Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2005, 08 November 2005 [CHINA SECTION] (English Text)


International Religious Freedom Report 2005

Reports on Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibetan areas of China are appended at the end of this report.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe; however, the Government seeks to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of activities of religious groups. The Government tries to control and regulate religion to prevent the rise of groups that could constitute sources of authority outside of the control of the Government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Nonetheless, membership in many faiths is growing rapidly.

During the period covered by this report, the Government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor, especially for many unregistered religious groups and spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong. Unregistered religious groups continued to experience varying degrees of official interference and harassment. Members of some unregistered religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups, were subjected to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention. In some localities, "underground" religious leaders reported ongoing pressure to register with the State Administration for Religious Activities (SARA) or its provincial and local offices, known as Religious Affairs Bureaus (RAB). Some unregistered religious groups also reported facing pressure to be affiliated with and supervised by official government-sanctioned religious associations linked to the five main religions--Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

The extent of religious freedom varied widely within the country. For example, officials in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) tightly controlled religious activity, while Muslims elsewhere in the country enjoyed greater religious freedom. Treatment of unregistered groups also varied regionally. For example, some local officials in Henan Province often mistreated unregistered Protestants, and some local officials in Hebei Province tightly controlled Catholics loyal to the Vatican. In other localities, however, officials worked closely with registered and unregistered Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups to accomplish religious and social goals.

Government officials continued to scrutinize closely contacts between citizens and foreigners involved in religion. The Government detained some citizens for providing religious information to foreigners and prevented some religious figures from traveling abroad. Among them was Henan Province Christian pastor Zhang Rongliang, whom authorities detained on December 1, 2004. However, many religious adherents reported that they were able to practice their faith openly in officially registered places of worship without interference from authorities. Official sources, religious professionals, and persons who attend services at both officially sanctioned and underground places of worship all reported that the number of believers in the country continued to grow.

The Government passed new regulations on religious affairs, which took effect on March 1, 2005. The regulations are an attempt to bring regulatory activities governing religious affairs within a legal framework. The regulations made no reference to five official religions. Some saw the new regulations as reflecting a more tolerant atmosphere and establishing legally protected rights for religious groups to engage in activities such as publishing, education, and social work. Others criticized the regulations as merely codifying past practice and questioned whether they would enhance religious freedom.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman explicitly stated at a March 15 press conference that the country has no restrictions against minors receiving religious education. In many areas of the country, children were able to participate in religious life with their parents, but local officials in some areas forbade children from full religious participation. For example, local officials in Xinjiang stated that persons younger than 18 are forbidden from entering mosques and from receiving religious education.

The Government continued its repression of groups that it categorized as "cults" in general and of small Christian-based groups and the Falun Gong in particular. Arrest, detention, and imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners continued, and there have been credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse. Practitioners who refuse to recant their beliefs are sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons, reeducation-through-labor camps, and extra-judicial "legal education" centers. Falun Gong adherents engaged in few public activities within China during the period covered by this report, perhaps due to the strength of the Government's campaign against the group. However, there were continuing revelations about the extra-legal activities of the Government's "610 office," implicated in most alleged abuses of Falun Gong practitioners.

Some social tension exists between religious believers and non-believers. Religious communities generally coexist without significant friction.

The Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the Consulates General in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang made a concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in the country, using both focused external pressure on abuses and support for positive trends within the country. President Bush regularly raised religious freedom in his meetings with Government leaders, including in his November 2004 meeting with President Hu Jintao at the APEC summit. Secretary Rice discussed religious freedom and attended a church service during her March 2005 visit to Beijing. Senior U.S. officials called on the Government to halt the abusive treatment of religious adherents and to respect religious freedom. Since 1999, the Secretary of State has designated China a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. In Washington and in Beijing, in public and in private, U.S. officials repeatedly urged the Government to respect citizens' constitutional and internationally recognized rights to exercise religious freedom and to release all those serving sentences for religious activities. U.S. officials protested the imprisonment of and asked for further information about numerous individual religious prisoners.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 3.5 million square miles, and its population is approximately 1.3 billion. According to an April 2005 Government White Paper, there are "more than 100 million religious adherents," representing a great variety of beliefs and practices. According to this official publication, the country has more than 85,000 sites for religious activities, 300,000 clergy, and more than 3,000 religious organizations. These same official statistics have been used unchanged since 1997, when the State Council Information Office published a White Paper on Freedom of Religious Belief. Given the growth in religion since 1997, unpublished estimates suggest the country has over 200 million believers and 100,000 sites for religious activities.

The country has five main religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. While these are the primary religions, the 2005 religious affairs regulations no longer identify "official" religions. The Russian Orthodox Church also operates in some regions and other religions exist in the country's expatriate community. Most of the country's population does not formally practice any religion. Approximately 8 percent of the population is Buddhist, approximately 1.5 percent is Muslim, an estimated 0.4 percent belongs to the official Catholic Church, an estimated 0.4 to 0.6 percent belongs to the unofficial Vatican-affiliated Catholic Church, an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 percent is registered as Protestant, and perhaps 2.5 percent worships in Protestant house churches that are independent of government control.

Religious officials offer no official estimate of the number of Taoists, but academics place the number at several hundred thousand. According to the Taoist Association, there are more than 25,000 Taoist monks and nuns and more than 1,500 Taoist temples.

Traditional folk religions (worship of local gods, heroes, and ancestors) have been revived, are practiced by hundreds of millions of citizens, and are tolerated to varying degrees as loose affiliates of Taoism, Buddhism, or ethnic minority cultural practices.

