Antireligious campaigns in China refer to the promotion of state atheism, coupled with the persecution of the religious, in the People's Republic of China. These antireligious campaigns started occurring in 1949, after the Cultural Revolution, and continue today, with an emphasis on the destruction of houses of worship, such as churches. As a result of antireligious campaigns carried out between 1950 and 1979, churches, mosques and temples were closed and reeducation was coerced upon clergy. The most recent one has been instated by current party General Secretary Xi Jinping, who reemphasized that members of the Communist Party of China must "unyielding Marxist atheists" and also "instituted a broad campaign to suppress all forms of dissent." In the Chinese province of Zhejiang alone, over one-thousand two hundred Christian crosses have been removed from their steeples since 2013. In August 2017, a number of Catholic Christian priests, as well as laypeople, were injured when trying to prevent a government bulldozer from demolishing their historic church in the Shanxi province. In February 2018, government authorities in Kashgar, "launched an anti-religion propaganda drive through local police stations", which included policemen erecting a banner proclaiming “We Must Solemnly Reject Religion, Must Not Believe in Religion”.
This virulent anti-religion campaign seems to be officially linked to the development plan for western Tibet, for which social stability is necessary (see Part VIII, "Economic Development," below). But the hardening of this policy in Tibet is probably also a consequence to spread ahteism launced in China, in response to the religious problems mentioned above, including problems inside the Party.
Interestingly, atheist campaigns were most effective against traditional Chinese religions and Buddhism, whereas Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities not only survived these campaigns, but were among the most vocal of the political opposition to the governments as a consequence of them.
The Chinese Communist Party has launched a three-year drive to promote atheism in the Buddhist region of Tibet, saying it is the key to economic progress and a weapon against separatism as typified by the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. The move comes amid fresh foreign reports of religious persecution in the region, which was invaded by China in 1950.
“It’s hardly celebrated here at all,” he said. “We had this break in our history—you know, the missionaries being expelled in 1949 and then the anti-religious campaigns—so a lot has been lost. A lot of people don’t really know too much about Lent. We had a service trying to reintroduce the idea and explain it.”
The profusion of churches seems to have unnerved some Chinese authorities, who have undertaken a campaign to tear down hundreds of crosses, and in some instances entire churches, in Zhejiang, a coastal province where a prosperous Christian community and large numbers of churches have taken root.
Subsequently, a new China was found on the basis of Communist ideology, i.e. atheism. Within the framework of this ideology, religion was treated as a 'contorted' worldview and people believed that religion would necessarily disappear at the end, along with the development of human society. A series of anti-religious campaigns was implemented by the Chinese Communist Party from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. As a result, in nearly 30 years between the beginning of the 1950s and the end of the 1970s, mosques (as well as churches and Chinese temples) were shut down and Imams involved in forced 're-education'.
Police began tearing down crosses in the coastal city of Wenzhou in late 2013, citing building regulations, and have since removed more than 1,200 crosses throughout Zhejiang. The campaign was protested by China's state-approved Catholic and Protestant associations, as well as by Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, who appealed to Communist Party chiefs in August to "return to the right path." However, Catholic sources say up to 4,000 crosses may have been targeted for removal from spires and towers, while churches have also been bulldozed and numerous Christians arrested for protesting.