations "comprehensively carried out the Party's fundamental policies on religious affairs work." Wang noted how 2009 witnessed a "strong start to activities [aimed at] establishing harmonious temples and churches," and how authorities were able to "achieve headway in solving important and difficult problems in the religious sphere." Wang praised their efforts to advance the Party's policies through international exchange activities. China's patriotic religious organizations, in their roles within the China Committee on Religion and Peace, have "expanded into new frontiers of foreign exchange," according to Wang, and "safeguarded the core interests of our nation with regard to the problems of Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the Falun Gong." Wang expressed his hope that in 2010 "each religion will continue to develop love of country, love of religion ... [and] vigorously advocate the concept of religious harmony and go a step further in strengthening ideological construction ..."

The day before Wang addressed the patriotic religious organizations, Jia Qinglin, the fourth highest-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee, welcomed the leaders of these organizations to Zhongnanhai, a secure compound in central Beijing that houses the Party's top leadership. In this annual meeting to mark the Chinese New Year, Jia articulated the Party's desire for registered clergy who promote its political agenda: "diligently train a corps of qualified religious personnel who are politically reliable, have scholarly attainments, and have the moral character to gain popular respect" (Xinhua, 2/8). Jia praised patriotic religious organizations for "resolutely resisting outsiders who use religion to carry out various infiltration activities against us," and highlighted their performance during the July 2009 demonstrations and rioting in Urumqi: "religious circles took a firm stance, showed their true colors, actively coordinated with the Party and the government to do good work, and forcefully defended social stability, the socialist legal system, and the fundamental interests of the masses" (Xinhua, 2/8). Jia's comments echoed remarks he made to the same groups the prior year regarding their role in supporting the suppression of widespread peaceful protests (and some rioting) by Tibetans in spring 2008: "From the beginning to the end ... religious circles and every religious organization unwaveringly submitted to and served the Party and government's work for the nation's interests ... they showed their true colors by condemning the serious violent incidents ... in Lhasa on March 14, resolutely endorsed the policies and measures adopted by the Party and government to suppress [the protests], and took concrete action to safeguard ethnic unity, social stability, and unification of the motherland," according to a February 2, 2009, Xinhua report (reprinted on the official Web site of the Jinan Municipal Office of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference).

For more information on the role of patriotic religious organizations in overseeing and regulating registered religious groups on behalf of the Communist Party, see Section II―Freedom of Religion in the CECC's 2009 Annual Report.