Pastor John Cao: My expectations for China’s religious Policy

Reflections from Pastor John Cao is a series of poetry and writings from the recently released Chinese Christian prisoner of conscience exclusively published by ChinaAid. The piece below was written on May 10, 2024 and has been minimally edited for clarity. To read more of Pastor John Cao’s poetry, one can purchase the collection written while he was imprisoned, Living Lyrics: Poems from Prison.

 

The Chinese government has two habitual routines in the international arena and domestic governance. First, when China wants to promote its own ideas and policies internationally and seeks support from the international community, it claims: in international affairs, every country’s voice should be heard, hegemony must not be pursued, decoupling must not occur, we are a community with a shared future for mankind, and so on. Second, when the international community expresses concern about China’s affairs, the Chinese government uses socialism with Chinese characteristics, rejection of interference in internal affairs, rule of law with Chinese characteristics, etc. to fend off domestic and foreign opinions. In this way, the Chinese government always remains invincible in terms of discourse.

 

Of course, each country has its own characteristics, and each country must respect the sovereignty of other countries. But every country—at least those that have joined the United Nations—must abide by and implement the mainstream values and codes of conduct of the international community. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has an even greater obligation to comply with and implement relevant UN human rights provisions, and cannot use socialism with Chinese characteristics to defend a separate set of bizarre codes of conduct it has created for itself. In terms of religious freedom, the Chinese government should especially abide by relevant UN laws.

 

Religious freedom is the most basic right that every government must provide to its citizens and guarantee for this right. This religious freedom is clearly expressed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. The United Nations has not only passed these documents but also included expressions of freedom of religious belief in several other documents, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and so on.

 

The above-mentioned covenants not only make general provisions for freedom of religious belief but also make specific provisions for this freedom. For example: freedom of religious belief includes the right of believers to meet secretly, and since it is a secret meeting, it means not registering with government departments. If the Chinese government takes the UN covenants seriously, then we can say that all Christian house church gatherings are legal. However, the current Chinese government has declared house church gatherings illegal and suppressed them.

 

Article 18, item 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice…” This paragraph contains two elements relevant to Christian house churches: first, house churches have the freedom to adhere to their tradition of worshiping God and the right not to join the Three-Self Church; second, house churches have the right to spread their ideas, or in other words, the freedom to evangelize. For a person to change his religion and beliefs, he must have the opportunity to be exposed to different religious beliefs, so evangelism, or the propagation of communism, is a fundamental human right. General Comment No. 22 of the Human Rights Committee further explains this Article 18: “Article 18 does not permit any limitations whatsoever on the freedom of thought and conscience or on the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice.” In contrast, the Chinese government has imposed numerous restrictions on the house churches chosen by some citizens. It can be said that these restrictions attempt to force house churches into dire straits.

 

This provision further explains: “Article 18 item 2 bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert. Policies or practices having the same intention or effect, such as, for example, those restricting access to education, medical care, employment or the rights guaranteed by article 25 and other provisions of the Covenant, are similarly inconsistent with article 18 item 2. The same protection is enjoyed by holders of all beliefs of a non-religious nature.”

 

This clause can be simply summarized as: 1. legal means and violence must not be used to force house churches to stop meeting; 2. the employment opportunities of believers must not be restricted. The Chinese government is deficient in both these aspects. It has already been mentioned above that local governments often use violent means to interfere with house church meetings. At the same time, they restrict the employment opportunities of believers. Not only do they limit the employment of believers themselves, but they also often threaten the families of believers. An elderly believer told me that her son’s work unit talked to him, asking him to persuade his mother not to attend house church meetings. Otherwise, it would be detrimental to him, and so on. So the elderly sister had to stop coming to the house church she attended for the sake of her son’s future. Li Si [Qin dynasty] came up with the method of implicating family members, and it is still being used now. There is a popular saying for this, called “underhanded.”

 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly and specifically provides protection for the rights of house churches: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes… freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” In China, ten Christians don’t even have the right to say a five-minute prayer on the lawn, and a gathering of ten Christians at home is considered illegal. Compared to this Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the Chinese government has signed, we can only say that in China, the rights of Christians in house churches have not received the respect they deserve.

