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China: Tight State Controls on Religious Education

 China does not allow religious communities to run schools for children, even though regulations do not forbid the provision of religious education to minors. Nor is religious education provided in state schools.

Elementary schoolgirls take an exam at a school for children from the minority nationalities in southwestern Yunnan province of Menghai 07 January. The government established the school to educate children whose family cannot afford the cost but many in the impoverished mountainous region still do not get a primary level education, especially girls, as families need them to work in the farms or to do the cooking. AFP PHOTO

China schoolchildren busy studying

According to Magda Hornemann of Forum 18 News Service (www.forum18.org), for students beyond school age, only state-approved religious groups affiliated with China’s five state-backed monopoly faiths are allowed to apply to set up institutions for the study of their faith or training of clergy.

“Such rights extend only to the five state-sponsored faith structures, for Buddhism, Taoism, Protestant Christianity, Catholic Christianity and Islam. Individuals are implicitly excluded from founding religious educational establishments, whether on a profit or not-for-profit basis,” said Hornemann.

“Religious groups not officially permitted by the state – including the Vatican-loyal Catholic Church, unregistered Protestant house churches, or those that are slightly tolerated – including Protestant denominations like Seventh-day Adventists which maintain some self-identity within the state-approved Protestant body, or the tiny Chinese Orthodox Church – have no possibility for formal religious education.

“Restrictions are especially tight in Tibet and Xinjiang. The state limits the number of such institutions and their size. Establishing new colleges is cumbersome and long drawn out, even when successful.”

Hornemann stated that their curricula must include “politics” and “patriotic” education, as defined by the state.

“The state also discourages religious activity on general university campuses. These restrictions reflect the authoritarian state’s desire to control religious groups, including by intervening in the training of their leaders and the level of education of their members,” Hornemann concluded.

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