Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Civil society controls in China

The conflicts between the Chinese Catholic authorities and the Vatican have been in the news (China ordains new Catholic bishop). American media have also reported on the Christian house church movement and the official Chinese opposition to it.

The Communist Party and the Chinese government insists on being in charge of all civil society organizations, so we should not be surprised that it rigidly controls Muslim organizations as well. Michael Harvey pointed out this article from the Boston Globe. It does a good job of illustrating the forms those controls take place.

Muslim voices rising in China - Controls on Islam spur resentment among a restive minority


"On a recent Friday, the holy day of Islam, crowds swelled inside the antique Jame mosque, the largest in this ancient town in Xinjiang Province...

"The turbaned and bearded clerics who preached to the gathered faithful had all been vetted for their political beliefs by local Chinese authorities, who determine what sermons they can give, what version of the Koran they may use, and where and how religious gatherings can be held.

"The Chinese government forces all Muslims in China to adhere to a state-controlled version of their religion, and banners placed around town warn locals not to stray from the official faith. The imams are not even allowed to issue the call to prayer using a public address system...

"The Chinese government has tightened its constraints on the Uighur ethnic minority in western China amid official fears of a rise in militant Islam...

"To dissuade Uighur youths from inheriting their traditional Islamic culture, the government has banned children from entering mosques, studying Islam, or celebrating Islamic holidays...

"Resentment against Beijing has been building here since 1949, when Mao Zedong annexed the independent nation of East Turkestan and began to assimilate it into mainland China...

"Some Chinese officials say they are baffled by the criticism China receives for its policy on Xinjiang, where the nation's relatively small Muslim population of about 8 million is concentrated.

"'On the one hand the world complains that Pakistan doesn't do enough to control its madrassas, and on the other they complain when China does not allow them,' said one official, referring to Muslim religious schools. The official asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the press. 'We believe Islam can be an unbalancing force so we need to control it.'...

"Though Uighurs have traditionally followed a moderate blend of Sunni Islam and Sufi mysticism... a rising Islamic mood is palpable in Xinjiang. More and more women are wearing veils, residents say, and mosques are packed on Fridays.

"Mostly this is due to a rising interest in religion that is common across much of China, where people are reacting to the intense atheism of the Maoist years. But in Xinjiang, rising Islamic sentiment has also taken on a political hue, with many separatists demanding the re-creation of an independent East Turkestan on religious grounds...

"Plainclothes policemen routinely roam the rustic mosques and bustling markets of Uighur towns. Human rights groups and local residents say anyone thought to be acting suspiciously is hustled away and often punished without a fair trial...

"Part of the reason China is tightening its grip on Xinjiang is its growing strategic importance. The province has been found to be rich in oil. It also borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and has become an essential launching pad for China's geopolitical interests in these areas, where the United States is also jockeying for influence..."


Policies like this attract attention of U.S. policy makers as well, and the Chinese are not pleased with the attention.

China strongly opposes being listed on U.S. religious freedom blacklist

"China refuted here Monday a recent U.S. report which listed China as a 'country of particular concern' with regard to religious freedom, saying the move constitutes blatant interference in the country's internal affairs.

"Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said China expresses 'strong dissatisfaction' and 'firm opposition' to being on the list.

"Recently, the U.S. State Department claimed to have listed China as one of eight 'countries of particular concern' with regard to international religious freedom in 2006.

"'The United States' action violates the basic rules of international relations, and constitutes a rude intervention in the internal affairs of another country,' Jiang said.

"'The Chinese government has always guaranteed citizens' right to religious freedom in accordance with the law,' she said. 'People of various ethnic groups and regions in China enjoy broad and adequate freedom of religious belief according to law,' Jiang added..."

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