China to Banish Superstition, Promote Knowledge

Reuters covers State Administration of Religious Affairs director Wang Zuoan‘s position on the importance of discouraging “superstitious” religious belief and promoting scientifically informed knowledge, as he recently described it to the Central Party School’s Study Times newspaper:

“For a ruling party which follows Marxism, we need to help people establish a correct world view and to scientifically deal with birth, ageing, sickness and death, as well as fortune and misfortune, via popularising scientific knowledge,” [Wang] said, in rare public comments on the government’s religious policy.

“But we must realise that this is a long process and we need to be patient and work hard to achieve it,” Wang added in the latest issue of the Study Times, which reached subscribers on Sunday.

“Religion has been around for a very long time, and if we rush to try to push for results and want to immediately ‘liberate’ people from the influence of religion, then it will have the opposite effect and push people in the opposite direction.”

[…]”Religion basically upholds peace, reconciliation and harmony … and can play its role in society,” Wang said.

“But due to various complex factors, religion can become a lure for unrest and antagonism. Looking at the state of religion in the world today, we must be very clear on this point.”

Wang’s statement did not specifically address CCP concerns regarding the regions of Xinjiang – predominately muslim; and Tibet – predominately Buddhist, where the suppression of distinct religious and cultural identities has long stimulated political unrest. For an overview of the play between religion, politics, and the state in western China, see the report “Uighurs and China’s Xinjiang Region,” or the podcast “China, Tibet, and Religious Oppression,” both via the Council on Foreign Relations.

Looking at the ongoing wave of protest by self-immolation on the Tibetan Plateau, Elliot Abrams and Azizah Al-Hibri of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom suggest that greater religious freedom, rather than the gradual disappearance of religious ideas as expressed by Wang Zuoan, would more effectively quell unrest and enhance security. From the Wall Street Journal:

Silence is inexcusable. We must consistently and persistently call for Beijing to uphold religious freedom for the sake of human rights and stability alike. President Xi must hear repeatedly from U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders that China’s policies ignore mounting evidence that freedom, not repression, creates peaceful and prosperous societies. Such societies are secured by honoring the dignity and worth of people, empowering and encouraging their participation in civil society, protecting their liberties in law and practice, and allowing them the fundamental right to practice their faith and live their lives according to their conscience.

In a country as vast, diverse and globally engaged as China, lasting stability is impossible when people are denied religious freedom. If Beijing guarantees freedoms for all, from Tibetan Buddhists to Uighur Muslims, and from Christians to the Falun Gong, it will help, not hinder, China’s quest for security.

As constitutionally defined since the founding of the PRC, official policy guarantees religious freedom, but human rights groups have long documented the state’s exercise of strict control over religion.


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