Religion of the Party is more important than religious beliefs. It could be a line from George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four along with “Big Brother is watching you.”
But, of course, it is not. Instead, it is an edict from China’s ruling Communist Party, which is tightening its grip on ‘the faithful’ under President Xi Jinping.
Last week, a revised set of regulations were rolled out by the CCP’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, warning nearly 90 million Party members to toe the line.
Included in the list of offenses was a new clause aimed at religious beliefs.
“Party members who have [a] religious belief should have strengthened thought education,” the directive stated. “If they still don’t change after help and education from the Party organization, they should be encouraged to leave the Party.”
Members attending “activities that use religion for incitement” should also be expelled, the CCP confirmed.
This latest crackdown comes at a time when Beijing is starting to row back from a more liberal approach to religion.
In June, Xi’s administration announced a five-year plan for the “development” of the Catholic Church, which would alter religious principles and practices to coincide with Party doctrine.
A more ominous development has been the treatment of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority, in China’s northwest province of Xinjiang.
Earlier this month, Gay McDougall, who sits on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited harrowing reports at a two-day meeting of the UN on China.
She voiced concerns that Beijing had “turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp.”
Up to one million Muslims have reportedly been detained, according to estimates from the UN and United States government officials.
Former inmates have painted a grim picture of human rights abuse.
Many faced months of indoctrination, and were forced to renounce Islam, criticize their own beliefs and recite Communist Party propaganda songs for hours each day.
There have also been allegations of inmates being tortured and killed.
Indeed, The Wall Street Journal has claimed that the sheer scale of the internment camp system is immense and has doubled within a year.
The United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China has even described it as “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
In response, Beijing has denied the accusations, pointing out that the country faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists.
“The argument that one million Uighurs are detained in re-education centers is completely untrue,” Hu Lianhe, a senior CCP official, told the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. “There are no such things as re-education centers.”
Still, Xi’s drive to revive “patriotism” has seen the national flag fluttering above the famed Shaolin Temple, a Zen Buddhist monastery, in Henan province this week for the first time in its 1,500-year history.
The decision was criticized on Chinese social media for blending religion with politics.
“As a Buddhist, this makes me feel uncomfortable,” one person wrote on Weibo, the Twitter-like online platform. “Before, I thought of religious faith as pure, but now it confuses me … With patriotism interfering with spiritual life, there is no space at all for individual thought. Is this what a harmonious society looks like?”
The answer appears to be yes, judging by Communist Party rhetoric. Now, what was Orwell’s remark about Big Brother?