The Politics of Faith-The Role of Religion in Divided Societies: Faith in China

Katherine Lanpher (KL): Now let's set some ground here. What is the official government policy toward religion in China?

Ambassador Stapleton Roy (ASR): There hasn't been a consistent policy over the entire period of the People's Republic of China. At various times they have discouraged, [and] tried to suppress religion. At the moment, they do not suppress religion but they want it to be registered. And many of the disputes between these so-called registered churches and the underground churches have to do with the issue of registration rather than practice of religion.

KL: It seems like right now more people are worshiping and are doing so more openly. What do you think accounts for that?

ASR: We see this phenomenon in virtually any society where religion has been suppressed and then is permitted to flourish. In China, people have finally had the opportunity to improve their lives rapidly. The old beliefs in Communism and other value systems all have eroded, so people are looking for values. 

KL: It's interesting that you're talking about this search for values because in this program we're specifically talking about religion in divided societies. So I'm wondering, to what extent do you think religion is dividing society in China these days?

ASR: I mention the fact that the government wants the practice of religion to be through registered churches. There is a particular problem in the case of the Catholic church because the Chinese refused to recognize the right of Catholics in China to be loyal to the Pope. And as a result, they did not permit the Pope to consecrate bishops in the Roman Catholic Church. This has caused a major problem in China for Catholics. You have similar problems in the Protestant sect. There are some historical legacies having to do with the brief period when [the Chinese] permitted religion to flourish in the 1950s, and then they suppressed it. Some of the people who cooperated with the government and established registered churches at that time were viewed as part of the persecution mechanism, and those old antagonisms continue to exist in China.

Listen to the original recording here!