China’s new ‘Patriotic Education Law’ places further limits on religious instruction

Flag of the People's Republic of China Flag of the People's Republic of China. | Credit: Yan Ke / Unsplash (CC0)

China passed a “Patriotic Education Law,” further consolidating the Chinese Communist Party’s control over education, including religious education, state-controlled media outlet Xinhua announced last month.

The new law, which was passed during a session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, would require churches and religious groups to adapt their educational activities to promote the party’s official ideology.

“The state is to guide and support religious groups, religious institutes, and religious activity sites in carrying out patriotic education activities, enhancing religious professionals’ and believers’ identification with the great motherland, the Chinese people, Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party, and socialism with Chinese characteristics,” the new law reads.

The law goes on to say that “all levels and types of school shall have patriotic education permeate the entire course of school education” and that even “the parents or other guardians of minors shall include love of the motherland in family education.”

Patriotic education has been an imperative of the CCP since the Maoist Revolution to inculcate the party’s official ideology. It has been reimagined during periods of social upheaval, namely during the Cultural Revolution and in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. 

Xi Jinping has put his twist on patriotic education, underpinning it with the ideological doctrine of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.” This mantra is in part centered on the revival of Chinese culture, but it is also predicated on “upholding the leadership of the Communist Party of China and socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

This phrase, which was first introduced under Deng Xiaoping, has since been redefined in the Xi Jinping era and was even enshrined in the constitution at the 19th National Congress of the CPC in 2017 as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” 

This ideological refrain, which is immortalized in the general program of the CCP’s constitution, is repeated in article 6 of the Patriotic Education Law and forms the basis for the patriotic curriculum. 

The law also calls for broader political instruction on the “history of the Communist Party, new China, reform and opening, the development of socialism, and the development of the Chinese people.”

Included in Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” is the program of bringing religious groups and beliefs in line with the party through the process of sinicization. 

“We will fully implement the party’s basic policy on religious affairs, uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation, and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society,” Jinping said.

In 2017, the CCP released updated Religious Affairs Regulations. This 77-article legislation prescribed that religion must “adhere to the principle of independence and self-governance” to maintain “social harmony.” It also mandated that religious education and sites of worship must be officially approved by and registered with the government. 

In 2021, Measures on the Management of Religious Clergy was passed, making it compulsory for clergy to register with a government database and reinforcing that clergy must adhere to the program of sinicization. 

One novelty of the Patriotic Education Law is that it is an additional tool for the CCP to extend its foothold beyond the geographic confines of the mainland to “the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macao Special Administrative Region, and Taiwan.”

Following the passage of the Patriotic Education Law, Hong Kong’s chief executive John Lee announced: “The HKSAR government will fully facilitate the relevant work to coordinate within the government and also the patriotic forces of different sectors in making persistent efforts to promote patriotic education and … [to] understand the close relationship between mainland and Hong Kong.” 

After the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the Basic Law went into effect promoting the notion of the “one country, two systems.” 

While the Basic Law allows for religious education, there are growing concerns in Hong Kong over the expansion of the CCP’s influence in the ostensibly autonomous region, especially as it relates to Catholic education. 

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The Diocese of Hong Kong is the largest provider of education in the territory. According to 2022 diocesean figures, there are a total of 249 schools in Hong Kong with a total enrollment of 136,804 students, of which only 14,888, or 10.88%, are Catholic.

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