RESTRICTIONS AND REPRESSION ON RELIGION AND REFORM EFFORTS ON CHINA

RELIGION AND THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN CHINA

The Chinese government monitors the activity of followers of unregistered Catholic groups, Protestant house churches, and Buddhism practiced outside of the licensed Buddhist groups. The government asserts the right to appoint the religious leaders of the five major organized religions: Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam. The exercise of this traditional claim of government authority has led to frequent conflict with those who follow the Catholic pope, on the one hand, and the Dalai Lama, on the other. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

Benjamin Lim of Reuters wrote: “China’s ruling Communist Party has a testy and often bitter relationship with religion. During the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, temples and churches were shut, statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life, often after receiving a good beating or even jail. While the officially atheist Communist Party hardly pushes religion these days, its attitude has softened considerably, though rights groups frequently complain of sometimes harsh restrictions on Christians and Muslims especially. [Source: Benjamin Lim, Reuters, August 20, 2010 <=>]

“In China, the Communist Party sees religions as rivals for the loyalty of the Chinese people and have maintained tight control over beliefs since taking power in 1949. The Party has sought to use religion to help curb rising social unrest and fill an ideological vacuum in the post-Mao Zedong era which has eroded ethics and spawned graft. Gianni Criveller of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong told Reuters much of what China was doing when it came to religion was aimed at the international audience, to give foreigners a good impression of the country. “In fact inside China religious control for Chinese believers is still tight,” he said. President Hu Jintao said a speech at the 17th Party Congress in 2007 that “religious figures and followers should play a positive role in promoting economic and social development.” Meetings between top Chinese and religious leaders are rare. Hsing Yun was banned from China in the early 1990s for giving sanctuary to a senior Chinese official at his temple in the United States after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. He is now a bestselling author in China. ^*^

Jürgen Kremb wrote in Der Spiegel, “Even the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and their families have indulged in religion and the occult. In the mid-1990s, for example, the party head insisted on finding the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama -- who is just behind the Dalai Lama in the Tibeten religious hierarchy -- with the help of the ancient religious ritual of the Golden Urn. The main point of the move, of course, was to thwart the Dalai Lama's attempt to name his own Panchen Lama, but it is no secret in Beijing that the daughter of Communist Party giant Deng Xiaoping was drawn to Buddhism even while her father was still alive. In practice, though, things look a bit different in China. The constitution ostensibly guarantees freedom of religion, but China's security services oppress Tibetan nuns and monks just as they do pastors of underground Christian churches and Falun Gong practitioners. The Chinese secret service and think tanks have warned for years that freedom of religion could be a danger to the dictatorship's stranglehold on power. [Source: Jürgen Kremb, Der Spiegel, September 27, 2007]

Good Websites and Sources on Religion in China: Chinese Government White Paper on Religion china-embassy.org ; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom uscirf.gov/countries/china; Articles on Religion in China forum18.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Council of Foreign Relations cfr.org ; Brooklyn College brooklyn.cuny.edu ; Religion Facts religionfacts.com; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy stanford.edu ; Academic Info academicinfo.net ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies sino.uni-heidelberg.de

Laws and Policies in Regards to Religion in China

In 1999, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopted a decision, under Article 300 of the Criminal Law, to ban all groups the Government determined to be ‘cults,’ including the Falun Gong. The Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate also provided legal directives on applying the existing criminal law to the Falun Gong. The law, as applied following these actions, specifies prison terms of 3 to 7 years for ‘cult’ members who ‘disrupt public order’ or distribute publications. Under the law, ‘cult’ leaders and recruiters may be sentenced to 7 years or more in prison. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

According to the U.S. State Department: The constitution and other laws and policies generally restrict religious freedom. The constitution states Chinese citizens have “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” a term applied in a manner that falls well short of China’s international human rights commitments with regard to freedom of religion. The constitution does not define “normal.” The constitution provides for the right to hold or not hold a religious belief and states that state organs, public organizations, and individuals may not discriminate against citizens “who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” It is not possible to take legal action against the government on the basis of the religious freedom protections afforded by the constitution. Criminal law allows the state to sentence government officials to up to two years in prison if they violate religious freedom. There were no reported cases of such prosecutions during the year. The government has signed, but not ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides all individuals the right to “adopt a religion or belief” of choice and manifest belief through “worship, observance, and practice.” [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov /|\]

CCP members are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices. Members who belong to religious organizations are subject to expulsion, although these rules are not universally enforced. The vast majority of public office holders are CCP members. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. Proselytizing in public or meeting in unregistered places of worship is not permitted. Tibetan Buddhists in China are not free to venerate the Dalai Lama and encounter severe government interference in religious practice (see Tibet section). Religious groups independent of the five official government patriotic religious associations have difficulty obtaining any other legal status and are vulnerable to coercive and punitive action by SARA, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and other party or government security organs. /|\

Registered religious organizations are allowed to compile and print religious materials for internal use. To distribute religious materials publicly, an organization must follow national printing regulations, which restrict the publication and distribution of literature with religious content. Under the law religious texts published without authorization, including Bibles and Qurans, may be confiscated and unauthorized publishing houses closed. Parents are permitted to instruct children under the age of 18 in religious beliefs and children may participate in religious activities. /|\

The law states job applicants shall not face discrimination in hiring based on factors including religious belief. Foreign residents who belong to religious groups not officially recognized by the government report being permitted to practice their religions, although, according to the rules, foreigners may not proselytize, conduct religious activities at unregistered venues, or conduct religious activities with local citizens at religious venues. The government allows some foreign educational institutions to provide religious materials in Chinese, which are used by both registered and unregistered religious groups. /|\

Since 2005, the China government State Administration for Religious Affair (SARA) has acknowledged through a policy posted on its website that family and friends have the right to meet at home for worship, including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government. Authorities still regularly harass and detain small groups, however, that meet for religious purposes in homes and other locations. Some house church members say they have more freedom than in the past to conduct religious services, as long as they gather only in private. The law permits domestic nongovernmental institutions (NGOs), including religious organizations, to receive donations in foreign currency. The law requires documented approval by SARA of donations from foreign sources to domestic religious groups of over one million renminbi (RMB) ($165,180). /|\

Bans and Restrictions on Religious Groups in China

According to the U.S. State Department: Certain religious or spiritual groups are banned by law. The criminal law defines banned groups as “evil cults” and those belonging to them can be sentenced to prison. A 1999 judicial explanation states this term refers to: “those illegal groups that have been found using religions, qigong [a traditional Chinese exercise discipline], or other things as a camouflage, deifying their leading members, recruiting and controlling their members, and deceiving people by molding and spreading superstitious ideas, and endangering society.” There are no public criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov /|\]

The government maintains a ban on the Guanyin Method Sect (Guanyin Famen or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy), Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline), and Falun Gong. The government also considers several Christian groups to be “evil cults,” including the “Shouters,” Eastern Lightning, Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church, Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (or San Ban Pu Ren), Association of Disciples, Lord God Sect, Established King Church, Unification Church, Family of Love, and South China Church. The CCP maintains a Leading Small Group for Preventing and Dealing with the Problem of Heretical Cults and its implementing “610” offices (named for the date of its creation on June 10, 1999) to eliminate the Falun Gong movement and to address “evil cults.” /|\

The religious and social regulations permit official patriotic religious associations to engage in activities such as building places of worship, training religious leaders, publishing literature, and providing social services to local communities. The CCP’s United Front Work Department, SARA, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs provide policy guidance and supervision on the implementation of these regulations, which are often enforced in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Most leaders of official government religious organizations serve in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a CCP-led body that provides advice to the central government from business leaders, academics, and other segments of society. /|\

Individuals seeking to enroll at an official seminary or other institution of religious learning must obtain the support of the official patriotic religious association. The government requires students to demonstrate “political reliability,” and political issues are included in examinations of graduates of religious schools. Both registered and unregistered religious groups report a shortage of trained clergy. /|\

