12/29/2014, 00.00
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Beijing to publish list of "legal" religious venues to "eradicate" illegal religious activities

by Wang Zhicheng
The list will be completed within two years. It already includes 16,140 registered Buddhist and Taoist temples and places of worship. For 20 years, the UN has called on Beijing to drop the distinction between "legal" and "illegal" religious activities. A law on religions seems urgent. Taoist and Buddhist monks criticise the use of temples and places of worship as moneymaking tourist destinations.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - China will publish online details of all registered Buddhist and Taoist venues as well as the names of the people who run them within two years, Xinhua reported.

Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), made remarks to that effect at a national conference on religious work on Friday.

China has already made public information on 16,140 Buddhist and Taoist temples and venues in 14 provincial-level regions. Information available online includes names and addresses of religious venues as well as people in charge.

According to SARA's director, this would facilitate government monitoring "and prevent illegal religious activities outside of legal venues, protecting the legal rights and interests of religious circles and believers."

For decades, the Chinese government has run religious activities through national regulations and laws, and not on the basis of the constitution.

Beijing has claimed the sole right to distinguish between "legal" religious activities, which are conducted in registered places and with staff under the control of patriotic associations, and "illegal" religious activities that take place in venues outside of the latter's control and with unregistered personnel. People caught in activities outside government control are jailed as "criminals".

For at least 20 years, the United Nations has tried to get China to drop the distinction between "legal" and "illegal" activities because of its inherent incoherence.

Since Xi Jinping became president, raising hope for change, many Party members and think tanks have called for a law that would define religions and not penalise religious activities as such, but would instead protect rights and go after anti-social behaviour.

By referring to "legal" and "illegal", Wang Zuoan seems to be sweeping aside such ideas and reform proposals. Likewise, he also mentioned the two religions - Taoism and Buddhism - considered closest to or even part of Chinese culture, which have often been praised and helped financially.

However, even among their members, some have complained of stifling government controls. Many Taoist and Buddhist monks have in fact criticised SARA for turning many places of worship into moneymaking tourist venues, debasing their spiritual nature at the expense of their religious users.

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