‘Replace the photos of Christ with those of Xi Jinping!’ How the Communists, who play appeasement card in India, treat the minorities in China
Yugan is a little serene town in China; lots of tourists reach there every year. It has slowly developed into an important tourist spot. About 30-35 per cent of the population there are Christians, to be more specific, Roman Catholics. There are a few Churches, public prayer halls; you come across a few holy crosses in the streets ……… all are the signs of the religious mood in that communist town. But one fine morning in November last, some local comrades decided to convert it into a ‘perfect communist city’. They in groups reached the houses of those Catholics with the demand that the photos of Jesus, which are framed and put up on their walls, should be removed immediately; the same place has to adorn the colourful photos of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. The believers had no option but to accept and concede. They themselves removed all the good pictures of Jesus, before which they prayed in the morning and evening, and put up the picture of Jinping. This is what is happening in Beijing for the last few months.
The communists and so-called pro-Congress secularists in India doesn’t seem to have noticed this most heinous attack on religion. In fact, they have been supporting Beijing in every move that they make even if it’s against India; we have seen this when China wants to have their national highways through India’s land in Jammu and Kashmir or when the red army tried to cross our border in Doklam. It is also ironic that some of the Bishops, appointed by the Vatican, is feeling uncomfortable under the duly elected regime in India. Here they are playing politics to the tune of opposition parties, that too against the country’s most popular Prime Minister.
What we have seen in China is not just the fate of Christians; Muslims also faces the same problem. They have been asked to put up national flags over every mosque in that country. China Islamic Association, the government-sponsored organisation formed to check and control the religion, has issued circular to all the mosques in this regard. Not that the red communist flag should be hoisted above the mosques, but that has to be there throughout the year, round the clock and that too in a place where everyone could see it. Here in India, when the Uttar Pradesh government asked the madrasas in the state to hoist national flag and sing the national anthem on the independence day, there was a huge hue and cry. The UP government issued such an order just because these madrasas are aided by the state. So it’s their duty to have independence day programmes as in any other government institutions. Such critics of the BJP government are keeping mum of what is happening in Beijing. They have no worries about the freedom of religion in that communist land.
Sinicisation of Religions in China
Here one has to take a note of political strategy rushed by the Chinese Communist party at its recently held 19th party congress. They say they want to sinicise the religions in their country; that is a process whereby non-Chinese societies come under the influence of Chinese culture, particularly Han Chinese culture and societal norms. Though it is being described as such, it is, in fact, bringing the people to the communism even by force. This programme the communist party has launched years back, first against the Buddhists. Xi Jinping had started a campaign to tighten China’s grip on the religious community since 2016. United Front Work Department (UFWD), the agency within the Chinese Communist Party that oversees China’s religious affairs, among others started the projects that vowed to sinicise religions in China. Here we have to see one thing more, that is what they meant by this ‘sinicisation of the religions’. President Xi Jinping has said publicly time and again that the key to the CCP’s policy on religious affairs is “the way of guidance,” which should be “effective, powerful, and proactive”. Chinese youth, in particular, Xi thinks, must be guided to “believe in science, study science, spread science, and to have a correct worldview”. In fact, he was dictating that the Chinese youths should not be lead by the religion or religious beliefs. It is almost clear that there is no much space for free religion in that communist kingdom.
But the most ironic thing is that when all these things are happening there, Pope Francis and the Vatican have surrendered before China. No one, especially the Catholics of China, expected this much from the Vatican. It is well known that the Vatican has been fighting with Beijing for the religious freedom for the last few decades. Here we have to remember that the Chinese Communist Party had decided ‘to have total control over the religions’. They have appointed a committee with top comrades in it, to decide as to who be the Bishops, where they should work and what they should do etc. In fact, the powers which are vested with the Pope has been wrested by this red committee. Later we have seen the Beijing asking Bishops and priests appointed by Pope to leave the country. There were, it’s said, about seventy Bishops then in China, appointed by the Vatican; the number of priests must be many times of that. All of them have no option but either to surrender before the communist regime or to go out of the country.
The Vatican then took it seriously; they brought the issue to negotiation table first, but China was not ready for any compromise. Later the Holy team rushed to the various international forums with the claim that the appointment of the priests and Bishops is the right of Pope. But China was not willing to accept it. We have later seen the Bishops serving there had to go underground to avoid arrests and expatriation……… some have been put behind the bars. Even when all these are happening, Pope continued to establish his rights in this regard and that paved way for a cold war. The decision to appoint more Bishops by the Vatican was a challenge to the communist country and they took it in the same manner. Those newly Bishops neither come out in open nor their names made public. It’s in such a situation, now the Vatican has decided to surrender before Xi Jinping administration. No doubt it is a total surrender……. what Pope Francis meant by this is yet to be known. As per the draft agreement, it’s said the Pope will call back all the sixty -seventy bishops appointed by him, known as underground bishops. The religious leaders whom China thinks are not compatible will be sent back from that country. Pope will accept all the Bishops already appointed by the Chinese government; the power to appoint priests and Bishops in that country in future will be with the government.
This move of the Vatican has invited severe criticism from the Christian society all over the world. The most vociferous reaction that the world has seen is the one from Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong. Many times this Cardinal voiced his disquiet over the present Pope’s approach to the Chinese government and on how he understands or analyses the communists. “Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China?”, the Shanghai-born cardinal asked in his post; “Yes, definitely, if they go in that direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months”. Xi Lian, a professor of world Christianity at Duke Divinity School, told The Washington Post that “to underground Catholics who have at times suffered fines and even imprisonment to remain loyal to the Pope, this move to sideline their bishops is a slap in the face”. In restoring relations between the Vatican and Beijing, Lian said the Chinese government has very little to lose. “The Vatican has a lot more to lose and very little to gain; the Vatican risks losing its spiritual authority and dampening the spirit of the Catholics”, says Lian.
Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, a Catholic academic, an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University and a pro-democracy activist, thinks that “a lot of people like myself look to the Holy See as one of the strongest defenders of religious freedom and the Catholic faith; to me, this is disturbing. I don’t think it sends the right message”. Some of the critics of Vatican have stated that “the Argentina-born Pope Francis looks at communism from the prism of South America”.
I don’t think that what the Beijing is doing is right. Every religion has its own thoughts and independence. But communists don’t think so. They want everything under their control; no one can come out of their clutches. This is a message the countries like India has to keep in mind. Here our comrades are behaving as if they are the protectors of the minority community. But their lordships, their bosses in China and elsewhere are engaged in killing the religions. If our comrades get administrative freedom in this country, whatever little it be, they will go all out like their Chinese friends. This is what one has to take a note of. The Bishops and Imams who are finding it uncomfortable in India under Narendra Modi and BJP must understand that it is this nation that gives so much freedom to the religious linguistic minorities.
(The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and political analyst based in Kochi).