Chinese Government Rules on Places of Worship and Charities

According to the U.S. State Department: The government offers some subsidies for the construction of state-sanctioned places of worship and religious schools. Under the regulations, if a religious structure is to be demolished or relocated because of city planning or construction of key projects, the party responsible for demolishing the structure should consult with the religious affairs bureau and the religious group using the structure. If all parties agree to the demolition, the party conducting the demolition should agree to rebuild the structure or provide compensation equal to its appraised market value. In some cases officials do not hold developers accountable to these regulations or collude with them in their demolition plans. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov /|\]

Faith-based charities, like all other charitable groups, are required to register with the government. According to several unregistered religious groups, an additional prerequisite is obtaining official co-sponsorship of the registration application by the local official religious affairs bureau. These groups often are required to affiliate with one of the five patriotic religious associations. The government does not permit unregistered charity groups of any sort to raise funds openly, hire employees, open bank accounts, or own property. The government has allowed some registered religious organizations to engage in disaster relief and social service activities. Overseas donations received by religious organizations receive favorable tax treatment if the funds are used for charitable activities. /|\

Repression of Religion in China

Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Religious freedom is enshrined in the constitution but the officially atheist Communist Party has no qualms about crushing those who challenge its rule. The party is paranoid and would remain vigilant against cults and feudal superstition, the sources added. China banned Falun Gong as a cult and has jailed hundreds, if not thousands, of adherents since 1999. Former president Jiang Zemin also defrocked and put under house arrest a six-year-old boy anointed by the Dalai Lama as the second holiest figure in Tibetan Buddhism in 1995. "Relaxation and suppression go hand in hand," said Nicholas Bequelin, of New York-based Human Rights Watch. "In China, religion must serve the state," Bequelin said. "There is greater religious freedom in China ... but to what extent is the party ready to allow genuine religious freedom?"[Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, September 29, 2013 ^*^]

“In its 2012 report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department said Chinese officials and security organs scrutinized and restricted the activities of registered and unregistered religious and spiritual groups. The government harassed, detained, arrested or sentenced to prison a number of adherents for activities reportedly related to their religious beliefs and practice, it said. Indeed, conservatives in the party still frown on what they see as "religious infiltration". Zhu Weiqun, a vice chairman of the top advisory body to parliament, warned in an interview with China Newsweek magazine in June that party members should not even practice any religion. ^*^

According to the 2013 report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department said the Chinese government’s “respect for religious freedom overall remained. In Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) there were particularly serious violations of religious freedom. The government exercised state control over religion and restricted the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when these were perceived, even potentially, to threaten state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, including social stability. The government harassed, assaulted, detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison a number of religious adherents for activities reported to be related to their religious beliefs and practices. There were also reports of physical abuse and torture in detention. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov/|\]

Local authorities often pressured unaffiliated religious believers to affiliate with patriotic associations and used a variety of means, including administrative detention, to punish members of unregistered religious or spiritual groups. In some parts of the country, however, local authorities tacitly approved of or did not interfere with the activities of unregistered groups. There was societal and employment discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists experienced severe societal discrimination, especially around sensitive periods. /|\

There was societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Because religion, culture, and ethnicity are often tightly intertwined, it was difficult to categorize many incidents specifically as examples of ethnic or religious intolerance. Religious and ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, experienced institutionalized discrimination throughout the country both because of their religious beliefs and their status as ethnic minorities with distinct languages and cultures. Despite the labor law’s provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers openly discriminated against religious believers. Protestants stated they were terminated by their employers due to their religious activities. Muslims in the XUAR faced discrimination in hiring, lost their positions, and were detained by authorities for praying in their workplaces. /|\

Harassment and Human Rights in Regard to Religion in China

According to the U.S. State Department: The government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom fell well short of its international human rights commitments. The government’s repression of religious freedom remained severe in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and in Tibetan areas, particularly during “sensitive periods,” such as Ramadan, significant anniversaries, or before important political events. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov/|\]

