The historical foundations of religious restrictions in contemporary China

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10 Citations (Scopus)


The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) abolished its total ban on religious activities in 1982. However, the distrust that the CCP feels for religions remains obvious today, and the religious restrictions in contemporary China remain tight. Conventional wisdom tells us that the official atheist ideology of Marxism-Leninism is the main reason behind the CCP’s distrust for, and restriction of, religion. However, taking a historical institutionalist perspective, this paper argues that the religious restrictions in contemporary China are in fact rooted in the fierce political struggles of the country’s two major revolutions in the first half of the twentieth century. Without the support of religious groups, the Nationalist Republicans would have found it difficult to survive and succeed in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty during the Chinese Republican Revolution in the first decade of the twentieth century. Likewise, without cooperating with a wide range of religious groups, the CCP would have struggled to defeat the Nationalist regime and the Japanese invaders in the Chinese Communist Revolution between 1920s and 1940s. Thanks to the collaborations and struggles with various religious groups during the two revolutions which lead to its eventual ascent to power, the CCP thoroughly understands the organisational strength and mobilising capability embedded within religious groups. The tight restrictions on religious affairs in contemporary China is therefore likely to stem from the CCP’s worry that prospective competitors could mobilise religious groups to challenge its rule through launching, supporting, or sponsoring collective actions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number263
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


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