Charity ends at home

By The Economist

DENG XIAOPING once dismissed worries about unwanted foreign influence by saying that when you open a window, of course the flies come in, along with the fresh air. China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is less insouciant as fly-swatter-in-chief. Witness, in the two past weeks, a newly published speech he gave to the Central Party School, a new law governing foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs), signs of an unwelcome policy shift towards religions deemed to be too “foreign”, and even, on a lighter note, a ban on landlords naming buildings in China after foreign places (see article).

Mr Xi has long been suspicious of Western ideas (except Marxism-Leninism). But his speech to the party school in Beijing last December, published in a party magazine, Qiushi, on May 1st, was unusually insistent. He repeatedly warned educational institutions not to deviate from the party line and not to “spread Western capitalist values”. They did not sound like the words of a reformer.

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As for religion, on April 22nd Mr Xi convened a big meeting on handling it. Such a gathering happens about once every 15 years and usually signals significant policy shifts. Just before this one, the government decreed that retired party officials should not be members of religious organisations, one more example of tighter party discipline (working officials are already banned from belonging to any religious group). Now the meeting talked about “Sinicising” religion, meaning believers should pay more attention to traditional Chinese culture and identify themselves more closely with China’s “national aspirations”—as defined by an avidly atheist party.

This process seems to be aimed mostly at China’s growing numbers of Christians since, of the other officially recognised religions, Buddhism and Taoism are viewed as culturally Chinese anyway, while Islam is seen through the lens of state security. In the past two years the provincial government of Zhejiang, on the east coast, has removed over 1,500 crosses from churches. It is possible that the big gathering will give a green light to similar actions elsewhere.

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