China’s constitution upholds ‘religious freedom’. The reality is rather different

Members of an honour guard at the Great Hall of the People on January 31, 2018 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Just when the Vatican seems to be falling over backwards to win the favour of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese have reciprocated, as this magazine reports, with further restrictions to religious practice. In certain Chinese provinces notices are to be displayed outside churches banning children from entry. Nice one!

A Chinese Catholic, identified only as Peter, makes the point that “the [Chinese] constitution clearly stipulates that citizens have religious freedom, while protection laws state that teenagers and children cannot be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.”

This point represents the nub of the Chinese problem for any Catholic. The Chinese constitution says one thing, but Chinese practice does another. In other words, the Chinese constitution is a piece of window dressing. Whatever liberal noises China may make, these are not backed up by a truly liberal attitude. The State is happy to break and bypass its own declarations regarding religious freedom. To be blunt, one cannot trust the Chinese when they speak of religious freedom because they say one thing and do another. They lie.

Meanwhile, a deeply wonderful article in the Global Times tells us what the Chinese government really thinks. It is worth reading in full, for it tells us that there is religious freedom in China, and that the new regulations are there better to protect religious freedom. Moreover, those who criticise Chinese policy are not being very religious, but are rather being “political”.

The mask, in other words, drops at this point: the official atheist government of China wishes to tell us what is religious and what is not. “It [disrupting bilateral negotiations] is interference in China’s domestic affairs and does not conform to the basic principle of a religion.” Another nice one!

A question one has asked before: how can anyone negotiate with China on religious matters when it is so clear that China has manifested bad faith in this matter? The Vatican is bending over backwards, and the Chinese are taking full advantage. Truth suffers, as do the poor Chinese Catholics.