Religious affairs officials and security organs scrutinized and restricted the religious activities of registered and unregistered religious and spiritual groups. The government harassed, detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison a number of religious adherents for activities reported to be related to their religious beliefs and practices. These activities included assembling for religious worship, expressing religious beliefs in public and in private, and publishing religious texts. There were also reports of physical abuse and torture in detention. /|\

In parts of the country, local authorities tacitly approved of or did not interfere with the activities of some unregistered groups. Guangdong officials, for example, increasingly allowed unregistered places of worship to hold services provided they remained small in scale and did not disrupt “social stability.” In other areas local officials punished the same activities by restricting events and meetings, confiscating and destroying property, physically assaulting and injuring participants, or imprisoning leaders and worshippers. In some parts of the country, authorities charged religious believers not affiliated with a patriotic religious association with various crimes, including “illegal religious activities” or “disrupting social stability.” Local authorities pressured religious believers to affiliate with patriotic associations and used administrative detention, including confinement and abuse at RTL camps, to punish members of unregistered religious or spiritual groups. While the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed legislation in December to abolish RTL camps and state media announced inmates would be released, state media later issued a clarification that all pre-abolition penalties would be considered legitimate. Advocacy groups reported some camps had simply been re-labeled. /|\

Official tolerance for groups associated with Buddhism, except for Tibetan Buddhism, and Taoism was greater than for groups associated with other religions. Following his 2010 release after 11 years in prison on spurious economic charges, Buddhist Zen Master Wu Zeheng continued to face harassment, close monitoring, and restrictions on his movement by authorities in Guangdong Province’s Zhuhai City, according to overseas media and religious groups. The government continued to restrict the growth of unregistered Protestant church networks and cross-congregational affiliations. /|\

The government did not renew the professional licenses of a number of attorneys who advocated on behalf of religious freedom and it imprisoned other religious freedom activists or otherwise impeded their work on behalf of religious clients. Authorities also harassed or detained the family members, including children, of religious leaders and religious freedom activists.

Officials continued to hold “anti-cult” education sessions and propaganda campaigns. Some officials required families to sign statements guaranteeing they would not take part in house churches and “evil cult” activities involving Falun Gong as a prerequisite for registering their children for school. Media reported government employees in Xinjiang were being forced to sign guarantees they would refrain from religious or political expression. The penalty for not signing could be barring their children from entering university or being subject to administrative investigation. /|\

Individuals and groups affiliated with religious communities reported the government took their land without adequate compensation in accordance with religious affairs regulations. In April there were reports a church property which at one time had been the Seventh-day Adventist Beimenli Church in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, was demolished after the Three-Self Patriotic Church took over the property and sold it to real estate developers. In various areas throughout the country, religious groups reported authorities rejected their applications for registration because the groups had not affiliated with an official patriotic religious association. In some cases, local officials disrupted religious meetings in private homes, detained participants, and confiscated materials and equipment. Adherents of the Bimo shamanistic religion, practiced by many of the eight million ethnic Yi living in southwest China, continued to seek government approval to register Bimo as an officially sanctioned religion, but were unable to do so. This limited the Yi people’s ability to preserve their religious heritage. /|\

China’s Communist Party Opening Up on Religion?

Benjamin Lim of Reuters wrote: ““In what appears to be growing tolerance towards religion, museums in Beijing and Shanghai hosted exhibits this year to commemorate the 400th death anniversary of Matteo Ricci (1582-1610), the Italian Jesuit who brought Christianity to China. Foreign clerics, including Jesuits and other Catholic orders, were expelled after the Communists seized power in a revolution in 1949. But in recent years cash-strapped local authorities have turned a blind eye to or allowed individual Western missionaries to work on small social welfare or educational projects in China. In one example, a Jesuit priest has been allowed to help lepers in the southern province of Guangxi. [Source: Benjamin Lim, Reuters, August 20, 2010 <=>]

