Religious Advisor Seeks Promotion of Atheism in China

Zhu Weiqun

In comments that appear to reflect an intensifying campaign in reinforcing traditional Marxist values in China, a senior advisor on religious affairs recently said that atheism must be promoted in Chinese society. Obviously, Zhu Weiqun’s comments were alarming as they highlight the prevailing attitude that Chinese officials have towards adherents of the country’s five formally recognized religions.

The head of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body which works in tandem with the country’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee as well as legislature, wrote in a local newspaper that atheism is the nation’s mainstream ideology and members of the Communist Party must continue to identify as unyielding Marxist atheists, consolidate their religious beliefs and bear the party's tenets in mind.

“The body should unambiguously promote Marxist atheism to society and preserve its leading position in the thinking of the masses of the people. … It is particularly important to strengthen propaganda education about a scientific worldview, including atheism, for young people,” he wrote. 

He said while China is committed to protecting the rights of religious believers, as a country led by the Communist party, officials cannot abandon atheism and completely turn to religion for spiritual aid or adopt a neutral or conciliatory approach while choosing between the two.

“We cannot not allow religion to spread without limits and become the mainstream ideology,” he wrote.

Zhu’s remarks seem to echo an increasing orthodox approach towards ideologies promoted by China’s current president and the Communist Party’s longstanding general secretary Xi Jinping. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, China has maintained that it allows religious freedom to its citizens, but in recent years, officials have largely promoted atheism among the 88 million members of the Communist Party, who are typically instructed and obviously expected not to have faith in any religion.

Yet, the number of religious believers has increased rapidly and that despite China controlling the five formally recognized religions, namely Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam, and sporadically cracking down on unregistered religious groups. While official figures clock at 100 million, some citizens say that the total number of religious believers in China is much higher, with large portions of the youth and a few members of the Communist Party increasingly turning to religion.

However, since Jinping assumed office over three years ago, China’s leadership has repeatedly sought to promote a more traditional socialist ideology while increasingly criticizing “western culture”, “liberal values” and other “unhealthy influences”.

Weiqun’s comments come after a national religious conference, the first of its kind to be held in the country in 15 years, where President Jinping already stressed that members of the Communist Party must abandon religion and avoid foreign influence of religion to prevent similar infiltration in China. At the conference, Jinping had said that a scientific approach must be promoted among young citizens while Weiqun had said that several members of the party were seeking consolation in some religion or the other, something which could seriously damage the Communist Party’s ideologies, organization and style of work.

“China should resolutely resist overseas infiltration through religious means and guard against ideological infringement by extremists,” said Jinping while Wequin added, “Localization is a key mission in helping religions adapt to [China’s] socialist society. … We should guide and educate the religious circle and their followers with socialist core values. Localization of foreign religions does not mean a denial of their basic doctrines and canons, but to follow the lead of the party, as well as adding Chinese characteristics to the religions.”

While media reports did not clarify exactly how President Jinping planned on achieving such “localization”, they did shed light on the fact that the proposition had already received support from both political leaders and religious scholars.

In his recent article, Weiqun went a step further though, writing, “In recent years, leading officials have sought to find values in religion, which has had a negative impact. … The founding father of China’s Communist Party, Mao Zedong, did not come to power by guiding people to put their hope on heaven or future life. … It is necessary to guide people to draw a clear line between atheism and religion, science and superstition, civilization and ignorance… If the Communist Party had been able to bring into play some positive effects of religion and reduce its negative impacts, it was not because we gave up atheism and compromised with religion in an unprincipled way, but because we stuck to Marxist atheism and correct policies.”

Criticizing scholars who he said had tried to justify the allowance of religious believers to join the Communist Party, Wequin said information pertaining to Marxist atheism should not only be made available for educational and religious research but also publicized and promoted across Chinese society. With Jinping calling for increased emphasis on Marxism both in the Communist Party as well as in China’s education system, conceivably in an attempt to strengthen the party’s legitimacy in a progressively diverse society, some observers feel that citizens with traditional leftist socialist views are finally starting to speak out in a society where they had previously been made to feel isolated.

Some subscribers of, China’s largest web portal, expressed astonishment at Wequin’s comments.

“Is it appropriate for the head of the ethnic and religious affairs commission to make this kind of remarks," asked one reader in the comments section of his article while another wondered, “Are we back to talking with only one voice?”

Still, others seemed to agree with Wequin while stressing that members of the party should not believe in religion, even though for China’s overtly ironic Internet culture, it was not clear if all those comments were in fact sincere.

“No-one’s talked like this for decades. Long time no see -- Well done!” wrote one reader for instance.

Photo Credits: The Telegraph

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