According to the constitution, religious freedom exists in China, but it does not match reality. Members of the Communist Party must be atheists, and religious communities are under close supervision. Over the past decade, control has tightened and reports have become more about communities hindered in their religious practice and about believers who have been imprisoned or harassed.
According to the Constitution, freedom of religion applies only to “normal religious activities” (see also Democracy and Rights). Religious groups are seen by the Communist Party as a potential threat to the stability of society, and the authorities have the right to monitor communities to prevent “disrupting public order, risking public health or violating the state education system.” Religious communities must be registered and placed under one of the five interest organizations that exist for Buddhism, Daoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. These, in turn, fall under a special state authority for religious control.
Information on the number of Chinese believers varies widely. Since many believers practice their religion in the hidden, it is difficult to get any accurate information. Officially, the number of believers is estimated at over 200 million, other figures speak of far more, such as the Freedom House organization which estimates the number to 350 million (2017).
The biggest religion is Buddhism, and China is also the country with the most Buddhists in the world, 185-250 million followers according to Freedom House. Different Buddhist directions are represented, Lamaism being the Tibetan variant. Chinese traditional belief systems, Confucianism and Daoism, are more ethical teachings of wisdom than religions (see Culture). Since Buddhism came to China 2000 years ago, it has lived side by side with the two indigenous philosophies.
Islam has its main base among the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region in the northwest and among the Hui people who mainly live in the autonomous region of Ningxia in central China. The number of Muslims in the country is estimated at just over 20 million.
- Countryaah: Population statistics for 2020 and next 30 years in China, covering demographics, population graphs, and official data for growth rates, population density, and death rates.
There are a large number of Christian churches, both Catholic and Protestant, and many of them are not officially recognized. Only Catholic communities that are independent of the Vatican are allowed: Catholic groups who see the Pope as supreme leader secretly act. In 2018, the Vatican and the Chinese government entered into an agreement that would mean that Catholics in China no longer need to be equally divided. According to the agreement, the communist regime and the Vatican should have a dialogue about who should become bishops, but the pope should be the one to appoint them. Following the agreement, the Pope approved seven bishops previously appointed by Beijing.
Data on how many Christian residents vary: Freedom House, among others, estimates that Protestants amount to about 130 million, of which 30-50 have no connection to an officially recognized community, while there are 18 million Catholics, where one-third is not officially registered. Several sources, including Christian organizations, see a trend that more and more Chinese are joining Christianity.
There is also a large group of Chinese – some sources speak of almost a fifth of the residents, not least among the minority people – who practice a mixture of various natural religions and Buddhism and Daoism.
During the so-called Cultural Revolution 1966-1976, when parts of the country’s leadership with Mao at the forefront wanted to clear out all “bourgeois elements”, the believers were also subjected to abuse (seeModern History). Thereafter, the regime’s attitude became more tolerant, as long as the exercise did not threaten the interests of the state. Under President Xi Jinping’s rule, monitoring has been tightened, including with the help of new technology while introducing new regulations, which are being enforced using brutal methods. There is talk of the importance of integrating religions into a Chinese context, which is equivalent to under the control of the Communist Party. There is concern that religious communities ruled by “foreign powers” with the belief that tools will try to undermine China’s rule.
However, the treatment of the religious groups can vary greatly between different parts of the country. During the 2010s, it has become increasingly difficult for Muslims in Xinjiang and Buddhists in Tibet to practice their religion (see Tibet andXinjiang).
In 1999, a Chinese meditation movement, Falungong, became known worldwide since it was declared illegal by the regime. Falungong, which began spreading in 1992, blends traditional qigong-type breathing exercises with elements of Buddhism, Daoism and other teachings. Falungong has been classified by the regime as a sect and by law, sects are prohibited because they can threaten social stability. The number of members has been decimated in recent years as a result of the authorities’ persecution.
The investigation by Zhou Yongkang, former security officer and member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, for “serious disciplinary offenses” is now complete (see July). Zhou is arrested and excluded from the party pending trial. Every week, a senior politician, former Vice-President of the Development and Reform Commission, is sentenced to life imprisonment for receiving bribes.
Hong Kong siege ends
In the middle of the month, the police go in removing tents and chasing protesters from the last area still occupied by protesters. At the same time, Hong Kong leader CY Leung declares that “the illegal occupation” and protest demonstrations are over, after almost three months.
