China bans reincarnation (among other things)

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Friday, July 11, 2014

WHEN a Buddhist dies, they get reincarnated depending on their karma. However, when a Tibetan Buddhist dies, they are transported to a realm where they are devoid of a physical body, where they meet a celestial being called the Upholder of State Religious Affairs, a Chinese gentleman who is dressed in an olive drab uniform. The Upholder of State Religious Affairs will remind the recently deceased that they must abide by State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5, or the Measure on the Management of the Reincarnation of the Living Buddha. Buddhist llamas who have not registered their reincarnation with the government will be brought back to life and sent to jail as punishment.

…No, not really. But that seems like the only way to enforce a law that you can only break by being dead. The State Administration for Religious Affairs is the agency in China that makes sure that religion in the country is firmly under control of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2009, it passed an order that reincarnation applications must be filed by all Buddhist temples in the People’s Republic of China before they are allowed to recognize their reincarnated religious leaders or “tulkus.” Because of the new order, all reincarnated tulkus that did not register with the government are considered to be illegal or invalid.

On a more serious note, the order’s true purpose is to make sure that the next Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and political leader, is chosen by the Chinese government and not by the Tibetan monks, who have been following the reincarnated Dalai Lama for 623 years. To the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama is one of the reincarnations of Buddha, who is basically a god. Tibetans regard the Dalai Lama with the same awe and respect that the British give to their queen, and if the new Dalai Lama is picked by the Chinese government, then Tibet – a non-Chinese province that was annexed by China in the 20th century – will hopefully be more cooperative with the Chinese government, instead of annoying them by asking for “freedom” like they always do.


The State Administration for Religious Affairs also governs Islam and Catholicism in China. This year, it tried to place a ban on Ramadan fasting – but only for the Uyghur people in China’s northwest. The government claims that it is enacting the ban to make sure that Uyghurs are healthy, but it doesn’t explain why it is still allowing Chinese Muslims in Beijing to fast. This is probably the government’s response to the recent terrorist attacks carried out in China by Uyghurs who wanted autonomy from the Chinese government. China has somehow failed to realize that this ban may create more supporters for separatist movements in the turbulent northwest. Also – how do you enforce a fasting ban? It would be impossible to enter the home of every Uyghur in China and force feed them every day with a gun to their head.

Even Catholicism is not spared from government control. The only recognized Catholic Church in China is the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. This body regulates all Chinese Catholics and does not answer to the Pope in Rome. China created it and other organizations like it specifically so that no religious organization in China would owe allegiance to any foreign power – in this case, Rome. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association does not recognize any doctrine proclaimed by the Holy See after 1949, the year Mao and the Communist Party took over. Therefore, the CPCA does not believe in the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, nor does it believe in Mary as Queen of Heaven. Also, unlike the Church of Rome, the CPCA fully supports abortion. This has proved to be understandably upsetting for the Pope in Rome, and because of this, any bishop that has been ordained by an archbishop of the CPCA is automatically excommunicated. In 2011, a Chinese bishop that was ordained by Rome was arrested and replaced by one that was picked by the Chinese government.

While it is safe to say that there might be a separation of church and state in China, it’s more like a case of the state controlling the church.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 11, 2014.


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