Recent events in China suggest that religion is emerging as the most serious threat to the ruling party’s monopoly on power, reports the Washington Post (Jan. 10).
In early January, an important lama of Tibetan Buddhism made a dramatic escape to his faith’s exile community in India, even though he was hand-picked by Chinese officials to squelch the independent Buddhist movement in Tibet. A short time later, Beijing further frayed relations with the Vatican by appointing its own Catholic bishops in defiance of the pope.
Add to that the continuing crackdown on Falun Gong, a popular meditation group, and it isn’t difficult to notice an overall campaign against unofficial religion in China. John Pomfret reports that since December the government has used a new law outlawing Falun Gong to brand 10 Christians sects as illegal “cults.”
Frank Lu of a Hong Kong-based human rights center says that “While China continues to jail any democracy activists it can find, these days the Communists are really concerned about religions. They realize there is a spiritual void in China. They know most people are cynical about politics, so they won’t follow the democratic activists. But they will follow a new messiah.” The report adds that police have used “prolonged detention, torture and reeducation of Tibetan monks and nuns…[and] some Protestant and Catholic Christians.”
China’s Religious Affairs Bureau of the State Council calls the report “unfounded.” Chinese analysts say that each of the recently cracked down groups represent a distinct threat to government authority. Falun Gong is the first mass movement of workers since liberation. Officials have sought to co-opt Tibetan Buddhisim through appointing approved leaders (such as the now exiled Karmapa Lama) who would squelch any separatist movment against China.
The move to snub the pope and appoint their own Catholic bishops was a way of “warning both the Vatican and the Chinese who remain loyal to the pope to drop their support of underground churches,” which are growing among Catholic and Protestant churches.