Xi Jinping's Meaning of “Sinicization of Religions”
Sergio Ticozzi, PIME
The original speeches
Chinese President, Xi Jinping, first used the term“Sinicization of Religions”in his closing speech at the three-day Central Conference on United Front Work on 20 May 2015. It was the first time in nine years that the Party had convened such a conference.
Xi Jinping, after emphasizing the official ideology proposed by the previous leaders, dealt with various sectors of the United Front Work, namely, cooperation with all democratic parties, contacts with non-Party intellectuals, the relationships with Taiwan in view of national unity, and with Hong Kong and Macau under“one country, two systems,”as well as the approach to news media and the internet. These points, especially the last one, have become hot topics on the internet.
About religions, Xi Jinping first connected them, as usual, with the work among ethnic minorities, and then he underlined:
Religious work in essence is mass work. It must thoroughly implement the policy of religious freedom of the Party, administer religious affairs according to the law, uphold the principles of independence, autonomy, and self-administration, and positively guide the adaptation of religions to socialist society. In order to positively achieve this latter objective, it is necessary to maintain their sinicizing orientation, to raise the standard of legal compliance of religious work, to consider dialectically the social function of religion, to value and promote the role of religious believers, to guide religious believers to work toward economic progress, social harmony, cultural development and service for union among ethnic communities and the unity of the country.
Xi Jinping repeated the emphasis on“Sinicization of Religion”when he addressed the National Conference on Religions and Religious Work held in Beijing on April 22-23, 2016. The president called on all authorities to stick to the Chinese Communist Party's religious policy and improve religious work. According to him, religious affairs carry“special importance”in the work of the Party and of the central Government, whose religious policies and theories have been proven right through past practice. He promised once again to fully implement the policy of freedom of religious belief, to manage religious affairs according to the law, to retain the principle of religious independence and self-administration, and help religions adapt to the socialist society. According to Xi Jinping, the“Sinicization of Religion”is necessary for the survival of religion itself. This is done by accepting the rule of law, proving itself useful to society, and adjusting to the requirements of socialist society. The“Sinicization of Religion”also includes working to unite religious and non-religious people, and guide the followers of religions to love their country, to protect the unification of their motherland and to serve the overall interests of the Chinese nation. Religious groups, in other words, must adhere to the leadership of the CPC, and support the socialist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The official meaning of the“sinicization of religions”
The“Sinicization of Religion”seems practically to be a policy and a process of integration, along the lines of nationalism or patriotism. It aims to strengthen the identity of the Han Chinese majority among the multi-ethnic population and to help to develop shared values and pride among citizens.
The context of Xi Jinping's speech shows that the Chinese authorities, and Xi Jinping in particular, plan to strengthen the work of the United Front Work Department, out of concern for the Party's stability due to the present problematic standing of the Party. They aim to attract the support of the general population, playing on their patriotic and nationalist feelings. Xi Jinping's emphasis in recent speeches is frequently and insistently placed upon loyalty and unity, a sign that these issues have become rather problematic.
The intent of sinicization is to reform and remold religion, and Christianity in particular, into a Party-controlled tool, to be used for the Party's political aims. Therefore, the main concern of Xi Jinping is a political one, with a view to buttressing the position of the Communist Party, and his leading role in it. For him, religion is just a social institution which the Government must keep under full control.
According to Zhuo Xinping (卓新平), a scholar of religion and Director of the Department for Research into?World Religions?at the Chinese Academy of Social?Sciences, the“Sinicization of Religions”has two dimensions—political and cultural—that make up the same process. For Xi Jinping, the“Sinicization of Religions”has mainly a political reference. This political dimension includes the autonomy and democratic administration of religions, under the full control and guidance of the Communist Party, and its adjustment to the Socialist system. Such is the ordinary interpretation of the slogan by other Chinese officials who repeatedly explain it in the following terms: to love the homeland and its people, to safeguard national integrity and unity among ethnic groups, to cherish the guidance of the Communist Party and the Socialist system, to maintain the road of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, to positively implement the core values of Socialism, to spread Chinese culture, to strive to integrate religious doctrine into Chinese culture, to keep state laws and regulations, to participate in the modern socialist construction of reform and liberalization of the country, and to contribute efforts to achieve the dream of the modern renewal of China.
Xi Jinping's main concern remains political. His cultural concern seems to have little to do with the adaptation and inculturation process that religions, especially Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, which had come from abroad, have carried out during their past history in China.
