Home Page/Public Lecture Series/China's Religions and Rule of Law

China's Religions and Rule of Law

Author: Source: Date:2016-06-03
Peng Liu, renowned expert on religion, Research Fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

On the morning of April 23, 2016, Dr. Peng Liu visited the Shenzhen Innovation and Development Institution and joined the Public Lecture Series to deliver a speech titled “China’s Religions and Rule of Law”. Dr. Liu illustrated the major problems in the studies of religion in China. He traced the origins of these problems and hint on the solutions.

Recent years have witnessed turbulences in religion. Dr. Liu pointed out that the issue with Buddhism and Taoism stemmed from financial and human resources turmoil, and that of Christianity and Catholics suffered from the severe conflicts between the church and the State; while the issues facing Islam and Tibetan Buddhism resulted solely from the intertwining between religion and ethnicity.

Taking Buddhism as an example, “Some monks have not followed their religious principles. Those who are not supposed to be monks have become actual monks, and those which should not be spent are spent, with ambiguous financial records. Buddhist artificial landscapes and temples are flooding China. Local governments are building temples, so are businesses and private citizens, all of which can be attributed to the notion of money,”

“If Buddhism in China is in any kind of danger today, it would have been under the threat of greed. Buddhism is covered in gold, but in reality, it lost its religious and sacred elements,” Liu believed that the aforementioned issues were only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the management of religions.

Problems with religion in China were not born in one day, as Liu attributed the issues to three areas: values, management, and law. It was preciously because of the lack of an effective rule-of-law framework for religions that we observe a gridlocked situation in the current religions management system, eventually leading to “dissatisfaction among followers and headaches among management”.

“When everyone is not satisfied, there must be something problematic,” Liu said.

Regarding values, Liu blamed the antiquated and flawed positioning of religions. “Many [uphold] the traditional views [of religions] that they are intimidated whenever religious issues are on the table, taking [the emerging religion issues] down immediately, attempting to avoid them and the troubles they bring along. These are all due to the influences ofoutdated views, and the lack of a proper understanding of religions,”

In terms of management, China’s religion management retained the model from the 1950s, which aims to manage religions with administrative measures, through the establishment of different levels of religion management government agencies. In Liu’s view, managing religions with administrative measures has been ineffective, as it turned religions into special organizations or interest groups under the protection of religion management agencies’ regulatory institutions. Once the traditional religion management system failed to function, problems accumulated and thus administrative expenses would have to be increased. That led to redundancy in the religion management system, resulting in even biggerconflicts, and more complicated issues.

Liu believed that implementing a rule-of-law system for religions is the best options, but the problem right now is the lack of law. This is not about the lack of religions management regulations, but a basic law for religion. Because of inadequate regulations, the legal system can hardly deal with any legal issues related to religions.

Liu gave an example of temple occupation. When a temple or a religious property has been occupied by an entity or a person and was not properly returned, and the religion sought help from the government, “there is nothing the government can do, it is not regulated by the law, nor is it clarified in the law. It would drag on for dozens of years,”

“As the national legislature has yet to formulate a religion law amid the enormous amountof religion-related conflicts that is ought to be handled, religion management government agencies have replaced legal authority with administrative measures and regulations set up by the agency. To make it explicit, religion management bodies legislate, interpret, and execute the law by themselves, punishing entities [they deem responsible],” said Liu.

Liu summarized that administrative measures included the Regulations on Religious Affairs.There were also agency regulations set up by the State Council – such as the many regulations of State Administration for Religious Affairs –, as well as the regulations and laws set up by provincial, municipal, and county governments.

Limits exist regardless of whether it is administrative measures, or regulations founded by agencies or local entities. Liu believed that the freedom of religion is a basic civil right. Administrative agencies should not be able to bypass national legislative in any case, formulating rules by themselves, nor should they replace national legislations with agencies, legislations and law with regulations.

As a final remark, Liu emphasized that new religious issues would emerge in the future without a rule-of-law framework for religions, as well as a religion law. The religion management system must substitute administrative measures with a rule-of-law framework. Ineffective religion management can only be resolved with the rule of law, not the outdated administration framework.