Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Local Islamic Associations and the Party-State: Consanguinity and Opportunities

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Local Islamic Associations and the Party-State: Consanguinity and Opportunities

Article excerpt

In order to tackle the question of whether Islam can grow In the shadow of the Chinese Communist Party, with Its legacy of religious repression and Its fear of Infiltration by globalised religious forces, we will look at concrete Interactions between the state and religion In the People's Republic of China. This work breaks with studies of religions In China from the point of view of the central state and Its regulations. The aim of such studies, which are based on official documents, Is to produce an appraisal of official religious policy.!1) However, they fail to grasp the complexity of local situations. Moreover, the tendency of such a top-down approach Is to present the relationship between the state and religious communities as being based purely on management and repression. On the other hand, a number of other research projects focus on the religious communities themselves, highlighting their values, the relationships that structure such communities, and the development of cultural practices. Studies of this kind, focused as they are on the communities, contribute vast amounts of Information and provide the basis for understanding their Internal workings.!2) However, emphasising the communities as such tends to Implicitly separate the religious field from the workings of the state.

We wish to explore the heart of negotiations between the state and Muslim communities to define a space for worship. In order to do so, we will concentrate on the players who are central to these Interactions: the official Islamic associations.

Ever since the early years of the People's Republic of China, the religious policy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been based on patriotic religious associations In charge of the five authorised religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.!3) Little research has been carried out Into these ambivalent associations, which were created by the Party-state both to represent the Interests of believers and to apply religious policies. Interaction between these two roles, which at first glance seem contradictory, needs to be clarified.

In the case of Islam, the grouping together of Chinese Muslims Into ten national minorities (shaoshu minzu), (4) giving them an official status In relation to the Han majority, further complicates the situation. In addition to the Party-state's approach to the communities In terms of religious policies Is Its so-called "national minorities work" (minzu gongzuo). In the case of the Muslim minorities, this "work" mainly affects their eating, funerary, and cultural habits. Apart from their religious value, these three subjects are dealt with as customs of the groups. <5)The two facets of Islam in China, the religious and the "ethnic," are inextricably linked from the perspective of the state and Islamic associations. This duality sets Islam apart from the other religions in China and results in different political treatment. As we will see, this can sometimes assist access to state subsidies, but can also legitimise the intervention of the state into the affairs of the Muslim community.

Few studies have been carried out to illuminate the local implementation of religious policies, which provide the stage for power struggles that vary from area to area and religion to religion. As demonstrated by Yoshiko Ashiwa and David L. Wank in their study on Nanputuo Temple in Xiamen, or indeed David Palmer in his work on the qigong movement, 0 the networks of players need to be brought to light in order to truly understand the interactions between the state, the Party, and the religious organisations. What, then, are the factors that help explain local variations in how Islam, in particular, is managed? We will endeavour to answer this question by focusing on the Nanjing Islamic Association (NIA), (8) a local organisation of the national association responsible for Islam, the Islamic Association of China (IAC). (9)

The city of Nanjing, capital of the Jiangsu Province, is an interesting case. …

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