China's Churches Must Register to Be `Legal': Critics Call Move Co-Opting Religion

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

China's Churches Must Register to Be `Legal': Critics Call Move Co-Opting Religion


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


China's communist government has embarked on a campaign to control religion by dividing it between legal and illegal forms, human rights groups said as President Jiang Zemin arrived in Washington yesterday.

"If you register, the Chinese government gives you a large amount of freedom to operate," said scholar Paul Marshall, who visited China this spring.

Believers who do not register are illegal and face coercive and even brutal measures.

"The current crackdown is systematic across the country," Mr. Marshall said.

Mr. Jiang, who is not expected to waiver from the "legal and illegal" distinction in his talks with President Clinton, yesterday sought to mollify critics by inviting three top U.S. clergy to visit China.

"This decision is a welcome step in the direction of openness," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in disclosing the invitation at a news conference.

She said the clergy - the Rev. Don Argue, National Association of Evangelicals president, Catholic Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J., and Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York - will "discuss the climate for religious freedom" while in China.

The tour was announced at a time when China watchers are emphasizing the regime's growing harassment of unregistered, or "illegal," religious groups.

This strict legal distinction, China watchers say, is a new government strategy to co-opt the religious impulse that 50 years of communism has not been able to suppress. As Mr. Jiang put it in "People's Daily" last year, state policy is to "actively guide religion so that it can be adapted to socialist society."

While the government is erecting churches and temples for groups that register with the state-controlled association, it is tearing down thousands of unregistered temples, churches and tombs, according to reports.

They have targeted meetings of unregistered evangelists, campaigned against the spiritual authority of the Dalai Lama and are trying to break the underground Catholic lines of communication, human rights leaders say.

In the Xinjian region, authorities shut down 133 mosques and 105 religion classes, searched 200 other mosques and arrested 21 clergy on the pretext of fighting a separatist movement. …

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