B. DENG Xiaoping (1982-1987): Tolerating Religious Freedom Under Modernization
After the death of Mao, Deng Xiaoping bought an end to class struggle and mass movement but adopted pragmatic governance to modernization and economic development. He realized China had eroded into a poverty-stricken society and stagnated economy as he acknowledged, “In a country as big and as poor as ours, if we don't try to increase production, how can we survive? How is socialism superior, when our people have so many difficulties in their lives?”
In face of the urgent need to revive eroded public confidence, Deng adopted a more liberal and subtle version of religious freedom policy to unite people from all walks of life. Deng did not reject the ideology of Marxism-Leninism but he perceived that further eradication of religious through coercive means would only disintegrate the society. On the balance of limiting religious expansion and uniting China along the way of Four Modernizations (in agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defence), Deng tried to gain cooperation from non-communist intellectuals and patriotic religious leaders.
Document No. 19 Concerning Our Country’s Basic Standpoint and Policy on Religious Questions During the Socialist Period (the Document) was the official instrument published to illustrate the new “liberal” religious freedom policy in 1982 onwards. The thirty-page guideline synchronized with the intention of Li Weihan’s formulation thirty years ago: “the basic policy of the Party towards religion … is a long-term policy and one which must be carried out until religion totally disappears”. The Document talked through State’s policies to “win over, unite and educate the religious professional” by helping religious organizations to recover places for worship but limit unnecessary religious activities, training young clergy showing loyalty to Party.
Subsequently, the right to religious freedom was uplifted again in China for the second time under the new Constitution of 1982. Article 36 clearly stipulates that: “citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination”. The wider coverage of constitutional right presents a broader consciousness to religious freedom in China.
However Chinese authorities always had their own interpretation to standardized legal terms and platitude. Peng Zhen contended that all constitutional rights including religious freedom are conditional to...