The Government estimates that there are more than 100 million Buddhists, making Buddhism the organized religion with the largest body of followers. However, it is difficult to estimate accurately the number of Buddhists because they do not have congregational memberships and often do not participate in public ceremonies. The Government reports that there are 16,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries and more than 200,000 nuns and monks. Most believers, including most ethnic Han Buddhists, practice Mahayana Buddhism. Most Tibetans and ethnic Mongolians practice Tibetan Buddhism, a Mahayana adaptation. Some ethnic minorities in southwest Yunnan Province practice Theravada Buddhism, the dominant tradition in neighboring Southeast Asia.

According to government figures, there are 20 million Muslims, more than 40,000 Islamic places of worship (more than half of which are in Xinjiang), and more than 45,000 imams nationwide. The country has 10 predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Hui, estimated to number nearly 10 million. Hui are centered in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, but there are significant concentrations of Hui throughout the country, including in Gansu, Henan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Hebei Provinces and in Xinjiang. Hui slightly outnumber Uighur Muslims, who live primarily in Xinjiang. According to an official 2005 report, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region had 23,788 mosques and 26,000 clerics at the end of 2003, but observers noted that fewer than half of the mosques were authorized to hold Friday prayer and holiday services. The country also has over 1 million Kazakh Muslims and thousands of Dongxiang, Kyrgyz, Salar, Tajik, Uzbek, Baoan, and Tatar Muslims.

The unofficial, Vatican-affiliated Catholic Church claims a membership larger than the 5 million persons registered with the official Catholic Church. Precise figures are impossible to determine, but Vatican officials have estimated that the country has as many as 10 million Catholics in both the official and unofficial churches. Chinese Catholic sources put the total number at approximately 8 million. According to official figures, the government-approved Catholic Church has 67 bishops, 5,000 priests and nuns, and more than 6,000 churches and meetinghouses. There are thought to be more than 40 bishops operating "underground," some of whom are likely in prison or under house arrest.

The Government maintains that the country has more than 16 million Protestants, more than 55,000 registered churches and other places of worship, and 18 theological schools. Protestant church officials have estimated that at least 20 million Chinese worship in official churches. Foreign and local academics put the number of Protestants between 30 and 100 million. A 2004 non-governmental survey in Beijing tallied over 100,000 unregistered Protestants, far more than the 30,000 registered with authorities. Domestic and foreign experts agree that the number of Protestants is growing rapidly. According to state-run media reports in August 2004, the number of Protestants is increasing by up to 600,000 annually.

Falun Gong blends aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, and the meditation techniques and physical exercises of qigong (a traditional Chinese exercise discipline) with the teachings of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi. Despite the spiritual content of some of Li's teachings, Falun Gong does not consider itself a religion and has no clergy or places of worship. Estimates of the number of Falun Gong (or Wheel of the Law, also known as Falun Dafa) practitioners have varied widely; the Government claimed that prior to its harsh crackdown on the Falun Gong beginning in 1999, there may have been as many as 2.1 million adherents of Falun Gong in the country. Some estimate that the true number of Falun Gong adherents in the country before the crackdown was much higher. The number has declined as a result of the crackdown, but there are still hundreds of thousands of practitioners in the country, according to reliable estimates.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe; however, the Government seeks to manage religious affairs by restricting religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship, and to control the growth and scope of activities of religious groups to prevent the rise of possible competing sources of authority outside of the control of the Government.

The Criminal Law states that government officials who deprive citizens of religious freedom may, in serious cases, be sentenced to up to 2 years in prison; however, there were no known cases of persons being punished under this statute.

The state reserves to itself the right to register and thus to allow particular religious groups and spiritual movements to operate. For each of the five main religions, there is a government-affiliated association that monitors and supervises its activities, and with which religious groups must affiliate. The SARA is responsible for monitoring and judging the legitimacy of religious activity. The SARA and the CCP United Front Work Department (UFWD) provide policy "guidance and supervision" on the implementation of government regulations regarding religious activity, including the role of foreigners in religious activity. Employees of SARA and the UFWD are rarely religious adherents and often are party members. Communist Party members are directed by party doctrine to be atheists.

On November 30, 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao signed new religious affairs regulations, which became effective on March 1, 2005. The new regulations replace previous 1994 regulations governing religious sites (although 1994 regulations governing religious activities by foreigners remain in effect). The regulations bring regulatory practices governing religious affairs within a legal framework and into compliance with China's Administrative Licensing Law.

Unlike the 1994 regulations, the new regulations protect the rights of registered religious groups, under certain conditions, to possess property, publish literature, train and approve clergy, and collect donations. Some commentators said the new regulations could create opportunities for other faiths and previously unregistered groups to expand their presence in China because the regulations no longer classify the five main religions as "official" religions. Critics said the new regulations merely codify past practices and give authorities broad discretion to define which religious activities are permissible.

Like the 1994 law, the new regulations require religious groups to register places of worship. Spiritual activities in places of worship that have not registered may be considered illegal and participants can be punished. There are five requirements for the registration of "sites for religious activities": First, establishment of the site must be consistent with the overall purpose of the religious affairs regulations and must not be used to "disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system of the state" and must not be "subject to any foreign domination." Second, local religious citizens must have a need to carry out collective religious activities frequently. Third, there must be religious personnel qualified to preside over the activities. Fourth, the site must have "necessary funds." Fifth, the site must be "rationally located" so as not to interfere with normal production and neighboring residents. Government officials claim that registration requirements are simple and places of worship are not required to affiliate with one of the five official "patriotic" religious organizations that correspond to the five main faiths.

Under the new regulations clergy need not be approved by the Government, but must be reported to the Government after being selected pursuant to the rules of the relevant religious association.

