All places of worship in China will have to fly the national flag on national and religious holidays if a proposal by state-sanctioned religious institutions is implemented, reports Radio Free Asia (RFA).
“All religious venues should raise China’s national flag to strengthen awareness of respect to the flag and preserve the flag’s dignity,” RFA quoted China’s Global Times newspaper as saying.
The suggestion is believed to have come from nine national religious groups, including the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, after a meeting in the capital, Beijing, last week.
In their report, representatives from the nine groups said that whether or not a worship place erected a flag on national or religious holidays would be “an evaluation index in the activities of selecting harmonious temples or churches”.
RFA said “places of worship [that] do not follow the practice could face scrutiny”.
The proposed nationwide measures follow reports last month of some churches in China’s central Henan province being instructed by local authorities to have a Chinese flag on display and sing the national anthem at each gathering.
Henan is the “epicentre of the drive to control the Christian community in China”, according to the Associated Press, whose reporters visited the province earlier this year. It’s the country’s most populous province and a focus of President Xi Jinping’s fight against poverty.
“A dozen Chinese Protestants interviewed … described gatherings that were raided, interrogations and surveillance, and one pastor said hundreds of his congregants were questioned individually about their faith,” AP reported.
“I’ve always prayed for our country’s leaders, for our country to get stronger,” Guo, a 62-year-old whose church was ordered to stop its activities until it was registered with the government, told AP. “They were never this severe before, not since I started going to church in the 80s. Why are they telling us to stop now?”
“Up until now, both house churches and government-sanctioned churches have managed to find ways to muddle their way through, but the Communist Party’s demand to ‘Sinicize’ Christianity would seem to be the toughest yet,” commented Thomas Muller, analyst at the World Watch Research unit of Christian charity Open Doors International.
The Chinese government has often accused foreign forces of using Christianity to infiltrate China, and Xi Lian, a scholar of Christianity in China at Duke University, told AP that “under Xi, this fear of Western infiltration has intensified and gained a prominence that we haven’t seen for a long time”.
In a statement following the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held last month in Washington DC, delegates urged the Chinese government to “protect the religious freedom of all individuals and to respect the human rights of all members of religious groups” as this “will only further peace, security, and stability in China and among its neighbors”.
‘Christians are an enigma’
China’s government has tightened religious regulations this year, with a notable increase in efforts to suppress religion in Henan in particular. World Watch Monitor has reported on numerous incidents in the province this year, such as barring minors from entering churches, and closures of churches and church-run initiatives like kindergartens.
One-hundred churches were closed in the city of Nanyang, southwest Henan, in the month of March alone.
Christians are an enigma to the government, Aaron Ma, an Asia-based researcher for Open Doors International, told World Watch Monitor in June.
“The CCP believes the Church is a de-stabilising force, but not because it is bad; in fact, local communities and authorities tend to believe Christians are good people. Some suggest that because Christians’ allegiance is first and foremost to God and not the Communist Party, there is a conflict of interests that the party believes can potentially hinder the process of unification. Others are more concerned by what they perceive as potential ‘chaos’ arising from the huge number of Christians,” he said.