 

Article 1, item 2 of the 1981 United Nations General Assembly Declaration states: “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.” Simply put, this clause states: persecution and oppression cannot be inflicted on individuals because of their religious beliefs. Article 6, item (a) of the Declaration clearly makes specific provisions regarding the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, including: “To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes”. In 2005, the United Nations added an additional clause: urging states to “ensure, in particular, the right of all persons to worship or assemble in connection with their religion or belief…”. All these clauses prove that the understanding and definition of freedom of religious belief worldwide includes the freedom of Christian house churches to assemble.

 

During the “Anti-Rightist Campaign” and “Cultural Revolution,” the Chinese government implemented a set of policies to keep the people ignorant. It might have been forcibly explained away at that time because the Chinese government did not know what law and rule of law were, and it placed itself in an isolated environment. But it’s different now. China is moving towards the world, embracing the world, and even wants to lead the way for all the countries in the world. China is also one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Every move is watched by the whole world. Moreover, what religious freedom is, is clearly stipulated in black and white. What is undeniable is that the language used by the United Nations is so simple and clear that it is impossible to have other “socialist characteristics” interpretations. If the current Chinese government still wants to use policies to keep the people ignorant to deceive the public, then it is a bit like crossing through time, going beyond the “Cultural Revolution” directly back to the era of Confucius: The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it. Only the wise above and the ignorant below (the people above are all wise, and the people below are all ignorant). It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that in the Internet age, it’s quite, quite difficult to do.

 

It is of course good for the Chinese government to show the way forward for the whole world. However, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This step is China. I hope that the Chinese government will first implement the issue of freedom of religious belief at home. Today they arrest this pastor, tomorrow they arrest that preacher, and the day after they demolish crosses again. The Chinese government has presented a barbaric image to the whole world. If I have the opportunity to go abroad in the future, I will be embarrassed to say that I am Chinese. How can I have national self-confidence? Cultural self-confidence? Institutional self-confidence?

 

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Pastor John Cao: My expectations for China’s religious Policy

Reflections from Pastor John Cao is a series of poetry and writings from the recently released Chinese Christian prisoner of conscience exclusively published by ChinaAid. The piece below was written on May 10, 2024 and has been minimally edited for clarity. To read more of Pastor John Cao’s poetry, one can purchase the collection written while he was imprisoned, Living Lyrics: Poems from Prison.

 

The Chinese government has two habitual routines in the international arena and domestic governance. First, when China wants to promote its own ideas and policies internationally and seeks support from the international community, it claims: in international affairs, every country’s voice should be heard, hegemony must not be pursued, decoupling must not occur, we are a community with a shared future for mankind, and so on. Second, when the international community expresses concern about China’s affairs, the Chinese government uses socialism with Chinese characteristics, rejection of interference in internal affairs, rule of law with Chinese characteristics, etc. to fend off domestic and foreign opinions. In this way, the Chinese government always remains invincible in terms of discourse.

 

Of course, each country has its own characteristics, and each country must respect the sovereignty of other countries. But every country—at least those that have joined the United Nations—must abide by and implement the mainstream values and codes of conduct of the international community. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has an even greater obligation to comply with and implement relevant UN human rights provisions, and cannot use socialism with Chinese characteristics to defend a separate set of bizarre codes of conduct it has created for itself. In terms of religious freedom, the Chinese government should especially abide by relevant UN laws.

 

Religious freedom is the most basic right that every government must provide to its citizens and guarantee for this right. This religious freedom is clearly expressed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. The United Nations has not only passed these documents but also included expressions of freedom of religious belief in several other documents, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and so on.

 

The above-mentioned covenants not only make general provisions for freedom of religious belief but also make specific provisions for this freedom. For example: freedom of religious belief includes the right of believers to meet secretly, and since it is a secret meeting, it means not registering with government departments. If the Chinese government takes the UN covenants seriously, then we can say that all Christian house church gatherings are legal. However, the current Chinese government has declared house church gatherings illegal and suppressed them.