Xi Jinping Wants Religion to Fill Moral Void in China

Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “President Xi Jinping believes China is losing its moral compass and he wants the ruling Communist Party to be more tolerant of traditional faiths in the hope these will help fill a vacuum created by the country's breakneck growth and rush to get rich, sources said. Xi, who grew up in Mao's puritan China, is troubled by what he sees as the country's moral decline and obsession with money, said three independent sources with ties to the leadership. He hopes China's "traditional cultures" or faiths - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - will help fill a void that has allowed corruption to flourish, the sources said. Skeptics see it as a cynical move to try to curb rising social unrest and perpetuate one-party rule. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, September 29, 2013 ^*^]

“Barely a day goes by without soul-searching on the Internet over what some see as a moral numbness in China - whether it's over graft, the rampant sale of adulterated food or incidents such as when a woman gouged out the eyes of her six-year-old nephew this month for unknown reasons. "Xi understands that the anti-corruption (drive) can only cure symptoms and that reform of the political system and faiths are needed to cure the disease of corruption," one of the sources told Reuters, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing elite politics. ^*^

"This is for real," Lin Chong-Pin, a Taipei-based veteran China watcher and former government policymaker, said. "To save the party and the state from the current crises, Xi must fill the spiritual void." "President Xi and his family have feelings for Buddhism," said Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, a Beijing-backed non-governmental organization. In yet another sign, Yu Zhengsheng, ranked fourth in the Communist hierarchy, visited five temples in Tibetan areas in July and August 2013 and a mosque in western Xinjiang province in May - unprecedented for such a senior leader in terms of frequency. ^*^

Government Policy on Religion Under Xi Jinping

Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: ““Government agencies would moderate policies towards Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism in the hope these faiths would also help placate the disaffected who cannot afford homes, education and medical treatment, the sources said. "The influence of religions will expand, albeit subtly," a second source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "Traditional cultures will not be comprehensively popularized, but attacks on them will be avoided." Skeptics described such tactics as a ploy to divert blame away from the party for the many problems that anger ordinary Chinese, from corruption to land grabs. "Buddhists accept their destiny and blame their predicament on the bad deeds they did in their previous lives," said Hu Jia, an AIDS activist and Buddhist who has been under house arrest and spent time in prison. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, September 29, 2013 ^*^]

In a sign of the changes Xi wants, Zhang Lebin, deputy director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, wrote a commentary in July 2013 in the party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, that said "treating religions well should become a common consensus ... and the right to practice religions should be protected". The following month, Xi called for building both a "material and spiritual civilization" - Communist jargon for growth and morality. Back in February, Xi met Taiwan's top Buddhist monk, Hsing Yun, in Beijing along with a delegation of dignitaries from the self-ruled island which Beijing claims as its own. Meetings between top Chinese and religious leaders are rare. Nevertheless, despite the emphasis on fostering more openness for traditional faiths, one thing in the world's second biggest economy will remain the same. "Economic development is still the No. 1 (priority). Moral development is No. 2," the third source said. ^*^

Oxford Consensus on Religion in China

In August 2013, at the Sixth Annual Forum for Chinese Theology on “Christian Faith and Ideological Trends in Contemporary China,” held at Oxford University, Chinese scholars representing a wide range of ideological backgrounds committed themselves to work together to address challenges facing China and the world. Their signed statement of that commitment was titled “Some Consensuses Concerning the Present Situation and Future of China,” and became known as the “Oxford Consensus 2013”. [Source: Sinosphere blog, New York Times, October 18, 2013 |*|]

On the meeting, Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times’ Sinosphere Blog: “Two dozen Chinese public intellectuals from four of the country’s main ideological schools — Confucian, New Left, Liberal and Christian — met at Oxford University’s Wycliffe Hall to discuss their country’s problems. Remarkably, for a group of people who in Chinese public life are often at each other’s throats, they came up with what is now being dubbed the “Oxford Consensus” — four theses expressing their hopes for a pluralistic, liberal China. The statement is mild compared with more controversial documents like Charter 08 , the brainchild of the imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. The consensus simply states the hope that China will remain committed to pluralism, as well as fairness and justice in the political realm. [Source: Ian Johnson, Sinosphere Blog, October 18, 2013 ||||]