Prior to the new regulations, nearly all local RAB officials require Protestant churches to affiliate with the (Protestant) Three-Self Patriotic Movement/Chinese Christian Council (TSPM/CCC). Credentialing procedures effectively required clergy to affiliate with the TSPM/CCC, a practice which so far appeared unchanged since adoption of the new regulations. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to affiliate with the TSPM/CCC because they have theological differences with the TSPM/CCC. Some groups disagree with the TSPM/CCC teachings that all Protestant beliefs are compatible and that differences between Protestant denominations are irrelevant. In a few regions, Protestant groups have registered without affiliating with the TSPM/CCC. These exceptions include the Local Assemblies Protestant churches in Zhejiang Province, where no significant TSPM/CCC community exists, and the (Korean) Chaoyang Church in Jilin Province, both of which operate openly without affiliating with the TSPM/CCC. Additionally, the (Russian) Orthodox Church has been able to operate without affiliating with a government organization in a few parts of the country. In other regions, officially "post-denominational" Protestant churches informally aligned themselves with Protestant denominations. Some pastors in official churches said that denominational affiliation was an important way of drawing parishioners.

Some groups register voluntarily, some register under pressure, and the authorities refuse to register others. Some religious groups have declined to register out of principled opposition to state control of religion. Others do not register due to fear of adverse consequences if they reveal, as required, the names and addresses of church leaders. Unregistered groups also frequently refuse to register for fear that doing so would require theological compromises, curtail doctrinal freedom, or allow government authorities to control sermon content. Some groups claimed that authorities refused them registration without explanation or detained group members who met with officials to attempt to register. The Government contended that these refusals mainly were the result of these groups' lack of adequate facilities or failure to meet other legal requirements. At the end of the period covered by this report, it was too early to tell whether the new regulations would result in an increase in the number of or an expansion in the type of registered religious groups.

The Government has banned all groups that it has determined to be "cults," including the "Shouters" (founded in the United States in 1962), Eastern Lightning, the Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), the Full Scope Church, the Spirit Sect, the New Testament Church, the Guan Yin (also known as Guanyin Famin, or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy), the Servants of Three Classes, the Association of Disciples, the Lord God Sect, the Established King Church, the Unification Church, the Family of Love, the South China Church, the Falun Gong, and the Zhong Gong movements. (Zhong Gong is a qigong exercise discipline with some mystical tenets.) After the revised Criminal Law came into effect in 1997, offenses related to membership in unapproved cults and religious groups were classified as crimes of disturbing the social order. A ban on cults, including the Falun Gong spiritual movement, was enacted in 1999. Under Article 300 of the Criminal Law, "cult" members who "disrupt public order" or distribute publications may be sentenced to from 3 to 7 years in prison, while "cult" leaders and recruiters may be sentenced to 7 years or more in prison.

Government sensitivity to Muslim communities varied widely. In some predominantly Muslim areas where ethnic unrest has occurred, especially in Xinjiang among the Uighurs, officials continued to restrict or tightly control religious expression and teaching. Police cracked down on Muslim religious activity and places of worship accused by the Government of supporting separatism. The Government permits, and in some cases subsidizes, Muslim citizens who make the Hajj to Mecca. In the first half of 2005, nearly 10,000 Chinese Muslims made the Hajj, half of them on government-organized delegations.

In past years, local officials destroyed several unregistered places of worship, although there were no reports of widespread razing of churches or shrines during the period covered by this report. The Government has restored or rebuilt churches, temples, mosques, and monasteries damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and allowed the reopening of some seminaries, although the pace and scope of restoration activity has varied from locality to locality. In 2003, for example, construction began in Beijing on the first new Protestant churches to be constructed in the capital since the People's Republic was founded in 1949. Although there is far greater interest in religion and a far greater number of religious adherents today, there are far fewer temples, churches, or mosques than existed 35 years ago, and many of those that exist are overcrowded and in poor condition.

In January 2005, the Government organized a national meeting on religion. The meeting addressed similar themes to a series of conferences on religion in January 2004 that advised officials to guard against Christian-influenced "cults" and avoid "foreign infiltration under cover of religion." In early 2005, five Government training sessions were held across the country for some 3,000 religious affairs officials to educate them about the new religious affairs regulations.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

During the period covered by this report, the Government's respect for religious freedom and freedom of conscience remained poor, especially for members of many unregistered religious groups and spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong. The Government tends to perceive unregulated religious gatherings or groups as a potential challenge to its authority, and it attempts to control and regulate religious groups to prevent the rise of sources of authority outside the control of the Government and the CCP.

Some local authorities continued a selective crackdown on unregistered religious groups, and the Central Government did not oppose this crackdown. Police closed unregistered mosques and temples, as well as some Catholic churches and Protestant "house churches," many with significant memberships, properties, financial resources, and networks. Several unregistered church leaders reported continuing pressure from local authorities. Despite these efforts at control, official sources, religious professionals, and members of both officially sanctioned and underground places of worship all reported that the number of religious adherents in the country continued to grow.

The Government makes political demands on the clergy or leadership of registered groups. For example, authorities have required clergy to publicly endorse government policies or denounce Falun Gong. In other areas, including Xinjiang and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, authorities require clergy to participate in patriotic education. The Government continued its harsh repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and of "cults" in general. As in past years, local authorities moved against houses of worship outside their control that grew too large or espoused beliefs considered threatening to "state security." Overall, the basic policy of permitting religious activity to take place relatively unfettered in government-approved sites and under government control remained unchanged.