The political and cultural dimensions of sinicization
Zhuo Xinping, in the above-cited article which explores specifically the“Sinicization of Christianity,”underlines the two dimensions of the process:
At present, China advocates positively guiding religions, to adapt to socialist society, and that such an adaptation process requires that religions in China maintain a sinicizing orientation. Sinicization has two dimensions, cultural and political. Owing to the fact that, in modern times, China has suffered the invasion and the political oppression of Western imperialism, Christianity exists no longer in China purely as religion, but has acquired complicated political connections. That is why one cannot escape the reality of the political dimension of its Sinicization. The“Three-self patriotic movement”that the Chinese Church has carried out since the 1950s is a clear manifestation of the political dimension of the Sinicization of Christianity. Facing current complicated developments, we cannot simply say that the political dimension of the Sinicization of Christianity has already achieved its objective. On the contrary, it is still a long, arduous process which requires painstaking effort. It also depends on arriving at a common understanding by those inside and outside the Church, after a close examination of the reality. Faced with different political options, Chinese Christianity obviously must, honestly and courageously, choose the sinicization that expresses love for the Country and love for the Church.
The cultural dimension of the Sinicization of Christianity involves the attitude of Christianity towards Chinese culture and the manner in which they interact with each other. In fact, this is an issue of exchange, acceptance, co-existence and communication between an excellent culture from abroad and Chinese culture. In this active process, there must be mutual adjustment, sharing, a win-win attitude, without any need or possibility of“one swallowing up the other”or of“one controlling the other.”The idea of Christianity“conquering China”or“converting China to the Lord”is something from the past that Christians should reflect on. Obviously, today we have to view the relationship between Christian and Chinese cultures from the standpoint of building the common destiny of humanity, so that Christian culture can become an organic part of Chinese culture, and Chinese culture can absorb and assimilate the positive and constructive contents of Christian culture. This concerns the building of“one world,”“one existence”, which is the common fate of humanity…
Xi Jinping's meaning of the“Sinicization of Religions”remains on the political level. Another proof of this is the fact that he has already used the term in relation to Marxism. In the past he has talked about the“Sinicization of Marxism.”This has become a common research topic on Marxism in Chinese universities. At a national forum on party building in Beijing, in June 2011, Xi Jinping spoke about the “Sinicization of Marxism” and emphasized that the Chinese Communist Party, guided by scientific theory, has combined adherence to the basic tenets of Marxism with adaptation to Chinese circumstances during the various stages of revolution, construction and reform in the country. Chinese leaders have advocated the“Sinicization of Marxism”to ensure that the Party's guiding ideology and basic theory advance with the times. In the past, the“Sinicization of Marxism”generated major theoretical results, namely the ideological system of
Socialism with Chinese characteristics, Mao Zedong Thought, together with Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents [of Jiang Zemin] and the
Scientific Outlook on Development [of Hu Jintao]. The final Communique of the 6th Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee (October 24 to 27, 2016) also mentioned a few times the need for the“Sinicization of Marxism”(不斷推進馬克思主義中國化) and twice added to the list above of traditional formulations of the official ideology, the “deep practice of the spirit of the important speeches of Secretary Xi Jinping.”
Consequently, it seems possible to assume that Xi Jinping has two motives in proposing the“Sinicization of Religions.”The first is to provide the guarantee of full Party control over the ethnic and religious sectors of the nation (the political dimension mentioned above). The second is to add his theory of the“Chinese Dream”for the renewal of China to the list above, in order that it could be gradually recognized as part of the official ideology of the nation. The cultural dimension of the“Sinicization of Religion”seems to be left to the personal reaction of believers in the ways they express their faith, as well as to the responses of religious and academic professionals—of course within the obvious boundaries of limited freedom.
Finally, another political perspective seems to be present. The emphasis of Xi Jinping on “Sinicization” and on“Chinese characteristics”could derive from a broader concern, that is, the present approach of China to the world, to globalization and to its entry onto the world stage. China, by emphasizing its“special characteristics”and“nationalism,”wants to show that it is different from other nations, that its strength comes from the controlled unity of all sectors of the nation's life, and from its ability to make everything“Chinese,”including religions, and even Marxism itself.
Xinhua agency, 2015-05-20, reported on the website of the China United Front Work Department.
Zuo Xinping,“Tansuo jidujiao“zhongguo hua”zhi lu”[《探索基督教“中國化”之路》] in
China National Minorities News [中?民族?], 2015-12-10, pp. 1-3.
Huang Zhu [??], “Woguo zongjiao de tedian he zhongguo hua wenti”[《我國宗教的特點和中國化問題》], in
China Religion [中國宗教], 2016. 8, p. 41.
“Sinicize Marxism for Chinese Socialism: Xi”, in