HomeOppression and Human RightsCommunist Piety: The Hidden Religious Practices within the CCP

Communist Piety: The Hidden Religious Practices within the CCP

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In development that blurs the lines between state-imposed ideology and personal belief, members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been found to partake in religious customs, despite the party’s strong promotion of atheism. This revelation, stemming from a Pew Research Center analysis of academic survey data, challenges the commonly held perception of the CCP as an entirely atheist organization and highlights the complexity of religious identity within the party.

The CCP, which has long been associated with its atheistic and materialist philosophy, has been actively discouraging its citizens from engaging in religious activities. Notably, the 281 million people affiliated with the CCP or its youth organizations are officially prohibited from partaking in a wide array of spiritual traditions. However, this does not seem to have entirely dissuaded party members from identifying with various religions. According to the 2018 Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS), about 6% of CCP members formally identify with a religion, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, or Taoism. This figure is strikingly close to the 10% of Chinese adults who are not party members but identify with a religion, suggesting that religious beliefs are more widespread among CCP members than previously thought.

Interestingly, CCP members are nearly as likely as nonmembers to engage in certain customs that could be considered religious. For instance, 40% of CCP members believe in fengshui, a traditional Chinese practice that involves arranging objects and spaces to promote harmony. This belief is only slightly lower than the 48% among non-CCP members. Furthermore, 24% of CCP members believe in Buddha and bodhisattvas, compared to 33% of nonmembers. Additionally, 11% of CCP members hold beliefs in Taoist deities, versus 19% of nonmembers.

The adherence to certain traditional Chinese practices, often rooted in spiritual beliefs, further demonstrates the complexity of the relationship between CCP members and religion. For example, 7% of CCP members carry lucky charms or amulets, a practice with roots in Chinese folk religions, compared to 8% among nonmembers. Moreover, 19% of CCP members have visited special sites, like temples, in the previous year to pray for good luck, which is slightly lower than the 24% of nonmembers who have done the same.

One of the most widespread Chinese spiritual traditions measured in surveys is the ritual of honoring deceased ancestors. Remarkably, 79% of CCP members say they have visited the gravesite of a family member in the past year, demonstrating the deep-rooted nature of this practice in Chinese culture. This figure is comparable to the 75% of nonmembers who have also engaged in this tradition.

While the CCP tolerates occasional engagement in some of these practices, considering them as ‘custom,’ it maintains a strict policy against active religious practice. Any CCP members who are found to be actively practicing religion or engaging in ‘superstition’ – such as visiting temples on all important religious days or frequently consulting fortunetellers – face expulsion from the party.

In addition to regulating its members’ religious beliefs and activities, the CCP is officially atheist and promotes atheism in schools and other spheres of public life. In speeches, high-ranking officials, including President Xi Jinping, have emphasized the importance of CCP members being “unyielding Marxist atheists.” Despite this mandate, less than half of the political party members in China (44%) identified as atheist in the 2018 World Values Survey. This suggests a significant discrepancy between the CCP’s official rules and its members’ personal beliefs and practices, which may be attributed to the fact that some Chinese people join the CCP for career benefits, rather than ideological commitment to communism.

The disconnect between the CCP’s official stance and its members’ beliefs and practices may be partially due to the fact that some Chinese people join the CCP for career benefits, rather than ideological commitment to communism.

This complex relationship between the CCP and religion in China is further complicated by recent efforts to export an atheistic Communist-Christian hybrid ideology. This initiative, as part of China’s ‘Sinicization’ policy, aims to infuse Christianity with Communist ideology, fundamentally altering its core tenets. Critics argue that this blending of atheism and Christianity is a strategy to increase control over religious practices and mask the increasing persecution of the Church in China.

The policy of Sinicization, which involves state assimilation and control of religion, has led to the removal of crosses from churches, surveillance of pastors, and the arrest of religious figures. The CCP has also insisted that pictures of Mao and President Xi Jinping be displayed in churches, and recently demanded that a large hammer and sickle be put up beside a church sign in Zhejiang province.

Pastors who challenge the government’s policies are often put under surveillance, singled out for harassment, and accused of extremism. Some who take up offerings have been arrested for fraud or illegal business operations. The latest example is Pastor Deng Yanxiang of Shengjia Church in Guangdong, who was arrested along with three colleagues.

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