Official tolerance for Buddhism and Taoism has been greater than that for Christianity, and these religions often face fewer restrictions. However, as these non-Western religions have grown rapidly in recent years, there were signs of greater government concern and new restrictions, especially on groups that blend tenets from a number of religious beliefs. The Government also sought to regulate closely the financial affairs of Buddhist and Taoist temples.

During the period covered by this report, government repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement continued. At the National People's Congress session in March 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao's Government Work Report emphasized that the Government would "expand and deepen its battle against cults," including Falun Gong. There were credible reports of torture and deaths in custody of Falun Gong practitioners.

The authorities also continued to oppose other groups considered "cults," such as the Xiang Gong, Guo Gong, and Zhong Gong qigong groups.

The Government has labeled folk religions as "feudal superstition," and followers sometimes were subject to harassment and repression.

Despite the new religious affairs regulations, officials in many locations continued to pressure religious groups to register with government religious affairs authorities. There was a great deal of variation in how local authorities handled unregistered religious groups. In certain regions, government supervision of religious activity was minimal, and registered and unregistered churches existed openly side by side and were treated similarly by the authorities. In such areas, many congregants worshipped in both types of churches. In other regions, local implementing regulations call for strict government oversight of religion, and authorities cracked down on unregistered churches and their members. Implementing regulations, provincial work reports, and other government and party documents continued to exhort officials to enforce vigorously government policy regarding unregistered churches.

In some areas, despite the rapidly growing religious population, it remained difficult to register new places of worship, even for officially recognized churches and mosques.

Local officials have great discretion in determining whether "house churches" violate regulations. The term "house church" is used to describe both unregistered churches and gatherings in homes or businesses of groups of Christians to conduct small, private worship services. SARA officials confirmed during the year that unregistered churches are illegal, but prayer meetings and Bible study groups held among friends and family in homes are legal and need not register. In some parts of the country, unregistered house churches with hundreds of members meet openly with the full knowledge of local authorities, who characterize the meetings as informal gatherings to pray, sing, and study the Bible. In other areas, house church meetings of more than a handful of family members and friends are not permitted. House churches often encounter difficulties when their membership grows, when they arrange for the regular use of facilities for the specific purpose of conducting religious activities, or when they forge links with other unregistered groups or with co-religionists overseas. Urban house churches are generally limited to meetings of a few dozen members or less, while meetings of unregistered Protestants in small cities and rural areas may number in the hundreds.

Both official and unofficial Christian churches have problems training adequate numbers of clergy to meet the needs of their growing congregations. Due to restrictions and prohibitions on religion between 1955 and 1985, no priests or other clergy in the official churches were ordained during that period; most priests and pastors were trained either before 1955 or after 1985, resulting in a shortage of trained clerics between the ages of 40 and 70. Thus, as senior clerics retire, there are relatively few experienced clerics to replace them. The Government states that the official Catholic Church has trained more than 900 priests in the past 10 years. The Government permits registered religions to train clergy and allows limited numbers of Catholic and Protestant seminarians, Muslim clerics, and Buddhist clergy to go abroad for additional religious studies, but some religious students have had difficulty obtaining approval to study abroad. In most cases, foreign organizations provide funding for such training programs. In the past, some Catholic clerics had complained that they were forced to bribe local officials before being allowed to enter seminaries. Due to government prohibitions, unofficial or underground churches have particularly significant problems training clergy, and many clergy receive only limited and inadequate preparation.

The law does not prohibit religious believers from holding public office; however, party membership is required for almost all high-level positions in Government, state-owned businesses, and many official organizations. Communist Party officials restated during the period covered by this report that party membership and religious belief were incompatible. The CCP reportedly has issued two circulars since 1995 ordering party members not to hold religious beliefs and ordering the expulsion of party members who belong to religious organizations, whether open or clandestine. High-ranking Communist Party officials, including then-President and CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin, also have stated that party members cannot be religious adherents. Muslims allegedly have been fired from government posts for praying during working hours. The "Routine Service Regulations" of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) state explicitly that servicemen "may not take part in religious or superstitious activities." Party and PLA military personnel have been expelled for adhering to the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

In past years, government sources reported that up to 25 percent of Communist Party officials in certain localities engage in some kind of religious activity. Most officials who practice a religion are Buddhists or practice a form of folk religion. Some religious figures, while not members of the CCP, are included in national and local government organizations, usually to represent their constituency on cultural and educational matters. The National People's Congress (NPC) includes several religious leaders. Two of the NPC Standing Committee's vice chairmen are Fu Tieshan, a bishop and vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and Phagpalha Geleg Namgyal, a Tibetan "living Buddha." Religious groups also are represented in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory forum that is led by the CCP and consults with social groups outside the Party.

The Government's refusal to allow the government-authorized Patriotic Catholic Church to recognize the authority of the Papacy in many fundamental matters of faith and morals has led many Catholics to reject joining the Patriotic Catholic Church on the grounds that this denies one of the foundational tenets of their faith. Pressure by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association on underground Catholic bishops to join the official Church continued, and underground priests and bishops were often detained. In the past, authorities reorganized dioceses without consulting church leaders, but there have been no such reports recently.

The Government has not established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and there is no Vatican representative on the Mainland. The Vatican's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan remained the primary obstacle to improved relations, Government officials said, although differences over selection of Bishops remained a significant area of dispute. After the death of Pope John Paul II, Government and religious officials made conciliatory statements but did not send a delegation to the Pope's funeral. Official Catholic churches were encouraged to hold Masses remembering Pope John Paul II, however, and tens of thousands of Chinese across the country took part. Official Catholic Churches welcomed Pope Benedict XVI, and his picture was displayed prominently in many official and unofficial Catholic venues across the country. The Government also minimized historical disputes with the Vatican, such as the canonization of saints on Chinese National Day in 2000.

