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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Without religious freedom, a ‘harmonious society’ is nothing but a bluff

10/18/2007 18:03
Asia.IT: by Bernardo Cervellera

Bishops and priests have disappeared, died in prison or tortured. Christians have been sent to camps and brutally beaten. The state is facing an army of 300 million people it treats as an enemy. In reality they are the only way to realise Hu Jintao’s dream, unless he wants the latter to be the Party’s last lie.

Rome (AsiaNews) – One of the greatest ‘bluffs’ in the history of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is now underway in Beijing, behind close doors in the Great Hall of the People. More than 2,000 CPC delegates are talking about ‘religious freedom’ and ‘respect for all faiths.’ At the same time though, persecution and violence against members of religious communities continue—bishops are disappearing, placed in isolation or dying under murky circumstances whilst Protestant activists are getting beaten up or dragged to concentration camps. All this is happening as Hu Jintao’s pet project for a ‘harmonious society’ is on the verge of being incorporated into the Party’s constitution.

The idea of a ‘harmonious society,’ so dear to Party Secretary and People’s Republic President Hu Jintao, calls for greater participation of all strata of Chinese society to China’s development. It implies social reconciliation in a country racked by 200 episodes of violent unrest involving the population and the police a day.


A Shanghai Normal University survey (see (AsiaNews of February 2, 2007) indicates that at least 300 million Chinese believe in religion; that is three times what official figures claim.

Perhaps Hu Jintao does not realise that a quarter of his people is denied religious freedom (which is formally protected under the constitution). For this reason, they cannot fully participate, nor contribute to his pet project, i.e. building a ‘harmonious society.’ Hence, the lack of religious freedom not only marginalises hundreds of million of people, but their creativity is wasted in trying to cope with an adversarial state.

Why instead not allow them to make a contribution to society? On the eve of Maoism’s demise in the 1980s China’s agriculture was chocked by state planning. All it took was for Deng Xiaoping to let people farm their own land and buy and sell their own products on the market for production to rise by 300-400 per cent. The same could happen to religion.

Many communities, both official and underground, offer services to the poor, the elderly, the disabled, farmers, and the illiterate whom the state has forgotten.

Religious freedom can reduce non-violently the same potential for social unrest the Party fears so much. Greater contacts with foreign Churches and religions can increase cultural and economic ties to the benefit of China itself.

Chinese people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, Canada, and United States help out their communities of origin, funding schools, health clinics and universities. Churches in Europe and the Americas do the same.

Religious freedom is useful to both society and the economy. It creates empathy abroad and encourages creativity and solidarity at home. It is a source for morality in a society with a high suicide rate and even greater levels of corruption.

Perhaps only religious freedom might ensure a truly ‘harmonious society.’(more)

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