 

Article 18, item 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice…” This paragraph contains two elements relevant to Christian house churches: first, house churches have the freedom to adhere to their tradition of worshiping God and the right not to join the Three-Self Church; second, house churches have the right to spread their ideas, or in other words, the freedom to evangelize. For a person to change his religion and beliefs, he must have the opportunity to be exposed to different religious beliefs, so evangelism, or the propagation of communism, is a fundamental human right. General Comment No. 22 of the Human Rights Committee further explains this Article 18: “Article 18 does not permit any limitations whatsoever on the freedom of thought and conscience or on the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice.” In contrast, the Chinese government has imposed numerous restrictions on the house churches chosen by some citizens. It can be said that these restrictions attempt to force house churches into dire straits.

 

This provision further explains: “Article 18 item 2 bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert. Policies or practices having the same intention or effect, such as, for example, those restricting access to education, medical care, employment or the rights guaranteed by article 25 and other provisions of the Covenant, are similarly inconsistent with article 18 item 2. The same protection is enjoyed by holders of all beliefs of a non-religious nature.”

 

This clause can be simply summarized as: 1. legal means and violence must not be used to force house churches to stop meeting; 2. the employment opportunities of believers must not be restricted. The Chinese government is deficient in both these aspects. It has already been mentioned above that local governments often use violent means to interfere with house church meetings. At the same time, they restrict the employment opportunities of believers. Not only do they limit the employment of believers themselves, but they also often threaten the families of believers. An elderly believer told me that her son’s work unit talked to him, asking him to persuade his mother not to attend house church meetings. Otherwise, it would be detrimental to him, and so on. So the elderly sister had to stop coming to the house church she attended for the sake of her son’s future. Li Si [Qin dynasty] came up with the method of implicating family members, and it is still being used now. There is a popular saying for this, called “underhanded.”

 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly and specifically provides protection for the rights of house churches: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes… freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” In China, ten Christians don’t even have the right to say a five-minute prayer on the lawn, and a gathering of ten Christians at home is considered illegal. Compared to this Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the Chinese government has signed, we can only say that in China, the rights of Christians in house churches have not received the respect they deserve.

 

Article 1, item 2 of the 1981 United Nations General Assembly Declaration states: “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.” Simply put, this clause states: persecution and oppression cannot be inflicted on individuals because of their religious beliefs. Article 6, item (a) of the Declaration clearly makes specific provisions regarding the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, including: “To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes”. In 2005, the United Nations added an additional clause: urging states to “ensure, in particular, the right of all persons to worship or assemble in connection with their religion or belief…”. All these clauses prove that the understanding and definition of freedom of religious belief worldwide includes the freedom of Christian house churches to assemble.

 

During the “Anti-Rightist Campaign” and “Cultural Revolution,” the Chinese government implemented a set of policies to keep the people ignorant. It might have been forcibly explained away at that time because the Chinese government did not know what law and rule of law were, and it placed itself in an isolated environment. But it’s different now. China is moving towards the world, embracing the world, and even wants to lead the way for all the countries in the world. China is also one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Every move is watched by the whole world. Moreover, what religious freedom is, is clearly stipulated in black and white. What is undeniable is that the language used by the United Nations is so simple and clear that it is impossible to have other “socialist characteristics” interpretations. If the current Chinese government still wants to use policies to keep the people ignorant to deceive the public, then it is a bit like crossing through time, going beyond the “Cultural Revolution” directly back to the era of Confucius: The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it. Only the wise above and the ignorant below (the people above are all wise, and the people below are all ignorant). It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that in the Internet age, it’s quite, quite difficult to do.

 

It is of course good for the Chinese government to show the way forward for the whole world. However, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This step is China. I hope that the Chinese government will first implement the issue of freedom of religious belief at home. Today they arrest this pastor, tomorrow they arrest that preacher, and the day after they demolish crosses again. The Chinese government has presented a barbaric image to the whole world. If I have the opportunity to go abroad in the future, I will be embarrassed to say that I am Chinese. How can I have national self-confidence? Cultural self-confidence? Institutional self-confidence?

 

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