Responses to Information Requests

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27 September 2018

CHN106166.E

China: Christian proselytism; treatment of Christians who proselytize, particularly in Guangdong and Fujian (2016-October 2018)

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Legal Situation

Sources report that religious proselytism is restricted by authorities in China (Associate Professor of Political Science 25 Sept. 2018; US 29 May 2018, 8; Freedom House Feb. 2017, 46). A Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Edinburgh who has studied interactions between religion and the state in China, particularly with regards to Christian churches, stated, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that "[t]he space for public proselytism has significantly been reduced" in recent years (Lecturer 1 Oct. 2018). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the ChinaAid Association (ChinaAid) [1] stated that "the Chinese government frowns on openly sharing information on a religion via more public actions, such as passing out tracts on the street, and persecutes those who do so" (ChinaAid 20 Sept. 2018a). The US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 states that "[p]roselytizing in public … is not permitted" and that religious groups must obtain government approval to carry out activities such as missionary work or proselytizing (US 29 May 2018, 7-8). The same source adds that "[r]egulations specifically prohibited faith-based organizations from proselytizing while conducting charitable activities" (US 29 May 2018, 31).

According to sources, the Chinese government has been exercising tighter control over religious activities in recent years (Associate Professor of Political Science 25 Sept. 2018; US 25 Apr. 2018, 31; RFA 28 Feb. 2017). Sources indicate that the Chinese government issued updated Regulations on Religious Affairs in 2017 (US 9 Nov. 2017; OSV 4 Oct. 2017; ChinaSource 13 Sept. 2017). The updated regulations came into force in February 2018 (Distinguished Professor 26 Sept. 2018; US 25 Apr. 2018, 31).

According to sources, these new Regulations on Religious Affairs replaced previous regulations which had been implemented in 2005 (Human Rights Watch 18 Jan. 2018; US 9 Nov. 2017). An article published by the US Law Library of Congress's Global Legal Monitor service states that the new version of the Regulations "has amended, added, and abridged several provisions on general principles, religious groups, religious schools, venues for religious activities, religious professionals, religious activities, religious assets, and legal responsibility" (US 9 Nov. 2017).

According to Amnesty International, the new Regulations have "codified far-reaching state control over every aspect of religious practice, and extended power to authorities at all levels of the government to monitor, control and potentially punish religious practice" (Amnesty International 22 Feb. 2018). Human Rights Watch similarly states that the "new restrictions" introduced by the modified Regulations include "banning unauthorized teaching about religion," and "expand the role of local authorities in controlling religious activities" (Human Rights Watch 18 Jan. 2018). In its annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) adds that the amended regulations "introduce new government oversight of online discussions, increase fines (e.g., for those who organize unsanctioned religious events), and explicitly restrict unregistered groups from establishing religious schools" (US 25 Apr. 2018, 31).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a distinguished professor of sociology at the University of California San Diego, who studies religion in China, stated that the new Regulations

do not explicitly mention proselytization very often. Article 44 prohibits proselytization in "non‐religious schools" and article 68 specifies punishments for such activity. Article 56 states that "Public interest charitable activities must not be used to proselytize by any organization or individual." (Distinguished Professor 26 Sept. 2018)

The US Law Library of Congress article also notes that article 44 of the Regulations "prohibit[s] proselytizing, holding religious activities, establishing religious organizations, or setting up religious activity sites in schools or educational bodies other than religious schools" (US 9 Nov. 2017). According to the Distinguished Professor,

[t]he basic intent of such articles ‐ and the regulations as a whole ‐ seems to be to confine religious activities within the boundaries of officially approved religious sites. Thus, religious believers are not supposed to go outside the walls of their churches or temples to attract new believers. Nor are non‐professionals ‐ lay people or religious leaders who are not officially registered ‐ to engage in such activity. (Distinguished Professor 26 Sept. 2018)

2. Christian Proselytism in China

Sources indicate that Christians continue to engage in proselytism in China (Lecturer 1 Oct. 2018; Senior Lecturer 23 Sept. 2018; Freedom House Feb. 2017, 46). The Lecturer stated that some Christian groups and individuals are still able to conduct proselytism through distributing "'gospel tracts'," inviting people to attend church services, sharing their beliefs with others, and preaching at funerals and weddings (Lecturer 1 Oct. 2018). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an associate professor of political science at Loyola University, who studies the politics of religion in China, stated that proselytism "frequently takes place in many different places, in private conversations, despite the state’s efforts to prohibit it" (Associate Professor of Political Science 25 Sept. 2018). A former Executive Secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC) [2] stated, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that Christian proselytism still "widely" exists in China, "within the confines of the law, e.g. within the religious venue[s] registered with the government, not in the public domain, and not to minors" (Former Executive Secretary 20 Sept. 2018). An associate professor of sociology at the University of Hong Kong who studies religion and spirituality in China, stated, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that [translation] "proselytism is still very actively going on in China, but not openly and publicly; rather, [it is done] through interpersonal relationship networks" (Associate Professor of Sociology 18 Sept. 2018). Similarly, the ChinaAid representative noted that "[s]ome churches do also proselytize covertly" (ChinaAid 20 Sept. 2018a). According to Freedom House, Christians undertake "discreet outreach efforts" such as charity work, to "indirectly demonstrate to nonbelievers the positive impact that the religion could have on individuals and Chinese society, and give Christians an opportunity to interact with strangers and discreetly share the principles and benefits of their faith" (Freedom House Feb. 2017, 46).