Clashes in Hong Kong
Student activists in Hong Kong who continue the demonstrations and still camp in downtown locations are fighting with police using batons and pepper spray. Several protesters are arrested and some must seek medical attention. The violence is triggered when some activists decide to try to lay siege to the local government headquarters and throw stones (see November). In early December, leaders of the Occupy Central movement are calling on protesters to suspend their protests. They also plan to voluntarily surrender to the police. They risk prosecution for illegally organizing protests.
Defense cooperation with Russia
China and Russia agree to strengthen their military cooperation at a meeting of defense ministers and Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Governments decide to hold joint naval military exercises in 2015, in the Mediterranean as well as in the Pacific. At the meeting, the US’s attempt to strengthen its involvement in the Asia-Pacific region is cited as one of the reasons why China and Russia want to increase their security cooperation.
Occupants are expelled in Hong Kong
A Hong Kong court decides that two areas in the center that have been besieged by democracy activists and students since the end of September should be vacated. The protesters do not protest when their barricades are removed from the designated locations. The next day, a smaller group of protesters try to break into the Legislative Assembly building. Six of the activists are arrested by the police. The leader of the Occupy Central movement condemns the move. When parts of the Mong Kok business area are to be evacuated, there is a handgun between police and demonstrators. A hundred protesters are arrested by police, including leading student activists. Seven police officers are also arrested for participating in the abuse of a Civic party demonstrator.
Climate settlement with the USA
After a meeting between Xi Jinping and Barack Obama in Beijing, both presidents announce a historic climate agreement. China’s emissions should not be allowed to increase after 2030, while the US aims to reduce the US emission levels by 26-28 percent by 2025 compared with the levels in 2005.
Free trade agreement with South Korea
The presidents of China and Korea sign a free trade agreement between the countries. The agreement reduces tariffs and trade restrictions in 17 areas over a 20-year period, but this does not apply to rice and the automotive industry.
Conversation with Japan
During the ongoing meeting with Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) in Beijing, Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet for the first time in over two years. A few days earlier, both countries had announced that they would hold talks on the disputed islands of Diaoyu / Senkaku and also openly admitted that there were differing positions on the islands. A decision had also been made to create a special crisis mechanism to prevent the aggravation of the conflict.
Death sentences in Xinjiang
In Xinjiang, twelve people are sentenced to death for participating in the violence in July when a police station and government buildings were attacked in Kashgar prefecture (see July).
Uighur human rights activist convicted
Ilham Tohti, an academic and advocate for Uighur rights in Xinjiang, is sentenced to life in prison for separatism. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International condemn the verdict and point to major deficiencies in the legal process.
Negotiations in Hong Kong
An initial conversation is held between the Hong Kong Government and student representatives. CY Leung does not attend the meeting himself because the students have stated that they do not have confidence in him. However, no progress is being made during the hearing. Demonstrations (see also August and September 2014) are held on the same day outside CY Leung’s residence.
Continued protests in Hong Kong
Tens of thousands of students and democracy activists protest outside the local government headquarters in Hong Kong. After a couple of days, police are deployed using tear gas against the protesters. Many Hong Kong residents then go out into the streets of downtown to support the protesters. Traffic is blocked on several streets and several banks and schools are closed. Several democracy activists are arrested by the police. Hong Kong’s head of government CY Leung appeals to the protesters to cancel the protests. Some days, the protests seem to be on the verge of decline since an offer of negotiation came from the local government. However, Hong Kong’s leadership chooses to postpone the meeting because they feel that student confidence has been disrupted after being called for further demonstrations.
Decisions on Hong Kong elections
News comes from China’s leadership on how the election of Hong Kong’s leaders should go to 2017, when it is time for the next election. In the past, Hong Kong has been promised that residents will then be allowed to elect their leaders for the first time in free and general elections. But the Chinese leaders now announce that while residents should be allowed to vote directly for a candidate, the candidates must first have been approved by a majority of the members of a special nomination committee. Democratic activists in Hong Kong strongly object to the decision and their movement, which calls itself Occupy Central, threatens to occupy parts of the Hong Kong business district.
Mass demonstrations in Hong Kong
Tens of thousands of Beijing-friendly protesters take part in a protest march in Hong Kong. It is said to be a reaction to recent calls by democracy activists to occupy parts of the city if their demands for universal suffrage in the upcoming Hong Kong elections in 2017 are not heeded. In early July, a mass demonstration for increased democracy was also held in Hong Kong (see July). Rumors abound that the Beijing sympathizers have been paid to attend the demonstration in August.
Human rights activist is released
Attorney Gao Zhisheng, who has defended Christians and practitioners of Falungong, among others, is released after serving three years in prison. He is very bad fellow.
