In War Against Faith, Chinese Regime Burns Religious Books, Jails Believers
China’s communist party has continued its broad attack on faith through the pandemic, burning and trashing religious books while jailing spiritual adherents for possessing religious literature.
While the officially atheist Chinese regime formally recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Christianity, it imposes strict rules over how these religious organizations should operate, and often installs Party cadres to control the entities, forcing millions of spiritual followers to turn underground.
For these believers—Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Uyghur Muslims, or Falun Gong practitioners—reading, printing, or distributing religious materials could lead to jail terms, harsh labor, and other forms of abuse. Many are subject to routine monitoring and harassment by state agents, who often break into their homes without warning to seize and destroy their books.
These violations of religious freedom have led the U.S. State Department to designate the Chinese regime as a “country of particular concern” every year for more than two decades.
The repressive policies have only intensified in recent years. In 2016, the regime passed a regulation explicitly banning its roughly 90 million party members from having religious beliefs, engaging in “feudal superstitious” activities, or supporting religious extremists or racial separatists—the latter a term it frequently evokes to describe religious minorities such as Muslim practicing Uyghurs in Xinjiang or Tibetan Buddhists. This is despite the Chinese Constitution guaranteeing its citizens rights to “freedom of religious belief” and to engage in “normal religious activities.”
A few days ago, Beijing in a top policy directive listed promoting socialism and purging “superstition” as one of its top priorities for modernizing the countryside.
One state-controlled publication declared in 2016 that members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are people who have chosen to follow the materialistic path decreed by the Party, and are thus “incompatible with superstitious ideologies as fire and water.”
Religious Book Burning
In October 2019, a state library in Zhengyuan county of northwest China’s Gansu Province drew an outcry for conducting a public book burning of dozens of illegal publications or media with religious or “tendentious” content. Netizens compared the scene to the days of the Cultural Revolution, where books were burned and religious artifacts smashed as the CCP attempted to stamp out traditional Chinese culture to tighten its ideological control over the population.
But the library’s action was hardly an isolated incident.
Roughly two decades after the Cultural Revolution, in 1999, the CCP ordered a massive campaign to eradicate Falun Gong, a spiritual meditative discipline based on moral principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. Overnight, an estimated 70-100 million Falun Gong adherents in the country became labeled as state enemies. They faced detention, torture, harassment, and forced organ harvesting if they refused to renounce their belief.
Soon after the launch of the persecution, a campaign began to force Falun Gong practitioners to hand over their books and videotapes relating to the practice. Those materials were then crushed under a pulping machine, road roller, or set on fire, often in public displays that were later used for propaganda purposes.
Millions of publications were destroyed in such a fashion, according to Minghui, a U.S-based website that tracks the persecution of Falun Gong, which reached this estimate based on reports by foreign journalists, state media, and eyewitness accounts.
A July 2019 notice, posted on the government website of Xilingol League in the region of Inner Mongolia, offered monetary rewards varying from 50 to 500 yuan ($7.73 to $77.30) for anyone who reports flyers, books, souvenirs, social media posts, or banners related to Falun Gong and other groups that the CCP deemed illegal. It also offered up to 300,000 yuan ($46,392) for clues to “dismantle” them.
Despite Buddhism and Christianity being officially sanctioned religions, its adherents have not been shielded from state pressure. In Jingdezhen County of Jiangxi Province in China’s southeast, a Buddhist abbot told of how the local government laid all of the local temples’ CDs on the road, and used an excavator to crush them, according to a December report by Bitter Winter, a magazine on China’s religious liberty and human rights. Last October, officials in the northern province of Shanxi shut down the local Fengci Temple and confiscated around 882 pounds of religious books and tens of thousands of CDs, according to the same article.
In eastern Anhui Province, at least 250 state-sanctioned churches had their crosses removed between January and April 2020, at times under the pretext of “being too tall, too large, too wide, or too eye-catching,” the magazine reported. Officials claimed the action was part of a broad campaign to eliminate religious symbols.
Wen Weiquan, a house Christian from Wufeng Tujia Autonomous County in central Hubei Province, took his life in February 2019 after police forced him to hand over his Bible and throw crosses in his house into a fire pit.
“The Chinese Communist leader Xi Jinping and his regime engineered the worst religious persecution since the end of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s,” Bob Fu, a Chinese American pastor and founder of U.S.-based Christian nonprofit China Aid, told The Epoch Times in an email.
‘War Against Decent Faith’
During the pandemic, the regime’s sweeping religious policies have carried through, as China’s faithful continue to suffer government reprisal for the mere act of holding, producing, or circulating materials of their beliefs.
“Xi’s regime constantly uses the pandemic as a pretext for further crackdown against any independent faith or religion in China,” said Fu. He pointed to the shutdown of virtual worship services at a house church in southwestern Sichuan, and the case of Pastor Li Juncai in central China’s Henan Province, who received a 5-and-a-half-year sentence in January for attempting to prevent a CCP flag and propaganda banners to be placed in his church.
Chen Yu, owner of an online Christian bookstore from China’s Taizhou City in eastern Zhejiang Province, was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2020 and fined 200,000 yuan ($29,450). His customers from three provinces reported house raids by police who seized their religious books. Yu’s alleged crime was selling unapproved religious books imported from other countries.
Last September, a Shanghai court sentenced 16 people for operating an “illegal” business that printed more than 200,000 religious-themed books without license, including the Buddhist scripture “Diamond Sutra.”
In December last year, Falun Gong practitioner Guo Suling, who was 77 years old at the time, was handed a three-year suspended sentence for allegedly hanging three Falun Gong banners in public locations, the third jail term she received since 2007. Sun Qian, an adherent who holds a Canadian passport, was sentenced in China to eight years in prison last June. The police arrested Sun after breaking into her Beijing home and finding Falun Gong books.
Another practitioner, Sun Zhongqin, from the northeastern province of Liaoning, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in November for distributing calendars and booklets related to Falun Gong, according to Minghui.
Not wishing their books to fall into authorities’ hands, some Kazakh Muslims in the far-western Xinjiang region sealed their Quran with plastic bags and threw the books into the Ile River, in the hopes that they could be transported to the neighboring Kazakhstan and be preserved, Radio Free Asia reported in October 2020.
To evade internet censorship, two government-approved Christian groups replaced religious terms with shorthand in their online bookstore, such as by changing “Christ”—pronounced as “Ji Du” in Chinese—into “JD,” and “Bible” into “SJ,” the short form of the term in Chinese, “Sheng Jing,” according to China Aid.
“This is a war against decent faith,” said Fu. “History has told us this war is doomed to fail.”