Chinese communists must be wary of religion, party newspaper warns

Superstition breeds corruption, the People’s Daily says

China officially tolerates the observance of Buddhism and major religious organisations such as Christianity and Islam. Photograph: Tass via Getty Images

China officially tolerates the observance of Buddhism and major religious organisations such as Christianity and Islam. Photograph: Tass via Getty Images

 

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, has warned cadres against praying to God and worshipping Buddha, saying religion and superstition were the source of much corruption within the organisation.

“Every party member should be a firm materialist and atheist, but in recent years, many corrupt officials have been taken down because of feudal superstitious activities,” the paper said.

There has been a major crackdown on civil society ahead of next week’s Communist Party congress, which is expected to cement President Xi Jinping’s grip on power. The party has also been tightening its own disciplinary regulations ahead of the twice-a-decade gathering.

China officially tolerates the observance of Buddhism and major religious organisations such as Christianity and Islam, but they are strictly controlled in government organisations.

Communist Party members are officially supposed to be atheists and religious observance is frowned upon, especially traditional religious practices such as feng shui geomancy and fortune-telling. In Xinjiang province, where the indigenous Uighurs are largely Muslim, there are limits on party members observing feasts.

Citing the quote from Karl Marx – “Communism begins where atheism begins” – the newspaper proceeded to list some examples where communist stalwarts were brought low by religious fervour.

“Some officials are superstitious and ignore party discipline. In reality, some officials often go to monasteries, pray to God and worship Buddha,” the paper said. “Some cadres are obsessed with fraternising with the masters, becoming their lackeys and their cash cows.”

‘Mental anaesthesia’

The former deputy party boss in Sichua, Li Chuncheng, was jailed for 13 years in 2015 for abuse of power and taking bribes worth 39.79 million yuan (€5.1 million). Mr Li was said to have encouraged the practice of feng shui in public affairs. It also listed two other less senior practitioners of feng shui in public life and those who believe in soothsayers.

“Superstition is ideological pollution and mental anaesthesia that cannot be overlooked and must be completely removed,” the article said.

Mao Zedong was instrumental in removing superstition from public life in China after the revolution in 1949 as he sought to differentiate the new People’s Republic from the traditional imperial era.

In the 1990s, China cracked down on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which incorporated some traditional beliefs and practices, saying it was a dangerous cult.

The commentary also mentioned the case of the “Xinjiang sage,” Cao Yongzheng, a fortune-teller, mystic and soothsayer to whom the disgraced former security czar Zhou Yongkang reportedly leaked state secrets. Mr Cao was jailed last year for seven years.

“As an official, if you spend all day minding crooked ways, sooner or later you will have problems,” the article warned. “Those who do not believe in Marxism-Leninism will sooner or later be abandoned by the organisation.”

The party has just opened a preparatory plenum ahead of next week’s congress, which will also announce a leadership reshuffle.