Earthquake in Yunnan
Earthquakes cause nearly 600 people to die and more than a few thousand are injured. The earthquake is the strongest in the province in many years and it is measured at 6.1 on the Richter scale.
Imam is killed
The imam in China’s largest mosque in the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang is shot dead by armed men. The imam had been criticized by activists for going to government affairs as he condemned acts of violence perpetrated by Uighurs.
Corruption investigation against party pump
An investigation is being launched against the country’s former security chief Zhou Yongkang, who according to an official statement “is suspected of serious disciplinary offenses”, a term that is usually a paraphrase for corruption. Zhou Yongkang was a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo until 1980. Not since the process of “the gang of four” in the late 1970s has such a high-ranking party member become the subject of an investigation. One thing that can be stressful in Zhou Yongkang’s case is that of fallen top politician Bo Xilai’s protector. Bo Xilai was sentenced in 2013 to life imprisonment for corruption and abuse of power.
Nearly a hundred dead in Xinjiang
State media reports that violent clashes occurred when men armed with knives and axes attacked a police station and government buildings in Kashgar prefecture. Over two hundred people are arrested by the government’s security forces, accused of terrorism. This is the bloodiest event in Xinjiang since 2009 when over 200 people lost their lives in riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. From the activists, the story is another; the police must have resorted to violence against a peaceful demonstration held in protest of a previous intervention against Uighurs who practiced their religion during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Punished for terrorist crimes in Xinjiang
A further 32 people are convicted of terrorist activities in Xinjiang courts (see also June). Three of the convicted are given life. The others are sentenced to prison for between four and fifteen years.
Demonstration against protesters in Hong Kong
At least 500 people are arrested in Hong Kong in connection with a peaceful demonstration for increased democracy. According to organizers, over half a million people are participating in the protest, while the protesters are just under 100,000, according to police figures.
New terrorist convictions in Xinjiang
Courts sentenced 113 people in Xinjiang to long sentences – from ten years to life imprisonment – for terrorist offenses. Before the judges fell, the Chinese government has said it intends to strike against religious extremists and separatist groups.
Democracy vote in Hong Kong
In June, an unofficial referendum on democracy reform will be held in Hong Kong for ten days. The organizers, the democracy movement Occupy Central, say that almost 800,000 Hong Kong residents have participated in the vote. 42 percent of them, according to the organization, voted for candidates for Hong Kong’s highest political post to be appointed by the public or political parties. According to the proposal, a candidate must be supported by 35,000 registered voters, or by a political party that received at least five percent in the last election in order to take part in the election. Censuses have drawn sharp criticism from both the Hong Kong government and Beijing.
The Massacre at Tiananmen Square
The 25th anniversary of the massacre is overlooked with silence in Chinese media, but is gaining considerable attention in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Chinese authorities regard the events of June 4, 1989 as counter-revolutionary revolts, and according to Amnesty International, 66 lawyers, journalists and activists have been detained, interrogated or disappeared before the 25th anniversary. The security offerings on Tiananmen Square are massive on the anniversary.
Vietnamese ship is sinking
The fishing boat has collided with Chinese vessels near the oil platform that China set up in the South China Sea, despite opposition from Vietnam.
Explosion in Xinjiang
Another attack occurs in Urumqi in Xinjiang on May 22. Unknown perpetrators drive in with two cars in a market and throw explosive charges. One of the cars explodes. 31 people are killed in the attack, referred to as “a violent terrorist incident” by the government’s Department of Public Security.
Surveillance is tightening in Beijing
Military police and 150 patrol cars will monitor major roads and communication centers. The reason is the recent attacks on railway stations in the country. Another reason for the stricter security check is that the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square on June 4 is approaching and therefore government officials want to prevent protest statements in connection with this.
Action against activists
Several Chinese regime critics are reported to have been abducted by police. Some activists who participated in the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989 are being detained after holding a meeting for the June 25 anniversary of the massacre. Among these are the well-known human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who, among others, represented the artist Ai Weiwei. The journalist Gao Yu has also been taken by the police. She was abducted at the end of April and is accused of illegally releasing a secret government document to a foreign website last year.
