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Xi Jinping’s Attitude toward Religious Issues

Earlier this year, Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, called for a religious work conference, which lasted from April 22 to April 23. The country’s highest ranking leaders attended. [1]

At the work conference, Xi proposed to unite religious followers and to resolve religious issues via guidance and with law-based means. His speech was considered a correction to a policy framework of “maintaining stability” and suppression during the years when Jiang Zemin was in power.

On July 19, 2016, Xi Jinping visited a mosque in Yinchuan, the capital city of China’s northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, to investigate religious activities there during his two day inspection tour. [2]

When meeting with religious personnel in Ningxia, Xi commented that China’s diversified nationalities and religions developed while being nurtured during 5,000 years of Chinese civilization and that they would retain their vitality only by taking roots in local society.

“The president called on authorities to stick to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) religious policies, carry out religion-related work in a law-based manner, and guide religions to adapt better to socialist society.” He said that more efforts should be made to “direct religious figures and believers to respect and abide by the law, resolutely guard against illegal infiltration via religious means, and promote religious and social harmony.” he said.” [3]

On July 6, 2016, Zhang Shujun, deputy director of the Central Research Office of CCP History, stated in a State Council Information Office press conference that a methodological approach to “sensitive issues” through the CCP’s history will be conducted. Beijing-headquartered Duowei News summarized feedback on Zhang’s statements and the general view was that it was “quite rare” for the central leadership to hold such a position. In mainland China, some sensitive issues include the Cultural Revolution and the June 4th Incident in 1989.

On July 10, People’s Daily, the official CCP newspaper, giving prominence to the issue of religions in China, published three articles to further interpret Xi Jinping’s April speech on religious policy.

In the first article entitled, “Actively Direct and Guide Religions to Adapt to Socialist Society,” the author raised attention to the issue of preventing differences in beliefs from expanding into political confrontation” and reminded the readers that “we must firmly remember that religious beliefs cannot be extinguished by administrative power or via the approach of struggle.” The article proposed that we “all [should] be able to focus on the masses and respect their self-choices and that it is necessary to decide upon and seriously implement the policy of religious freedom.” [4]

The second article’s title was, “Our Religions Must Uphold the Direction of Chinese Localization.” It stressed that the foundation for maintaining the direction of Chinese localization is what was distilled from traditional Chinese culture; namely, the spirit of “kindness, forgiveness, and staying in the middle of the natural course,” plus the cultural eco-environment of diversification, interconnectivity, and harmony, formed following the guidance of such spirit. [5]

The third article, “The Key to Actively Lead and Guide Religions Lies in Guidance,” placed emphasis on “enhancing the buildup of religious groups,” by changing the existing management structure and personnel composition. [6]

Then in a two-day meeting on legal system accountability reform that concluded on July 19, the Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs (CPLA) said a thorough review of past erroneous judgments would help improve China’s legal system. [7]

During its July meeting, the CPLA said the current legal accountability system was undergoing major changes, which would improve the quality of judgments and raise the credibility of the country’s judicial organs. It also stated that more can be done to avoid wrongful convictions. [8]

Publication of Xi’s religious positions happened to coincide with two sensitive dates “Apr 25” and “July 20.” April 25 marked the 17th anniversary of Falun Gong practitioners going to Zhongnanhai, China’s leadership compound, in 1999 to request the release of practitioners who had been detained in Tianjin. July 19 of this year happened to be the eve of the 17th anniversary of the suppression of Falun Gong. On July 20, 1999, Jiang Zemin, then Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), launched a nationwide suppression of Falun Gong.

Sources: Xinhua, China Daily, and People’s Daily