High Official Critiques Religious Policy as Practiced in Peoples Republic
by John Holzmann
A document released through house church sources earlier this year provides a remarkably candid look at how the Chinese governments religious policy is actually being carried out, and provides a glimpse of one possibleand relatively hopefulfuture for Christians in China.
Analysts say What I Have Learned From Studying a Document appears to be from a speech delivered by a senior government official at a national Religious Affairs Bureau conference held in Shanghai in December 1985.
Using the pen name Ru Wen, the author/speakers main purpose is to praise Document 19, the key guide to Chinese religious policy since 1982.
Ru says he believes Document 19 is worthy of commendation because it studies present Chinese religous questions from present Chinese realities; it (correctly) evaluates religion in China during the socialist era; it explains very clearly how the Party should interact with religion; and it seeks to improve and strengthen Party leadership by removing Party leaders from direct interference in religious activities.
At the outset of his speech, Ru challenges the traditional Marxist idea that religion is an opiate designed to stifle the outcry of oppressed classes. To slavishly imitate things which are old-fashioned, European, and from the period of control by the reactionary classes is no longer suitable, he says.
And that is one of the beauties of Document 19: It does not contain (a lot of) hackneyed stereotypes, but talks about things in a new way. . . . It does not start out from theories or definitions, but from the actual situation in China.
Ru quotes Marx: Religion is the sigh of the oppressed spirit, the feeling of an unfeeling world, and the spirit of a heartless system. Religion is the opium of the people.
If these words are mechanically applied to socialist China, this will create problems, he says. Are the Chinese people still oppressed spirits? If so, who are the oppressors?
Look around you, he says, modern China no longer has an exploiting class in control. The Communist Party and the Peoples Government certainly do not want to dope the people. So if we still stress that religion is the opium of the people, we have to ask, which class is it that is using religion to dope the people?
Since the situation in which the reactionary ruling classes used religion to dope the people . . . no longer exists, the seriousness of the problem has been greatly reduced. The opium at most is a few people drugging themselves, on a level with those who use alcohol to dispel their cares. Although it is not too good, it can be fully allowed.
Further, he says, the Christian virtuesthe love, industry, honesty, peace, patience, obedience, self-control, doing good to others, etc. which Christianity teaches . . . are not necessarily a hindrance but can be a help to increasing stability, unity, and production. . . . (And) even if these virtues cannot compare with Communist morality, if Christians practice them, this helps social stability, harmonises with socialism, and is much better than people pursuing selfish profit (emphases added).
Rus speech provides a healthy reminder that Marxism no less than Christianity has a future hope. One of the things a good Marxist looks forward to is the ushering in of true communism, a time when, among other things, there will be no more religion.
Document 19, Ru says, does not deal with that future blissful state. Rather, it presents an accurate analysis of and correct policy for religion in China during the socialist era.
Party Central does not believe that religion will last forever, he says, but the present stage is not the time when religion will disappear.
. . . Religion . . . will disappear . . . (when) material and spiritual culture has reached a high level, (and) people will have thrown off poverty, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness.
This will not be fulfilled in one, two, or even three generations, but only after a long period of history when many generations, including both the religious and non-believing masses have striven together. At that time, the state, the army, political parties, and nationalities will all disappear (with) religion.
In the meantime, Ru says, the task of the Religious Affairs Bureau cadres is to implement the policy of freedom of religious belief, to unite believers for the Four Modernizations, . . . and not to oppose religion, propagate atheism among believers, or force them not to believe.
It is noteworthy, he says, that . . . the document never mentions how to decrease the number of religious believers, or how to fight against religion and limit and exterminate it.
Having established the possibility that a person may legitimately be a religious believer; and having argued that the religionless future to which Document 19 looks forward is not yet at hand, Ru begins to enumerate what he sees as irresponsible and illegitimate government attacks on believers. He most violently protests against some comrades . . . (who) stubbornly maintain that freedom of religious belief is only so much talk and that the Partys real intention is still to completely eradicate religion.
These comrades, he says, deal with the religious problems of the masses very crudely and create tensions between the Party and the masses.
One of the chief reasons for such behavior, he suggests, is a one-sided emphasis on the reactionary and deceiving nature of religion.
As far as hes concerned, For many years there has been too much talk of the reactionary nature of religion, the struggle against religion, promoting the extinction of religion, the establishment of non-religious areas, . . . etc.
. . . We have had our stomach full of this line already. . . . To link religious belief with political reaction is the method of the Cultural Revolution . . . (i.e., to be abhorred).
Ru defends his position by distinguishing between political reactionaries and people who suffer under religious delusions.
Reactionary is a political concept, he says. Religion is idealist, and at most is erroneous knowledge . . . .
There are many people who have various kinds of erroneous knowledge. People with erroneous knowledge may be reactionary politically, but they may also be revolutionary, progressive, and patriotic.
In other words: Party members need not oppose religious people simply because they are religious. Religious people may be revolutionary, progressive, and patriotic. The people to be opposed are those who are anti-revolutionary, reactionary, and unpatriotic.
Ru calls for a stricter separation of church and state, and in doing so acknowledges there is a very serious problem of state control over religion in some parts of the country.
In some places, he says, everythingincluding things that pertain to religion itselfis done at the word of the cadres. These cadres do not understand religion, nor the thinking and feelings of religious believers. They do not respect religious traditions.
. . . Many things are done which harm believers, drive them into the arms of bad elements and enemies, and makes the patriotic religious bodies lose many of the masses.