Trouble with Vietnam
China’s plans to set up an oil platform in disputed parts of the South China Sea, near the Paracel Islands, lead to a confrontation with Vietnam. Hanoi claims that Chinese vessels hit Vietnamese fishing boats in connection with Vietnam’s attempt to stop the import of the oil platform. In addition, Chinese vessels must have used water cannons. From Beijing, it is pointed out that Vietnam’s actions violate China’s sovereignty. In Vietnam, the incident leads to widespread popular protests and threats against Chinese and Chinese companies. Two Chinese workers are killed while several factories are ignited, not only Chinese but also Korean and Taiwanese, by violent protesters. China sends five boats to evacuate Chinese from Vietnam.
China’s economy will be the biggest
A report produced by the International Comparison Program, an international comparison of economic purchasing power between different countries conducted with the support of the World Bank, shows that China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy as early as 2014. Statistics refer to purchasing power, PPP (Purchasing power parities).
New terrorist act at station
Another attack on a railway station is taking place in Guangzhou. Six people are injured. A suspected offender is shot dead by police.
Terrorism in Xinjiang
An attack occurs at a railway station in Urumqi in Xinjiang. Three are reported dead and some 80 are injured when a number of perpetrators break loose while traveling with knives and trigger explosive charges. According to Chinese authorities, terrorists are behind the act.
Criticism of the Philippines
China criticizes the Philippines for turning to the Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague to resolve the dispute in the South China Sea. China considers that the arbitral tribunal should not have the right to raise the matter because of a declaration made by China in connection with its accession to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Instead, the Chinese government is calling on the Philippines to participate in direct talks.
The National People’s Congress meets
At the annual meeting, Prime Minister Li Keqiang highlights several important goals: stopping environmental pollution, fighting corruption and fighting terrorism. In terms of economic growth for 2014, the target is set at 7.5 percent and the budget for defense spending is to be increased by 12.2 percent.
Terrorist act at railway station
29 people are killed and over 140 injured in an attack on a railway station in the city of Kunming. Several black-clad people with long knives indiscriminately chop down travelers. Four of the perpetrators are killed while a female suspected perpetrator is reported to have been arrested by the police. According to authorities, Xinjiang separatists are behind the act, which is termed “a terrorist act”. Later, three more perpetrators are arrested.
Editor-in-Chief is attacked in Hong Kong
Former editor-in-chief of Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, Kevin Lao, is seriously injured when exposed to a knife attack. The attack is seen by many as a revenge for Ming Pao’s reporting on the Chinese elite’s hidden fortunes and criticism of Beijing’s political leadership. Kevin Lao was fired as editor-in-chief of Ming Pao just one month before the attack. Police later arrest nine suspected offenders with links to organized crime.
High-level anti-corruption measures
A senior government official responsible for security matters is dismissed. A criminal investigation is reportedly ongoing against him. At the same time, the deputy party chief in Hainan is also being investigated for violating “rules and laws” by the Communist Party’s disciplinary bodies. According to analysts, in both cases there are links to former security chief Zhou Yongkang, until 2012 a member of the Politburo’s standing committee. According to various sources, Zhou is under house arrest.
Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama
The Chinese government calls on US President Obama to set up a meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama. From the Chinese side, the meeting is called “an interference with China’s internal affairs” and points out that it will have major consequences for US-China relations. The White House argues that the meeting with the Dalai Lama takes place in his capacity as a religious and cultural leader and that the United States does not advocate independence for Tibet.
Historical meeting with Taiwan
China and Taiwan meet for government-level talks for the first time since 1949, when the Kuomintang Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist army. The meeting in Nanjing City is seen as a clear symbol that Beijing-Taipei relations are getting better after the approach that began when Ma Ying-jeou took over the presidential post in Taiwan in 2008. At the meeting, government representatives agreed to establish a direct channel for further discussions on joint issues.
Xi holds New Year’s figures
Chinese President Xi Jinping holds his greeting speech for the new year, the year of the horse, from the steppes in Inner Mongolia, where he visits Xilin Gol, where coal mining is conducted on a large scale. In his speech, Xi urges the people to think about the environment.
Many dead in Xinjiang
Twelve people are killed in connection with clashes in Xinjiang. According to authorities, Uighur terrorists have unleashed explosive charges which resulted in the death of six people. After that, another six people were killed when they were shot by police.
Action against activists
Attorney Xu Zhiyong is sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering a crowd in order to disrupt public order”. Xu is the leader of the New Citizens’ Movement, which among other things had the goal of party officials to report their assets and to give children from rural areas the right to education in the cities. Shortly thereafter, another four members of the movement are brought to trial.
Statistics show that GDP increased by 7.7 percent in 2013. It is the lowest growth rate in 14 years, but the increase is fully in line with the Chinese government’s target.