“The signatories include some of the country’s most prominent scholars and writers who publish and speak out on social issues, like Cheng Ming, a leading Neo-Confucian; the Christian sociologist He Guanghu; the New Left film critic Lü Xinyu; and the liberal philosopher Xu Youyu. The statement has not been widely reported in China, although a long feature appeared in the influential newspaper Southern People, or Nanfang Renwu, a sign perhaps that the initiative has not completely run afoul of the government’s continuing tightening of public discussion.” ||||

Contents of the Oxford Consensus on Religion in China

“Some Consensuses Concerning the Present Situation and Future of China” (the “Oxford Consensus 2013”) reads: “As China is rising up, the Chinese view of the world and the world’s view of China are changing. In the meantime, social problems in China have become increasingly conspicuous. What is the direction of China? What kind of change will China bring to the future of the world? These have become questions of urgent concern by more and more people both in China and the rest of the world. [Source: Sinosphere blog, New York Times, October 18, 2013 |*|]

“We are a group of Chinese intellectuals with diverse academic and ideological backgrounds in the new liberal, new left, new Confucian, and Christian traditions who love the holy land of China and are faithful to our people. We treasure intellectuals’ responsibilities as critics and sentinels of society. We hope, in this critically important time of change in China and the rest of the world today, to carry forward the moral character and rational spirit bestowed to intellectuals by our history. We will mobilize the power and resources in culture and ideas to spur our nation and the society on to a higher and better level. |*|

“We recognize that, to face the great transformations of China and the world, every single school or party of social thought has its limitations and we must work together to complete the drawing of the credible blueprint of a loving and trusting future society. Therefore, we intellectuals must engage in honest exchange and sharpen each other on the basis of respecting genuine differences, so that we will reach the urgently needed consensuses on the present and future development of China. |*|

“Through a process of sincere discussion and careful deliberation, we have reached consensuses in these aspects: 1) We hope that China will firmly hold to the governing philosophy of “the people as fundamental,” that is, the political power comes from the consent of the people, the foundation of the political system is to protect the rights of the people, and the aim of the state is for the pursuit of happiness of the people. |*|

2) We hope that China will firmly hold to the social principle of “fairness and justice” in social life, that is, insisting on the basic principle of treating all Chinese citizens equally and maintaining justice in the domains of politics, economics, society, culture, ethnicity, and gender; in all processes of legislation, judiciary and administration; and in the areas of education, healthcare, housing, work, recreation, care of the old., so that all people’s life will have material security and spiritual dignity. |*|

3) We hope that China will firmly hold to the cultural goal of pluralism and liberalism while inheriting and transmitting the excellent Chinese culture. On the precondition of reasonable balance of collectivity and individuality, in the principle of fairness and justice based on rule of law, we hope that China will protect the diverse pursuits of every ethnic group, every social stratum, every region, every vocational group, every community, and every individual in their moral values, ideational interests, academic inclinations, arts styles, religious beliefs, opinions and views. On the principle of harmony with difference, all will peacefully coexist and have opportunities for free development. |*|

4) We hope that China will be committed to constructing a fairer and more just world order, treat international disputes in politics, economy, culture, military, environment. on the principles of mutual dependence and mutual benefits, so that it will serve the interest of all Chinese people as well as the whole of humanity, promote peaceful coexistence and harmonious development for all nations in the world, and to achieve the great peace under heaven for all. |*|

Background Behind the Oxford Consensus

One of the participants in the Oxford Consensus Meeting was Yang Fenggang, a Christian and a pioneer in the study of the sociology of religion in China. Mr. Yang is a professor of sociology at Purdue University and director of its Center on Religion and Chinese Society, one of the most influential institutions studying religion in China, regularly hosting conferences and academic exchanges. [Source: Ian Johnson, Sinosphere Blog, New York Times, October 18, 2013 ||||]