Most bishops of the official Catholic Church have, in fact, been recognized by the Vatican either before or after their appointment by the Government. In a few cases, the bishop named by the government-affiliated church conflicted directly with the bishop recognized by the Vatican, a situation that contributed significantly to tension between the official and unofficial Catholic churches and to tension between the Vatican and the Government. There was friction between some bishops of the Patriotic Church who have been consecrated with secret Vatican approval (or who obtained such secret approval after their consecration) and others consecrated without such approval. Despite these tensions, a few priests in the official church publicly acknowledged during the period covered by this report that their appointment had been approved by the Vatican. They suffered no punishment for this public stance, although the Government denied that the Vatican played any role in approving bishops.

There are large Muslim populations in many areas, but government sensitivity to these communities varied widely. Generally speaking, the country's Hui Muslims, who often live in Han Chinese communities throughout the country, have greater religious freedom than Turkic Muslims such as the Uighurs, who are concentrated in the western part of the country. In areas where ethnic unrest has occurred, especially among the Uighurs in Xinjiang, officials continued to restrict the building of mosques and the training of clergy and prohibited the teaching of Islam to children. In addition to the restrictions on practicing religion placed on party members and government officials throughout the country, in Xinjiang, Muslim teachers, professors, and university students are not allowed to attend mosque or practice religion openly. Female university students and professors are discouraged from wearing headscarves or skirts. Some ethnic Tajiks in Xinjiang cannot attend mosque until over age 30. However, in other areas, particularly in areas populated by the Hui ethnic group, there was substantial mosque construction and renovation and also apparent freedom to worship. After a series of violent incidents, including bombings attributed to Uighur separatists, beginning in 1997, police cracked down on Muslim religious activity and places of worship accused of supporting separatism in Xinjiang. Because the Xinjiang government regularly fails to distinguish carefully among those involved in peaceful activities in support of independence, "illegal" religious activities, and violent terrorism, it is often difficult to determine whether particular raids, detentions, arrests, or judicial punishments targeted those seeking to worship, those peacefully seeking political goals, or those engaged in violence. Xinjiang provincial-level Communist party and government officials repeatedly called for stronger management of religious affairs and for the separation of religion from administrative matters.

Xinjiang officials told foreign observers that children under 18 are not permitted to attend religious services in mosques in Xinjiang. However, children were observed attending prayer services at mosques in Beijing and other parts of the country. Fundamentalist Muslim leaders received particularly harsh treatment. In 2000, the authorities began conducting monthly political study sessions for religious personnel; the program reportedly continued during the period covered by this report. In August 2004, scores of Uighur Muslims in Hotan District were detained on charges of engaging in "illegal religious activities." Because of government control of information coming from Xinjiang, such reports were difficult to confirm.

In a growing number of areas, the authorities have displayed increasing tolerance of religious practice by foreigners, provided their religious observance does not involve Chinese nationals. Weekly services of the foreign Jewish community in Beijing have been held uninterrupted since 1995, and High Holy Day observances have been allowed for more than 15 years. Both reform and Orthodox Jewish services were held weekly during the period covered by this report. The Shanghai Jewish community has received permission from authorities to hold services in a historic Shanghai synagogue. However, officials gave a former synagogue in Harbin to the Russian Orthodox community, causing some tension between the local Russian Orthodox and overseas Jewish groups. Expatriate members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) meet regularly in a number of cities. In 2003, the Church received permission to hold services in a Beijing facility reserved for its use.

The authorities permit officially sanctioned religious organizations to maintain international contacts that do not involve "foreign control." What constitutes "control" is not defined. Regulations enacted in 1994 and expanded in 2000 codified many existing rules involving foreigners, including a ban on proselytizing. However, for the most part, the authorities allowed foreign nationals to preach to other foreigners, bring in religious materials for personal use, and preach to Chinese citizens at churches, mosques, and temples at the invitation of registered religious organizations. Foreigners legally are barred from conducting missionary activities; however, foreign Christians teaching on college campuses openly profess their faith with minimum interference from the authorities, provided their proselytizing remains discreet. Many Christian groups throughout the country have developed close ties with local officials, in some cases operating schools and homes for the care of the aged. In addition Buddhist-run private schools and orphanages in the central part of the country also offer training to teenagers and young adults.

Some foreign church organizations came under pressure to register with government authorities, and some foreign missionaries whose activities extended beyond the expatriate community were expelled or asked to leave the country. In 2003, the documentary film "The Cross" and the book "Jesus in Beijing" were banned by the Government.

The increase in the number of Christians in the country has resulted in a corresponding increase in the demand for Bibles. Bibles can be purchased at many bookstores and at most officially recognized churches. Many house church members buy their Bibles at such places without incident. A Bible is affordable for most Chinese. The supply of Bibles is adequate in most parts of the country, but members of underground churches complain that the supply and distribution of Bibles in some places, especially rural locations, is inadequate. Individuals cannot order Bibles directly from publishing houses, and house Christians report that purchase of large numbers of Bibles can bring unfavorable attention to the purchaser. Customs officials continued to monitor for the "smuggling" of Bibles and other religious materials into the country. There have been credible reports that the authorities sometimes confiscate Bibles in raids on house churches.

The Government teaches atheism in schools. However, university-level study of religion is expanding. Some universities mandated a course on religion for students in certain disciplines during the period covered by this report.

