China bans teachers from mentioning God or prayer, intensifies crackdown

Chinese Catholic worshippers kneel and pray during Palm Sunday Mass during the Easter Holy Week at an 'underground' or 'unofficial' church on April 9, 2017, near Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China.
Chinese Catholic worshippers kneel and pray during Palm Sunday Mass during the Easter Holy Week at an "underground" or "unofficial" church on April 9, 2017, near Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China. | Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

Teachers in China who mention God or religion risk employment termination as communist authorities increasingly control education materials and expand their list of banned topics teachers are not allowed to discuss in classrooms.

According to Bitter Winter, a publication produced by the Center for Studies on New Religion which reports on human rights issues in China, the Chinese Communist Party is strictly monitoring what teachers say in schools and universities.

Teachers are observed in their classrooms by authorities who watch for “reactionary thoughts” or “improper remarks,” ensuring students are not taught about democracy, religion, or exposed to any criticism of the regime. Schools in China are government-controlled, and therefore communist in ideology.

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“The government believes that religious teachers are hostile to the [Communist] Party, even if they don’t evangelize,” an English teacher from the eastern province of Shandong, said. “The CCP is afraid that they would integrate faith into teaching. That’s why they strictly control teachers and want them to follow its ideological system and eventually become puppets that cannot think independently.”

A college teacher in Inner Mongolia told Bitter Winter that last year, a central government inspection team came to the school to investigate teachers’ ideological standing concerning pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. 

Teachers who responded by espousing “improper remarks” were punished.

“We were observed during every class,” the teacher said, adding that the Chinese Ministry of Education demanded teachers “not say or do anything against the party line in their educational or teaching activities.”

Another English teacher from Shandong told Bitter Winter that the provincial Education Bureau criticized her for mentioning “God” and “prayer” during a class on Jane Eyre, while another was criticized for mentioning mealtime prayers while discussing dining traditions in various countries.

China’s Education Bureau also released a proposal to each school that establishes an “ideological control team” in an attempt to ensure teachers don't influence their classrooms with religious or ideological differences.

Censorship and control measures have increased in intensity since 2013, when President Xi Jinping took office, according to Bitter Winter. Since the Regulations on Religious Affairs legislation was implemented last year, schools have adopted “unprecedented measures” to keep students away from Christianity.

Last year, it was reported that a primary school in Xinzheng city in the central province of Henan screened a propaganda video in which Jesus followers were depicted as big scary monsters. After the presentation was complete, a teacher warned that Christian relatives might “cast spells” on the children.

Officials have also reportedly claimed that schools are places "for the state to foster students to build up socialist society," with parents told they have an obligation "to nurture children in accordance with national laws and social requirements."

In its 2020 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted the Chinese Communist Party has banned youth younger than 18 from participating in religious services. Additionally, Christian leaders are forbidden from organizing any activities with young people or encourage them to consider ministerial vocations.

In Shangrao, an area of Jiangxi, more than 40 churches have hung a slogan that reads: “Non-locals are prohibited from preaching; no underage people allowed in church."

A previous report documented how authorities forcibly removed adopted children from their Christian parents, claiming the adoption papers were no longer valid because their children were “trapped by an evil religion.” 

The CCP has also threatened to send Christian children to government re-education camps and ordered parents to refrain from enrolling their children in church schools.

China is ranked on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. 

The communist regime's crackdown on religious freedom has also led the U.S. State Department to label it as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

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