On how the meeting got started, Yang told Ian Johnson: “The founder is a Wenzhou Christian named Wang Wenfeng. He went to a seminary in Singapore, and that’s where he started the forum. The first three were there and were just about Christian theology. The fourth was in South Korea, and the previous one, the fifth, included Neo-Confucians. But this time they pulled in the New Left and Liberal groups, too.” ||||

On the significance of meeting, Yang said: “I think it is severalfold. The New Left and the Liberals, those public intellectuals have stopped talking to each other. When they get an invitation, one of the first questions is, Who else have you invited? If the invited people include those from the other camp, they won’t participate. It got to that level of tension. But this time, they willingly sat together for three full days....The organizer, Wang Wenfeng, is really humble. He never got into disputes with any of them. That persuaded many.” ||||

On the New Left participants. Yang said:“The New Left, in my view, is different from the old Left or the Maoists. The New Left made clear that they don’t like to be called leftists. But they like to be called xinzuoyi, the left wing. Many ideas and terms are borrowed from the left in the West. They are critical of capitalism, imperialism, globalization. This is where they draw their theory, rather than the old Marxist, Leninist or Maoist theory. But every conversation they’ll turn to it being the fault of the U.S. Growing inequality, people losing houses — they’ll say it’s because of capitalism from the U.S.” ||||

On the Liberal participants, which some people call the “right”, Yang said: “They have classic liberal ideas: free markets, individual rights, constitutionalism. But, interestingly, there are some closer to the left. These people began to say things like: In the Chinese situation, we need a stronger government. Only a stronger government will make things happen. I’d say there’s a new reshuffling of the camps. I personally came out of the meeting thinking there were only two camps: There are people who advocate a bigger role of the state and those who argue for individual rights. So I think statism and individual rights is a bigger division. So the four camps may not make as much sense. I can think of people from the Liberals who speak for the need of a stronger state. Neo-Confucians, most of them, argue for that, and even Christian scholars like Liu Xiaofeng have become strong advocates for a stronger state. ||||

Discussions Behind the Oxford Consensus

On the discussions at the Oxford Consensus Meeting, Yang Fenggang told Ian Johnson: “WE managed to come up with this public statement. Even though there’s nothing big in it, that these four camps could form a consensus, that itself is important. People in China talk about the country being torn apart, that’s how bitter the camps are. But here they can talk about it and start with what we have in common and then see what our differences are. I think this is needed in Chinese society at this point. The four points of consensus take into account the concerns of the Left, the Liberals, the Confucians and scholars of Christianity. Even though the language, everyone had to compromise. Nonetheless, you can see it expressed their views. We had very interesting debates during the evenings. But there was this trust, and some people said, “It’s O.K., I trust you to formulate the language.” There was this feeling that they had to move forward and agree or else the country could be torn apart. [Source: Ian Johnson, Sinosphere Blog, New York Times, October 18, 2013 ||||]

“The main idea was, Who are the public intellectuals? Those who have a public voice in China. When you think of it, there are almost no Buddhist or Daoist public intellectuals. On Weibo I follow a lot of Buddhist monks, fashi. Almost none talk about public issues or concerns....They comply more to the government’s viewpoint. But also I think they may not be equipped to be part of this public debate. Active public intellectuals today are not only college-trained but have graduate degrees. But you’ll find few of them in Buddhism and Daoism.||||

“In the discussions...there was a feeling that as long as we come up with something, it’s meaningful. We don’t know how the authorities will react, but at least we can show that we can work together. This group of people have the concern that the authorities may simply go their own way without taking any input. When we sat together we were conscious of this....This consensus is thin, delicate. It depends how people react. This is not like Charter 08 or anything like that. The language is very toned down. Even the old Left can’t really object. I think the government will not be able to say much about it... We did have some debates and some interesting moments, but the general tone was most people felt this was hard to achieve and let’s maintain good relationships, rather than pushing one’s views too hard. So they want to start with this, but a healthy way is to have genuine debate, to show the differences — not emotional and sentimental, but to make good arguments. If that happens, it would be great. Hopefully this is the beginning for that.” ||||

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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