New registration laws in China may lead to the reemergence of distinctions between Protestant denominations.
A high-level national work conference on religion in China took place in Beijing from Dec. 10 to 12, 2001. Top Chinese political leaders attended, including the seven members of the Politburo of the Communist Party. According to a China Daily report on Dec. 13 (http://www1.chinadaily.com.cn), President Jiang Zemin stressed that the Party’s leadership over religion should be strengthened. The conference thus confirmed the will of the Chinese regime to keep religious life under control.
However, the conference also marked a significant development, as stressed in an article by David Murphy in the Dec. 27 — Jan. 3 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review (http://www.feer.com). Conferees stated that it should become easier for religious organizations to register with the state.
Until now, Protestant or Catholic congregations had to register through the official “Patriotic Associations” established under control of the Communist Party. Besides the problem of political interference in the lives of the Churches, it had another practical consequence for Protestant congregations: it led Protestant groups with backgrounds in different denominational traditions to lose at least some of their characteristics. Now, they should be able to register directly with the Religious Affairs Bureau; such a policy has apparently already been implemented for some time in several cities.
While this is obviously an incentive meant to bring back numerous unregistered, semi-clandestine congregations under state control, it might lead the different Protestant traditions to reassert more strongly their specific denominational peculiarities, instead of having to melt into a single organization for gaining legal status, as was the case until now.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer