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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Cardinal Zen on Chinese Model of Religious "Freedom"

Written by  Cardinal Joseph Zen
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Cardinal Zen on Chinese Model of Religious "Freedom"

Translated by Dr. John Rao

Note: This talk, delivered by Cardinal Joseph Zen, was published in the 13th Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World by the Cardinal Van Thuân Observatory of Trieste (Italy) The talk was entitled, "The Chinese Model: Liberal socialism of social control". The Cardinal Van Thuân Observatory is an Italian study and research center dedicated to the Social Doctrine of the Church, and, in addition to the annual publication of a Report, publishes a quarterly magazine, a series of books, and organizes training schools.

CARDINAL JOSEPH ZEN

The Chinese model in relations between the State and religions

There are two documents from the Central Authorities of the Chinese Communist Party that can help us understand the Chinese government’s current religious policy: Document 19 of 1982 and Document 9 of 2013. For those friends in China who do not have the opportunity to examine these documents, I will try to take a cue from them and briefly outline the constant and present religious policy in China. 

Document 19 of 1982

Document 19 of 1982 is entitled "The Basic View of the Religious Issue during the Socialist Period of Our Country". Religion as such originates from primitive people's sense of fear and helplessness in the face of terrifying natural phenomena. When society evolves and the ruling class oppresses the powerless proletariat, religion is the opiate the former uses to keep the latter subservient. With the advent of socialist society, religion should disappear, the cause of its existence being eliminated. But the construction of a socialist civilization does not happen overnight and has to come to terms with many obstacles: persistent popular superstition, natural disasters, human error and the international situation. Religion will naturally disappear with the progress of socialism and communism. However, thinking of eliminating it by administrative decrees or other coercive measures is not the basic vision of Marxism. Society has been controlled for many years by feudal lords, the capitalist class, and both colonial and imperialist forces controlled in turn by the Catholic and Protestant churches. After 1949 there was a great change and a vast reform, and the contradictions implicit in the religious issue are now primarily contradictions among the people. But this will continue to be a mass matter, often connected with ethnic factors and international affairs. We cannot ignore the complexity of the problem. We must bear in mind all the objectives to be achieved: the stability and ethnic unity of the nation; establishing good international relations and, at the same time, resisting infiltration by hostile foreign forces and building socialist civilization with its material and spiritual values. Lenin exhorts us to 'be ready', to think things through; to be frightened by the complexity of the issue or to ignore the complexity and just go along with it would be equally wrong.

We communists are atheists and we must tirelessly propagate atheism, but it will be fruitless and harmful to use mere coercion when it comes to ideological and spiritual issues, including religion.

Before religion naturally disappears, the basis of politics is the respect and protection of religious freedom. Every citizen has the freedom to believe and also the freedom not to believe, to believe in this religion or another. We communists are atheists and we must tirelessly propagate atheism, but it will be fruitless and harmful to use mere coercion when it comes to ideological and spiritual issues, including religion.

The difference between the masses of believers and non-believers is relatively secondary; it is wrong to make it a primary issue to the point of causing discrimination and oppression, perhaps even eliciting the opposite effect of religious fanaticism. This is contrary to the aim of Marxist Leninism; it would mean forgetting that the basic role of the party is to unite believers and non-believers so we will all work together to build a modern and powerful socialist state.

Obviously, emphasizing the freedom to believe must also guarantee the freedom not to believe. Freedom to believe does not hamper the Party's work in disseminating scientific education and fighting superstition, but will also strengthen said efforts. One point to stress is that religious faith is a private affair, the choice of the individual citizen. Religion must not meddle in the administrative or judicial affairs of the state, not even in schools or public education. It is forbidden to force anyone, especially those under the age of eighteen, to be a member of a religion and to participate in a particular religious activity. Religion must not be allowed to be used as a pretext to oppose party leadership or to destroy national unity.

The atheist Party must guide religions through patriotic religious organizations (for Catholics, these are the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Chinese Catholic Religious Affairs Commission and the Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference)

The atheist Party must guide religions through patriotic religious organizations (for Catholics, these are the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Chinese Catholic Religious Affairs Commission and the Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference) with which to guarantee the normality of believers' activities and practices. Any criminal and anti-revolutionary activities under the guise of religion must be resolutely suppressed and severely punished. It is the task of the government to educate the people to understand that by striking down criminal activities, the government safeguards true religion.

All this is based on the scientific doctrine of Marxist Leninism and the thoughts of Comrade Mao Zedong.

Far from being a temporary expedient, religious freedom is a decisive strategy in the pursuit of the unification of the people and the building of a powerful and modernized socialist state. This work will last not a generation, nor even two or three, but a long period of history before the realization of an advanced civilization made up of material and spiritual values [for a long time it was customary to qualify the present as the "initial period of socialism"].

