Burma Times: By Mike Joseph 26 April 2014
The notion that science and modernity will put an end to religion seems very apparent in the case of China. Unlike other liberal democracies, which generally allow their citizens the right to complete freedom of religious belief and practice, the People’s Republic of China claims that it needs to control religion in order to preserve social harmony and economic modernization. China’s constitution technically protects religious freedom. Article 36 specifically states that ‘no state organ may discriminate against citizen who believe in, or do not believe in, religion’. Yet one can easily recognize that in reality these rights are only protected when it serves the objectives of the communist party. In a communist society, the individual’s best interests are indistinguishable from the society’s best interest. Thus, the idea of an individual freedom is incompatible with a communist ideology.
Against the backdrop of next super power, rapid socio-economic development and modernization, China still continues to be an authoritarian one-party state which imposes sharp restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and religion. Communism, as form of an economic system, does not take into consideration the issue of individual human rights. A primary opinion in the communist’s society is that the individual’s best interests are indistinguishable from the society’s best interest. The Chinese government is skeptical of foreign domination with regard to religious activities, as it was very profoundly said by Karl Marx ‘ Religion is the opium of the masses ‘, a tool used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience due to being poor and exploited and to keep them at bay. Hence, to avoid ultimate damage as a consequence, doing away the concept of religion is a wiser decision according to Chinese understanding. They proclaim the government as the master and religion as a follower.
Another debilitating aspect about China is that there is no concept of ‘ freedom of speech’. The watchdog group Reporters ranked China 173 out of 179 countries in its 2013 worldwide index of press freedom. In 2009, Chinese rights activist Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison for advocating democratic reforms and freedom of speech, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But censors quickly blocked news of the prize within China. A year later, journalist Tan Zuoren was sentenced to five years in prison for drawing attention to government corruption and poor construction of school buildings that collapsed and killed thousands of children during the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province.
The government maintains a tight grip on the things people say and do to express themselves. Consequently, there exists a pervasive fear among journalists, filmmakers, Internet Web site creators, and anyone else who may convey a message that might be unacceptable to the government of the China. The repercussions of such perceived subversion includes harsh prison sentences, expulsion from the country, or loss of jobs or businesses. The government also censors the internet, for instance popular social networking site Facebook is banned in china. The Chinese government has implemented repressive policies in ethnic minority areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. At times instances have been reported which showcase abuse of power in the name of “social stability”.
The government of China controls the rule of law, and thus prevents the development of a genuinely independent judiciary. In order for individual freedom of speech to become a practical reality, an independent rule of law is necessary. Currently the law is a tool of the state which serves the state rather than individuals. Moreover, Apathy among the people permits the government to continue with its abuses of power. The government’s constitutional violations and extreme responses to dissonance lead to the fear of major consequences. This anxiety creates a ripe environment for self-censorship. The people must stand up for their right to free speech. Rights consciousness in China is necessary to create an atmosphere of rights advocacy. Therefore attitude of the people will also play an integral role in establishing freedom of speech.
Chinese may not perceive freedom of speech or right to religion as important as we do. Different values are placed upon different rights. For example, China focuses on economic and social rights, while we emphasizes on civil and political rights. But that does not imply that freedom of speech or religion as a right should not exist. Regardless of its form or how it is achieved, both are extremely necessary rights for human evolvement. Given its size and massive population, China does possess numerous religious believers, if foreign religious bodies wish to promote close and lawful interaction with the Chinese religious believers and religious bodies; they should first seek cooperation with the Chinese government in order to practice its religion in China. Because of the centralized system of China, foreign religious bodies which seek to practice their religions in China should try to approach the government from top level instead of the local level so that an approval from the top level can be sought before any religious activity can be conducted.