The ChinaAid representative stated that "[m]any Christians in China still attempt to share their faith, despite restrictions against it. Some will even hand out Christian materials, and have been taken into police custody for it" (ChinaAid 20 Sept. 2018b). The same source added that "[i]mprisoned Christians also attempt to share their faith with those around them and have gained converts because of it" (ChinaAid 20 Sept. 2018b).

3. Treatment of Christians Who Proselytize

The former Executive Secretary stated that there are "no consequences" for those who proselytize within the limits imposed by the state regulations (Former Executive Secretary 20 Sept. 2018). However, according to the ChinaAid representative, "[t]hose who proselytize, regardless of where they are located in the country, are often arrested or otherwise harassed by the government" (ChinaAid 20 Sept. 2018b). According to the Lecturer, "[c]onsequences vary" for those who proselytize, explaining that,

[s]ome officials will be "hard line" and those accused of/caught engaging in proselytism could be detained (and even mistreated). Some officials will take a less hard line approach and may try to intimidate church leaders/those engaged in proselytism outside designated "religious activities venues". Sometimes, officials will simply pay a visit/make a phone call and ask an individual/group to stop or "tone down" their activities. (Lecturer 1 Oct. 2018)

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a senior lecturer in theology and world Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, who conducts research on Christianity in China, stated that, apart from those officially considered by the government to be part of an "evil cult" (xie jiao) and who are therefore subject to legal sanctions, the treatment of Christians who proselytize "tends to be more on the level of harassment for the individual and/or family and church - being 'invited for tea' [questioning by police]/summoned, loss of job, possible arrest on obscure charges, etc." (Senior Lecturer 23 Sept. 2018).

The Distinguished Professor indicated that "the government has been implementing the new regulations in a very strict way" (Distinguished Professor 26 Sept. 2018). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a professor at the Australian National University who studies Chinese politics and the Chinese legal system stated, after consulting with a colleague who has specifically studied Christianity in China, that "the situation has become much worse" for Christians in China in recent years (Professor 18 Sept. 2018). The same source explained the following:

I can say unequivocally that this year in particular, there has been a further clamping down on Christians all over the country. The government has just announced that they are bringing in new laws to make it illegal to proselytize and to read [any] material that is [related to proselytism] in any form, including on the web. … This is the worst it has been in decades, since the Cultural Revolution. (Professor 18 Sept. 2018)

The same source added that "[e]ven if proselytizing is just illegal and not criminal, [Christians who proselytize] can still be sent to various re-education facilities for an extended period of time - up to three years" (Professor 18 Sept. 2018).

3.1 Geographic Differences in Treatment

The Lecturer stated that "tactics [used by authorities] tend to vary even within a province, so it is difficult to be specific" (Lecturer 1 Oct. 2018). The Senior Lecturer stated that his understanding of the situation in the past few decades is that Christian proselytism is "more problematic in urban centers," such as Beijing, "though a lot of it depends on each region/locale and the government officials overseeing those areas" (Senior Lecturer 23 Sept. 2018). The ChinaAid representative similarly stated that the central government's regulations on religion are sometimes interpreted differently by local officials, causing greater "persecution" in some areas than others (ChinaAid 20 Sept. 2018b).

The ChinaAid representative added that

[i]t is worth noting, however, that Christian persecution is present in every single region of the country, and the situation is becoming increasingly serious all across the nation as authorities implement the new Regulations on Religious Affairs, which leaves no room for people to practice faith without submitting to government monitoring and censorship. (ChinaAid 20 Sept. 2018b)

Likewise, the Professor stated that "[t]here used to be regions (such as Henan) where there were more Christians and therefore [proselytism by Christians was] less frowned upon, but over the past year or so there has been a nationwide crackdown" (Professor 18 Sept. 2018). The former Executive Secretary stated that "[t]he current reports on strict application of the religious regulations with more restrictions on proselytism are concentrated in Henan, Zhejiang, some parts of Guizhou [and] some parts of Anhui" (Former Executive Secretary 20 Sept. 2018). The Distinguished Professor similarly stated that the new Regulations are being implemented "very harshly" in Henan and Zhejiang, among other areas (Distinguished Professor 26 Sept. 2018).

