The Catholic Church in Modern China: How Does State Regulation Influence the Church?
The Chinese government has regulated all religious activity in the public domain for many years. The state has generally considered religious groups as representing a potential challenge to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which sees one of its basic roles as making sure religion neither interferes with the state’s exercise of power nor harms its citizens. A revised Regulation on Religious Affairs (Zongjiao shiwu tiaoli 宗教事务条例) took effect in 2018, updating the regulation of 2005. This paper aims to introduce and explore the content of the regulation, especially how it differs from its predecessor, how any changes are likely to affect religious groups in China, and whether the implications will be greater for some groups than for others. For example, the Catholic church in China has historical links to the worldwide Catholic church, so articles in the new regulation which seek to curb foreign influence on Chinese religious groups may have more of an effect on Chinese Catholics than on other groups. The research is based on textual analysis of the relevant legal documents and on field research conducted in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The fieldwork consisted of open interviews with several church members and official representatives of the church conducted in Zhejiang Province between March and May 2018, and in May and June 2019. The paper thus aims to analyze contemporary Chinese religious legislation in light of anthropological research in order to fully comprehend the lived experience of Catholics in China, and to address two main questions: How is the new regulation affecting the Catholic church? What are the possible outcomes of the new regulation for the Catholic church in China?