At present the cadres control religion . . . and control the patriotic religous leaders rigidly, Ru says. There are some leaders in religious circles who . . . do not represent the legal rights of religious circles. They are good at fawning and being yes men and accepting leadership, but they are not being a bridge between the Party and believers; rather, they increase the gap between them. . . .
Some of the practices that such leaders get involved in include the prescription of patriotic covenants; issuance of decrees that forbid children under 18 to enter a church; enforcement of Three Designates policies; and forced dispersions of house meetings.
Brent Fulton, director of China Ministries International at the U.S. Center for World Mission, commented that while all these practices have been reported in the past, they have not, until now, been confirmed by such a high-ranking Chinese official.
Ru acknowledges the existence of patriotic covenants. Having been reported in the past as used to limit the activities of believers, Ru acknowledges that these covenants are not, in most cases, the product of believers themselves.
Forcing such things which have no mass support . . . on the patriotic religious organizations only makes the religious masses despise patriotic leaders in religious circles, he says. We should get rid of this kind of formalism.
Ru says that Document 19s proscription against young people being forced to enter temples to study scriptures has been upgraded (in some places) so that . . . young people . . . are not even allowed to enter the churches. This wounds many believers hearts.
Another harmful policy, he believes, is the enforcement of Three Designates (desig-nated pastors, designated parishes, and designated spheres of ministry). He suggests that the multiplication of itinerant evangelistssomething he ardently opposesis a direct result of these stifling restrictions.
While the Party must oppose unpatriotic believers who misuse religion, religious organizations should be given more freedom to run their own affairs, he says.
Official control of religion disfigures Party leadership.
Finally, Ru addresses the question of home meetings.
Yes, he says, Document 19 does state that in principle home meetings should not be permitted. However, since most of the home meetings are undertaking normal religious activities and they are numerous and widespread, that prohibition can only be in principle. To get rid of them is not the most pressing task.
Indeed, he says, if cadres arbitrarily close down meetings or force believers to meet in unsuitable locations, they are disagreeing with Document 19, since it calls for the rational preparation of places for religious activities; it states that all normal religious activities . . . are protected by law and none should interfere; it requires that meetings should benefit the believers production and daily life; and it says that changes in meeting location should be agreed to voluntarily by believers.
By the way in which he deals with the issues related to home meetings, Ru admits that many meetings have been forcibly closed, merged against the wishes of believers, and otherwise tampered with by cadre leaders.
Ever the cool pragmatist, Ru concludes his assault on the cadres by asking a question that, from the communist perspective, must be very troublesome: Are the home meetings really so easily dispersed (by repression)? Or are they spread even further, forced into secrecy, and made even more difficult to wipe out?
Considering Chinese communist history, Ru presents an astonishingly powerful case on behalf of religious believers, so powerful, in fact, that this author wonderedespecially considering the anonymous character of its authorif it could have been written as an apologetic by Chinese Christians rather than having been written by a government official.
CMIs Fulton said, The fact that Ru Wen is a pen-name shouldnt bother you. Party members often use pen-names. Further, the things he mentions and the way he speaks fit perfectly with the way a Party member would handle these subjects. As far as Im concerned, there is little reason to doubt the document is anything but what it purports to be.
The unique aspect of Rus speech is not that it marks the first time anyone has said the things he said, but rather, that someone as high up in the government as he was said what he said, and that he said all the things he did at one time, in one speech.
According to the translator, a senior China researcher based in Hong Kong, Ru gives Document 19 a very liberal interpretation. His speech represents the high-water mark of the liberal approach under Hu Yaobang.
In fact, he said, considering the current deterioration of conditions in China since Hu was ousted in January of this year, Ru Wen, whoever he is, may regret having been so outspoken.
Despite his liberalism from the communist perspective, however, Rus speech is not sufficiently generous to suit many Western evangelicals.
For instance, he talks of a so-called religious revival, using Hubei as an example.
Two years ago the number of Christians in a certain area of Hubei increased to 3000, (but) investigation showed that there were two different situations:
1. Some were playing up healing and exorcism, preaching the end of the world was near, and cheating people out of their money. They increased to 1000 people.
2. There were two miners, also leading 1000 believers, but they opposed healing and exorcism, refused donations, and taught people the Three Satisfactions: satisfy the Party, satisfy God, and satisfy other people.
These latter are patriotic, are relatively good examples of religion, and should not be confused with the former . . . .
We draw distinctions between imperialist nations; how much more should we among religious people!
Ru says Document 19 commits the government to resolutely protect normal religious activities, but at the same time . . . (to) resolutely strike down all illegal criminal activity, (all) counter-revolutionary sabotage activity . . . , and all superstitious activi- ty . . . .
Based on the examples he uses in his speech and on the experience of Chinese Christians who have come up against the government in these matters, it is clear that itinerant evangelism, receiving materials from Christians overseas, Christian healing, and the casting out of demons are all abnormal, criminal, counter-revolutionary, and superstitious.
Limited as his definition of religious freedom may be, however, Ru gives us a unique and hopeful perspective on how things might be in China one day.
Fulton cautioned, however: The way things are going right now, this may not be for a long time. Remember, it was just in the last few months that we were told about the forced closings of house churches in Fuzhou and Shanghai (MF, June 1987, p. 19).
Before Rus proposals ever come to pass there will have to be a return to the openness experienced in 1985-86.