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), local authorities in Xinjian reportedly issued a list of "'illegal' religious activities" including "attempts to proselytize or carry out missionary work 'in the guise' of' poverty and disaster relief, tourism and academic and cultural exchanges" (RFA 28 Feb. 2017). The same source added that "[u]nder the new rules [regulating religious affairs], no religious group is permitted to carry out any religious activities including preaching, missionary work, proselytizing of new believers and ordaining clergy without prior government approval" (RFA 28 Feb. 2017).

According to the Lecturer,

[t]he east of China (especially coastal provinces) have tended to be less restrictive in terms of clamping down on public forms of proselytism, although that is quite generalised. Also, the further south (away from Beijing) a place is, the less restrictive it tends to be (although, again, this is only a general tendency). (Lecturer 1 Oct. 2018)

3.2 Guangdong and Fujian Provinces

The Lecturer stated that

[b]oth Guangdong and Fujian were much more "liberal" in the 2000s and even some of the churches not registered with the state operated quite openly. However, I know that in the last 2 years or so, unregistered churches have been closed down by the authorities in places such as Xiamen [Fujian Province] (Christians probably continue to meet together but will be less open than before). (Lecturer 1 Oct. 2018)

According to the former Executive Secretary, some parts of Guangdong are reportedly subjected to stricter application of restrictions on proselytism (Former Executive Secretary 20 Sept. 2018). A 2016 RFA report indicates that "police detained and questioned a woman after she handed out leaflets and tried to spread her Christian faith in Shantou city [in Guangdong]" (RFA 12 Feb. 2016).

Further information on the treatment of Christians who proselytise in Guangdong Province could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The Lecturer stated, as an example, that Fujian [as a coastal province, far south of Beijing] "is much less restrictive than Shandong," which is closer to Beijing (Lecture 1 Oct. 2018). Corroboration and further information on the treatment of Christians who proselytise in Fujian Province could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The US-based ChinaAid Association describes itself as "an international non-profit Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China" (ChinaAid n.d.).

[2] The Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC) was established in 1954 and "is an ecumenical council committed to building closer relationships among all churches in Hong Kong, [mainland China] and overseas" (Global Hand n.d.).

References

Amnesty International. 22 February 2018. "China." Amnesty International Report 2017/2018: The State of the World's Human Rights. [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]

Associate Professor of Political Science, Loyola University, Baltimore. 25 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Associate Professor of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong. 18 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

ChinaAid Association (ChinaAid). 20 September 2018a. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate by a representative.

ChinaAid Association (ChinaAid). 20 September 2018b. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate by a representative.

ChinaAid Association (ChinaAid). N.d. "Our Mission." [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]

ChinaSource. 13 September 2017. Brent Fulton. "New Religion Regulations to Take Effect in February." [Accessed 18 Sept. 2018]

Distinguished Professor, University of California San Diego. 26 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Former Executive Secretary, Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC). 20 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Freedom House. February 2017. The Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance Under Xi Jinping. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2018]

Global Hand. N.d. "Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC) - Hong Kong Office." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2018]

Human Rights Watch. 18 January 2018. "China." World Report 2018: Events of 2017. [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]

Lecturer in Chinese Studies, University of Edinburgh. 1 October 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) Newsweekly. 4 October 2017. John Lindblom. "China Issues New Regulations on Religions." [Accessed 18 Sept. 2018]

Professor, Australian National University. 18 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Radio Free Asia (RFA). 28 February 2017. Qiao Long. "Officials Ban Dozens of Religious Practices, Foreign Missionaries in China's Xinjiang." Translated by Luisetta Mudie. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2018]

Radio Free Asia (RFA). 12 February 2016. Qiao Long. "Campaign Against China's Christians Spreads to Guangdong Province." Translated by Luisetta Mudie. [Accessed 20 Sept. 2018]

Senior Lecturer in Theology and World Christianity, University of Edinburgh. 23 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

United States (US). 29 May 2018. Department of State. "China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)." International Religious Freedom Report for 2017. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2018]

United States (US). 25 April 2018. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). "China (Tier 1)." Annual Report 2018. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2018]

United States (US). 9 November 2017. Law Library of Congress. Laney Zhang. "China: Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs." [Accessed 18 Sept. 2018]

Additional Sources Consulted

Publication: Protestantism in China: A Dilemma for the Party-State.

Oral sources: ChinaSource; Dui Hua Foundation; Global China Center; Human Rights in China; professor emeritus of history who has studied Christianity in China; professor of sociology who studies religion in China; Tao Foundation.

Internet sites, including: AsiaNews.it; Baylor University – Institute for Studies of Religion; BBC; Brigada; China Change; China Institute; ecoi.net; The Gospel Coalition; The Hudson Institute; South China Morning Post; Swiss Refugee Council; Persecution.org; UK – Home Office; UN – Refworld; US – Congressional-Executive Commission on China; Xinhua News Agency.