Senior government officials claim that the country has no restrictions against minors practicing religious beliefs. However, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Education noted after her 2003 visit that Chinese students lack basic internationally recognized rights to religious education. Moreover, some local officials, especially in Xinjiang, prevented children from attending worship services, and some places of worship have signs prohibiting persons younger than 18 from entering. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that Christian and Muslim children in Xinjiang were prevented from receiving religious education. In some Muslim areas, minors attend religious schools in addition to state-run schools. In some areas, large numbers of young persons attend religious services at both registered and unregistered places of worship.

There were at least 76 Government-recognized training institutions for clergy in the 5 main religions, including 54 Catholic and Protestant seminaries, 10 institutes to train imams and Islamic scholars, and dozens of institutes to train Buddhist monks. Students who attend these institutes must demonstrate "political reliability," and all graduates must pass an examination on their theological and political knowledge to qualify for the clergy. Official religious organizations also administered local Bible schools, monastery-run schools, and other types of training centers. The number of secular universities with a center for the study of theology doubled from 17 in 2002 to 34 in 2005.

The Government has stated that there are 10 colleges conducting Islamic higher education and 2 other Islamic schools in Xinjiang operating with government support. In addition, provincial and local Islamic communities have established numerous Arabic schools and mosque schools. The former concentrate on Arabic language study, while the latter often serve as a stepping stone to apprenticeship as an assistant to an imam or other Muslim religious worker. Some young Muslims study outside of the country in Muslim religious schools.

Religious schools and training institutions for religious leaders other than the officially recognized ones also exist but cannot register as legal institutions. The quality of education at unregistered institutions varies. Some such institutions are closed when they come to the attention of local authorities.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

During the period covered by this report, unapproved religious and spiritual groups remained under scrutiny, and in some cases members of such groups were harassed by officials. In some areas, underground Protestant and Catholic groups, Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of groups that the Government determined to be "cults," especially the Falun Gong spiritual movement, were subject to government pressure and sometimes suffered abuse.

Offenses related to membership in unapproved religious groups are classified as crimes of disturbing the social order. According to the Law Yearbook of China, arrests for disturbing the social order or cheating by the use of superstition totaled 8,051 in 2003, down significantly from previous years. Most experts agree that the spike in detentions on these charges in 1999-2000 resulted from the Government's crackdown, begun in mid-1999, on Protestant house churches, the unofficial Roman Catholic Church, and spiritual groups labeled as "cults," such as the Falun Gong.

According to Falun Gong practitioners in the United States, since 1999 more than 100,000 practitioners have been detained for engaging in Falun Gong practices, admitting that they adhere to the teachings of Falun Gong, or refusing to criticize the organization or its founder. The organization reports that its members have been subject to excessive force, abuse, detention, and torture, and that some of its members, including children, have died in custody. For example, in 2003, Falun Gong practitioner Liu Chengjun died after reportedly being abused in custody in Jilin Province.Some foreign observers estimate that at least half of the 250,000 officially recorded inmates in the country's reeducation-through-labor camps are Falun Gong adherents. Falun Gong places the number even higher. Hundreds of Falun Gong adherents were also incarcerated in legal education centers, a form of administrative detention, upon completion of their reeducation-through-labor sentences. Government officials denied the existence of such "legal education" centers. According to the Falun Gong, hundreds of its practitioners have been confined to psychiatric institutions and forced to take medications or undergo electric shock treatment against their will.

In December 2004, a Beijing attorney sent an open letter to the National People's Congress highlighting legal abuses in cases involving Falun Gong. The letter focused on the April 2004 detention and subsequent administrative sentencing of Huang Wei of Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province. It described how Falun Gong cases are handled outside normal legal procedures by a special Ministry of Justice office, known as the 610 office. The letter alleged that mistreatment is typical of the ongoing campaign against Falun Gong. After the open letter was published, Huang's wife disappeared, and her whereabouts remain unknown. The asylum request of a Chinese diplomat and other former government officials allegedly involved in the Government's campaign against Falun Gong overseas brought additional scrutiny and negative attention to the extra-legal activities of the 610 office, including allegations that it sought out Falun Gong practitioners abroad and forcibly returned them to the country.

In April 2004, dozens of members of the Three Grades of Servants Church, which the Government labels a "cult," were detained in Heilongjiang Province. Gu Xianggao, allegedly a church member, was beaten to death in a Heilongjiang Province security facility shortly after these detentions. Public security officials paid compensation to Gu's family.

In some areas, security authorities used threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention, and at times beatings and torture to harass leaders of unauthorized groups and their followers. Unregistered religious groups that preach beliefs outside the bounds of officially approved doctrine (such as the imminent coming of the Apocalypse or holy war) or groups that have charismatic leaders often are singled out for particularly severe harassment. Some observers have attributed the unorthodox beliefs of some of these groups to poorly trained clergy and lack of access to religious texts. Others believe that some individuals may be exploiting religion for personal gain.

Many religious leaders and adherents, including those in official churches, have been detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison terms. Local authorities also use an administrative process to punish members of unregistered religious groups. Citizens may be sentenced by a nonjudicial panel of police and local authorities to up to 3 years in reeducation-through-labor camps. Many religious detainees and prisoners were held in such facilities during the period covered by this report. For example, in May 2005, police reportedly detained the China Christian Council-certified pastor of a Linquan County, Anhui Province church and three of his practitioners. In the fall of 2004, local officials in Henan's Pingyin County raided an official church, detained its pastor, and removed all of its property, down to the chairs and pews.

