top of page

US Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2021 “One of the Worst Years” for Religious Liberty

The 2022 report offers a useful summary of the CCP persecution of all religions (quoting Bitter Winter on several issues).

By Massimo Introvigne

November 26, 2022

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR, left, credits) and U.S. Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA, right, credits), co-chairs of the CECC.

On November 16, the bipartisan and bicameral US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) released its yearly report for 2022. The Commission’s reports always offer useful overviews of the state of human rights in China, and the 2022 document is no exception. It discusses the increasing prevalence of surveillance of everything and everybody, the crackdown on ethnic minorities and their cultures and languages, and the growing personality cult of Xi Jinping. It also includes a section on the repression of the LGBTQ minority, and we are pleased that the information supplied by one Chinese reporter of Bitter Winter who specializes on this subject is used and quoted in the report.

Bitter Winter is quoted on several issues in the section on religious liberty, which I would like to review in some detail here. CECC reports normally do not include original research, but they greatly help politicians by providing summaries of the main events of the past year.

In the religious field, the text reports opinions that 2021 was “one of the worst years” for religious liberty in China, and is organized around nine major developments. The first is the “escalated effort to ‘sinicize’ religion,” a process that is correctly defined as compelling religions to become not more Chinese but more subservient to the Chinese Communist Party and its goals.

The second development is the first National Conference on Religious Work organized since 2016, convened in December 2021 and “signaling Xi Jinping and the Party’s intent to prioritize religious affairs,” by imposing a stricter control.

The third is a number of laws and regulations enacted to control the web and eradicate religious presence there, including the “Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services,” which went into effect on March 1, 2022 (of which Bitter Winter published the first complete English translation).

Item number four is the “Party history campaign,” where all sectors of the population were requested to celebrate and study the history of the CCP. The report notes how religious personnel was compelled to participate in the campaign too, and Buddhist monks in particular had to watch propaganda movies.

The fifth development was an increased crackdown on Muslim culture, which extended from Xinjiang to other areas and from Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs to Hui and other ethnically Han Islamic communities once praised for their loyalty to the regime. Harassment of Muslim Chinese citizens who escaped abroad and of their relatives in China is also reported. The story of Ulnur Bozhykhan, an ethnic Kazakh woman whose whole family was persecuted after she told Bitter Winter she had been raped in a Xinjiang camp, is quoted from our magazine and mentioned as an example.

The logo of the CCEC.

The sixth item is the pressure on those Catholic conscientious objectors who rejected the Vatican-China deal of 2018 and refused to join the government-controlled Patriotic Catholic Church. They were hit by arrests and prosecutions, including in Hong Kong, where Cardinal Joseph Zen was shortly detained before being prosecuted and sentenced.

The seventh, and one of the most important, developments is the implementation of Xi Jinping’s instructions that Protestant house churches should either be persuaded to join the government-controlled Three-Self Church or systematically harassed. “Manufactured ‘fraud’ charges” are becoming the preferred legal tool for this nationwide crackdown, the report notes.

The eight item is that the authorities “continued to use Article 300 of the PRC Criminal Law, which forbids ‘organizing and using a cult to undermine implementation of the law,’ to persecute members of spiritual groups deemed to be illegal or to be ‘’cults’ (xiejiao), including Falun Gong, Church of the Almighty God, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.”

Readers of Bitter Winter know that we regard the official CCP translation of “xie jiao” as “cults” as objectionable, as “xie jiao” or “heterodox teachings” have been persecuted in China since the Middle Ages, and the concept encompasses all religious groups believed of be hostile to, or unsupportive of, the government.

Apart from terminology, however, the Commission’s analysis is accurate. The report discusses the renewed repression of Falun Gong and the impressive numbers of the persecution of The Church of the Almighty God, and notes that in the last year the Association of Disciples has emerged as the third major target of the anti-xie-jiao campaigns.

Finally, the ninth development mentioned in the report is the difficult predicament of those who stubbornly continue to deny the shameful practice of organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience. That the evidence comes only from Falun Gong, the report notes, is false.

“Authors of a 2022 study published in the ‘American Journal of Transplantation’ concluded that it was highly likely that transplant surgeons in China had participated in the execution of prisoners ‘by organ transplant’ as recently as 2015.”

Their evidence, not coming from Falun Gong, “further concurred with previous ‘anecdotal and textual’ accounts provided by Falun Gong-affiliated organizations alleging organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience. There also continued to be accounts that Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] have also been targeted for forced organ removal.”

One of the worst years for religion in China, indeed.


bottom of page