As can easily be seen, this document promulgated in 1982 represents the position of Deng Xiaoping, already a decisive figure in the government at that time after the disastrous years of the Cultural Revolution (in that year the Constitutions were also considerably reformed). It is clearly a new pragmatic direction: economic reconstruction and opening up to the international world. But this document also reconfirms all the restrictions on religious freedom, sometimes even emphatically. How should this apparent contradiction be understood? Was it Deng Xiaoping's attempt to avoid being criticized as a "revisionist", or the precautionary approach  sincerely present in the mind of any genuine communist? In favor of the former hypothesis is the fact that the Communist Party did not dare demolish Mao Zedong's prestige, despite his grave responsibility for the damage caused by the Cultural Revolution. However, after the events of Tiananmen Square, I think the second interpretation is closer to reality.

We can therefore take this Document as fundamentally faithful to the communist view of the reality of religion: a fact to be tolerated in view of the final victory of communism, but to be kept under strict control and submission.

Document 9 of 2013

Document 9 of 2013 represents the mind frame of Xi Jinping, the current supreme leader of the People's Republic of China. Everyone can see that there is a big difference in comparison with Deng Xiaoping's line of thought in 1982. It is a return to the ideas and policies of Mao Zedong. There is no need for long quotations, the introduction and the subtitles of the paragraphs are quite eloquent (the events that followed this document are even more eloquent).

Introduction: Under Xi Jinping's leadership we have made great progress and now we have great confidence; the ideological foundation of the "struggle" is becoming stronger all the time. We have already achieved great economic progress so that the people look to the future with confidence, and now our goal must be a great doctrinal campaign so everyone understands and participates in the construction of socialism with Chinese features and the great Chinese Dream. We must unify thinking, consolidate the progress of a positive atmosphere and strengthen spirits.

While we see the positive situation, we cannot ignore that an intense struggle is still underway.  Hence,  the following problems and challenges deserve attention.

(1) The constitutional democracy of the West. With ideas of "separation of powers, multi-party system, general elections, independent judiciary, national army, etc.", the aim is to discredit Party leadership, abolish people's democracy and replace it with the political system of the West.

This recent Document, which we see being implemented in practical terms (we are particularly interested in points 2, 3 and 5) certainly does not favor religious freedom.

(2) To weaken the theoretical foundations of Party leadership, the so-called universal values such as "freedom, democracy, universal and eternal human rights" are exalted.

(3) Promotion of "civil society" to dismantle the social foundation of Party rule. Enemy forces have long used this concept of the people's absolute right against us, and now our own people are using the same weapon to reject Party control. Especially at the local level, they claim an absolute right to freedom of action on the part of all kinds of associations to liberate themselves from government control.

(4) Promotion of Neo-liberalism. Many nations, led by the USA, want to impose their economic model of absolute privatization, blind faith in the free market, and globalization that marginalizes individual nations. We see the disastrous consequences of this theory in Latin America, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It has led its own proponents into a crisis in which they are still mired. They want to change the basic infrastructure of our economy by saying it is inefficient, disrupts the market economy, and would thus weaken government control over the national economy.

(5) They promote the Western idea of journalism by challenging our principle that the mass media and the press must be subject to party discipline. They uplift the mass media to the level of a being a “fourth power", advocate the absolute freedom to transmit information, and want to abolish our propaganda departments. Obviously their intention is to oppose the party's control of the media and thus infiltrate the domain of our ideology.

(6) They promote historical nihilism by trying to distort the history of the Chinese Communist Party and the New China. They deny the historical inevitability of the Revolution, saying it was a mistake and the beginning of even more mistakes. They cast Party leaders in a bad light, denying the merits of Mao Zedong, exaggerating the gap between the period before reform and international openness, and the period after, all in order to deny the Party has any legitimacy to govern.

(7) They question reform and the openness endeavor, and deny that socialism with Chinese features is truly socialist. Some say reform and opening-up have yet to be achieved, while others say they have gone too far. Discussions and confusion originating abroad, and now spreading everywhere in China, erect obstacles in the way of unified and sustained action for real reform and progress.

The only criterion of truth is the Communist Party, the only holder of right and power is still the Communist Party.

They demand the release of so-called political prisoners, and want us to reverse the Tiananmen verdict. This also with the participation of embassies and consulates and NGOs operating in China, using the press and documentation media.

In the face of all these challenges from anti-Chinese forces in the West, authorities at all levels, and especially leaders, need to pay special attention to the ideological sphere and exercise in full their office of leadership.

This recent Document, which we see being implemented in practical terms (we are particularly interested in points 2, 3 and 5) certainly does not favor religious freedom. The only criterion of truth is the Communist Party, the only holder of right and power is still the Communist Party. Recently, we cannot fail to have seen shadows of the Cultural Revolution.

What can we do in this situation? Engage in dialogue? Keep silent? Become parrots? May the Lord enlighten us and give us strength.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 9, 2022