Authorities continued to harass and detain "house" Christians, especially for attempting to meet in large groups, travel within and outside of China for such meetings, and otherwise hold peaceful religious assemblies. In December 2004, authorities detained Henan Province house Christian pastor Zhang Rongliang, who reportedly organized such meetings. The Government stated he was arrested allegedly for carrying false documents, but his whereabouts remained unknown. In November 2004, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the arrest of house church historian Zhang Yinan in September 2003 in Henan Province constituted an unlawful arbitrary detention. Zhang remained in a Pindingshan Country reeducation-through-labor camp, where he reportedly had been beaten. In September 2004, the Government detained Beijing-based house Christian pastor Cai Zhuohua and later charged him with operating an illegal business based on his work publishing underground Christian literature. Separately, the Government detained house Christian Yan Haibing for possessing Christian literature. In August 2004 in Zhejiang Province, the Government convicted Beijing-based house Christian Liu Fenggang and two other house Christians, Xu Yonghai and Zhang Shengqi, on charges of disclosing state secrets and sentenced them to 3, 2, and 1 year in prison, respectively. The Government had detained them in 2003 and had charged them with providing information about abuse of Christians in the country to an overseas Chinese magazine. In June 2004, the government-run Legal Daily newspaper reported that Jiang Zongxiu had died in police custody in Zunyi, Guizhou Province, after being arrested for distributing Bibles. A Legal Daily editorial comment condemned local officials for mistreating Jiang.

Protestant religious retreats were disrupted on many occasions. In June, July, and August 2004, dozens of house Christians were detained for attending separate events in Xinjiang, Sichuan, Henan, and Hubei Provinces. In May 2005, nearly 500 house Christians reportedly were detained at meetings in Jilin Province. The vast majority was released within a few weeks, but up to 100 reportedly remained detained.

Gong Shingling and several other leaders of the unregistered South China Church reportedly continued to suffer abuse in prison during the period covered by this report. Sentenced to death in 2001 on criminal charges including rape, arson, and assault, Gong Shengliang, Xiu Fuming, and Hu Yong had their sentences reduced to life in prison on retrial in 2002. Li Ying and Bang Kun Gong had their sentences reduced from death to 15 years in prison. Four female church members who signed statements accusing Gong of sexual crimes were rearrested in 2002 and sentenced to 3 years' reeducation-through-labor, reportedly for recanting their accusations against Gong. There were reports that Gong has suffered physical abuse in prison, in part for refusing to abandon his religious beliefs. Elderly church member Chen Jingmao reportedly was abused in a Changing prison for attempting to convert inmates to Christianity. Authorities prevented lawyers for both men from meeting with their clients in jail and from filing appeals on behalf of both men. Government officials and some registered and unregistered Protestants accused the South China Church of being a "cult."

A number of Catholic priests and lay leaders were beaten or otherwise abused during 2004, prompting Vatican officials to make formal protests. In Hebei Province, traditionally the home of many Catholics, friction between unofficial Catholics, the government-sanctioned Patriotic Church, and some local authorities continued. Hebei authorities reportedly have forced underground priests and believers to choose between joining the official Church or facing punishment such as fines, job loss, periodic detentions, and having their children barred from school. Some Catholic officials have been forced into hiding. Ongoing harassment of underground bishops and priests was reported in recent years, including government surveillance and repeated short detentions. Many of those harassed and detained were over 70 years old.

Numerous detentions of unofficial Catholic clergy were reported, in Hebei Province in particular. In December 2004, the Government detained Bishop Zhao Zhendong of Xuanhua and, in late March 2005, his aide Father Zhao Kexun disappeared. The whereabouts of both men remained unknown and prompted criticism from the Vatican. The Government several times detained underground Bishop Jia Zhiguo for a few days and confined him to his home or church. Authorities reportedly detained other Catholics from the underground church, including Bishop Yao Liang of Xiwanzi, in April just before the death of Pope John Paul II. In August 2004, eight priests and two seminarians were reportedly detained in Quyang County.

Underground Bishop Su Zhimin, who had not been seen since his reported detention in 1997, reportedly was hospitalized in November 2003 in Baoding, Hebei Province. Reports suggest that he had been held in a form of "house arrest." The Government continued to deny having taken "any coercive measures" against him and stated he was "traveling as a missionary." Reliable sources reported that Bishop Su's auxiliary bishop, An Shuxin, as well as Father Han Dingxian of Hebei and Father Li Hongye of Henan remain in detention. Shandong Province Bishop Gao Kexian died in a Chinese prison in August 2004 after having been detained there since 1997. According to several NGOs, a number of Catholic priests and lay leaders were beaten or otherwise abused during the period covered by this report.

Authorities detained Buddhist leader Yu Tianjian in August 2004 after he planned a rededication ceremony for a temple in Inner Mongolia Autonomous region involving foreign practitioners. The Government said Yu had falsified his credentials as a "living Buddha." Authorities detained several members of the Buddhist Foundation of America for a short period of time in connection with the temple closure. The whereabouts of Yu Tianjian remained unknown.

Some underground Catholic and unregistered Protestant leaders reported that the Government organized campaigns to compel them to register, resulting in continued and, in some cases, increased pressure to register their congregations. Officials organizing registration campaigns collected the names, addresses, and sometimes the fingerprints of church leaders and worshippers. On some occasions, church officials were detained when they arrived for meetings called by authorities to discuss registration.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

During the period covered by this report, some religious prisoners were released early from prison, including Uighur Muslim Rebiya Kadeer.

Depending on implementation, new legislation governing religious affairs that took effect in March has the potential to improve respect for religious freedom, to enhance legal protection for religious groups, and to strengthen the process of governing religious affairs according to law..

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The communities of the five main religions--Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism--coexist without significant friction. However, in some parts of the country, there is a tense relationship between registered and unregistered Christian churches, and, according to press reports, between some members of unregistered church groups. There were reports of divisions within both the official Protestant church and the house church movement over issues of doctrine; in both the registered and unregistered Protestant churches, there are conservative and more liberal groups. In other areas, the two groups coexist without problems. In some provinces, including Hebei, underground and official Catholic communities sometimes have a tense relationship. In the past, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists have complained about the presence of Christian missionaries in their communities. Christian officials reported some friction in rural areas between adherents of folk religions and Christians who view some folk religion practices as idol worship. In general, the majority of the population shows little interest in religious activities beyond visiting temples during festivals or churches on Christmas Eve or Easter. Religious and ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetans and Uighurs, experience societal discrimination not only because of their religious beliefs but also because of their status as ethnic minorities with languages and cultures different from the typically wealthier Han Chinese. There also has been occasional tension between the Han and the Hui, a Muslim ethnic group.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the Consulates General in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang made a concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in the country, using both focused external pressure on abuses and support for positive trends within the country. President Bush regularly raised religious freedom in his meetings with Chinese leaders, including in his November 2004 meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC summit. Secretary Rice discussed religious freedom and attended a church service during her March 2005 visit to Beijing. In exchanges with the Government, including with religious affairs officials, diplomatic personnel consistently urged both central and local authorities to respect citizens' rights to religious freedom and release all those serving prison sentences for religious activities. U.S. officials protested vigorously whenever there were credible reports of religious harassment or discrimination in violation of international laws and standards, and they requested information in cases of alleged mistreatment in which the facts were incomplete or contradictory. At the same time, U.S. officials argued to the country's leaders that freedom of religion can strengthen, not harm, the country.

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates also collected information about abuses and maintained contacts with a wide spectrum of religious leaders within the country's religious communities, including bishops, priests, and ministers of the official Christian and Catholic churches, as well as Taoist, Muslim, and Buddhist leaders. U.S. officials also met with leaders and members of the unofficial Christian churches. The Department of State's nongovernmental contacts included experts on religion in the country, human rights organizations, and religious groups in the United States.

The Department of State brought a number of Chinese religious leaders and scholars to the United States on international visitor programs to see firsthand the role that religion plays in U.S. society. The Embassy also brought experts on religion from the United States to the country to speak about the role of religion in American life and public policy.

During the period covered by this report, the Government continued its suspension of the official U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, which had included religious freedom as a major agenda item. The most recent Dialogue session took place in December 2002, at which the Government committed to invite the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to visit the country. These visits did not occur during the period of this report. In January, USCIRF members visited Hong Kong, a visit authorities from the country publicly criticized.

During the period covered by this report, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor traveled to the country twice to discuss human rights and religious freedom issues with the Government. Staff members of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, including of the Office for International Religious Freedom, also traveled to the country to discuss religious freedom issues. They met with government officials responsible for religion and with clergy or practitioners in official and unofficial religious groups.

U.S. officials in Washington and Beijing continued to protest individual incidents of abuse. On numerous occasions, the Department of State, the Embassy, and the four Consulates in the country protested government actions to curb freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, including the arrests of Falun Gong followers, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, and Catholic and Protestant clergy and believers. The Embassy routinely raised reported cases of detention and abuse of religious practitioners with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Administration of Religious Affairs, except from March through November 2004, during which the Government unilaterally implemented a policy of refusing to discuss such cases with Embassy officials in response to U.S. sponsorship of a resolution on Chinese human rights at the March 2004 session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Since 1999, the Secretary of State has designated China as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Economic measures in effect against China under the IRFA relate to restriction of exports of crime control and detection instruments and equipment (Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, P.L. 101-246).


The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous counties and prefectures in other provinces to be a part of the People's Republic of China. The Department of State follows these designations in its reporting. The preservation and development of the Tibetan people's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage and the protection of their fundamental human rights continue to be of concern.

The Constitution of the People's Republic of China provides for freedom of religious belief, and the Government's February White Paper on "Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China" states, "Organs of self-government in autonomous areas, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and relevant laws, respect and guarantee the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities, and safeguard all legal and normal religious activities of people of ethnic minorities;" however, the Government maintained tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas. Although the authorities permitted many traditional religious practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed activities they viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence, such as religious activities venerating the Dalai Lama (which the Chinese Government described as "splittist").

Overall, the level of repression in Tibetan areas remained high and the Government's record of respect for religious freedom remained poor during the period covered by this report; however, the atmosphere for religious freedom varied from region to region. Conditions were generally more relaxed in Tibetan autonomous areas outside the TAR, with the exception of parts of Sichuan's Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Envoys of the Dalai Lama made visits to China for discussions with Chinese officials in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Although in the past there were reports of the deaths of monks and nuns due to maltreatment in prison, there were no known reports during this period; however, Buddhist leaders such as Gendun Choekyi Nyima and Tenzin Deleg remained in detention or prison, and the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism such as the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa Lama remained in exile. Dozens of monks and nuns continued to serve prison terms for their resistance to "patriotic education." The Government refused free access to Tibetan areas for international observers, tightly controlled observers who were granted access, and tightly controlled publication of information about conditions in Tibet. These restrictions made it impossible to determine accurately the scope of religious freedom violations.

While there was some friction between Tibetan Buddhists and the growing Muslim Hui population in cities of the Tibetan areas, it was attributable more to economic competition and cultural differences than to religious tensions. The Christian population in the TAR was extremely small. Some converts to Christianity may have encountered societal pressure.

The U.S. Government continued to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibetan areas by urging the central Government and local authorities to respect religious freedom and preserve religious traditions. The U.S. Government protested credible reports of religious persecution and discrimination, discussed specific cases