China imposes the principle of national sovereignty on the Papacy

China imposes the principle of national sovereignty on the Papacy

China has achieved a historic victory in the preservation of oppressed nations’ national sovereignty: the People’s Republic of China persuaded the Papacy to agree to nationalize the appointment of clergy. 

China brought the Papacy to its knees during the height of US imperialism’s agenda of leveraging religious, sectarian, gender, and ethnic divides for international intervention and subversion.

According to government figures, the People’s Republic of China has 44 million Christians. This figure appears in the State Council Information Office’s White Paper on “China’s Policies and Practices to Protect Religious Belief,” which was released on April 3, 2018. According to Christian sources, the figure is greater. In China, the majority of Christians are Protestants, with fewer Catholics and very few Orthodox Christians. 

In China, there are 11,000 priests employed by 6,300 Catholic parishes and 6,700 Protestant churches. In the largest Chinese cities, there are 15 Christian seminaries. In some smaller cities, there are also a lot of Bible training facilities and institutions. Christians particularly populate the eastern and central regions of China, including Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Henan, Hebei, Shanghai, and Jiangsu today. 

These figures include “Patriotic” Catholics and Protestants. Churches operating underground and their affiliates are not included in this number.

Freedom of religion in the constitution of People’s Republic of China

Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution recognizes freedom of religious belief. It goes on to define how freedom of belief can be exercised as follows: “No State organ, public organization or individual shall compel citizens to believe in or disbelieve in any religion, nor discriminate against citizens who believe in or disbelieve in any religion.”

The state’s position on religion is also set out in the Constitution as follows: “The State protects normal religious activities. No one may use religion to disrupt public order, harm the health of citizens or interfere with the State’s education system.”

The most important sentence for our topic is the protection of believers in China from foreign interference:

“Religious institutions and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.”

The approach to religion in the People’s Republic of China follows the basic rule of the national democratic revolution: Religion is left to the conscience of individuals. This principle applies indiscriminately to all religions in China: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Chinese mystical philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism, which are not considered religions, are also treated in the same way.

Sects subject to centralized religious authority, such as Catholicism, and some “Islamic organizations,” such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Rabaa, the Islamic State, and the Gulen Terrorist Organization, do not recognize China’s secularism premise. They use religion to undermine independence and national sovereignty. 

Religions and sects are also used by US imperialism to hinder China’s independence and sovereignty and to sow domestic strife. It stimulates believers and leads them into battle with China’s socialist government for this goal. Until today, the Papacy has likewise followed imperialist policies. 

The papacy was at war with China

Since its inception, the People’s Republic of China has refused to acknowledge the Pope’s “ecumenicality,” or universality. It has refused to recognize the Holy See’s or any other foreign authority’s appointment of bishops and priests to serve in China. 

The Holy See does not recognize the People’s Republic of China. The Vatican regards Taiwan’s government as China’s representative. The Holy See has not yet consecrated Chinese-appointed bishops. 

Pope Francis has chosen to allow the appointment of the Bishop of Shanghai, who was selected by China without the consent of the Vatican. “Catholic News Agency” criticized that “Pope Francis has violated the China-Vatican agreement.” (1)

Bishop Joseph Shen Bin was appointed to Shanghai in April 2023. The Holy See described this as the second unauthorized appointment by Chinese authorities.

The Vatican first signed a temporary two-year agreement with Beijing on bishop appointments in 2018, which was renewed in 2020 and 2022. In response to critics of the latest approval, Vatican Secretary General Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican was “determined” to continue dialogue with China. (2)

Wall Street Journal criticizes Pope’s decision

The Diocese of Shanghai was a center of Catholic counter-revolutionary activity in the 1950s. After the revolution, Bishop Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei led the establishment of the anti-regime Catholic movement that would become the “Underground Catholic church”. On the night of September 8, 1955, Bishop Kung was arrested, along with about a thousand of his followers, for opposing the regime and refusing to renounce the Papacy. Kung was imprisoned for 30 years until he left for the United States in 1988.

More recently, the Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, denounced the Chinese Patriotic Catholics Association during his consecration Mass on July 7, 2012; later that night he was placed under house arrest at Sheshan Seminary, where he remains today.

The Wall Street Journal, mouthpiece of the US ruling classes, criticized the Pope’s recognition of China’s sovereignty and his decision to establish good relations with China. “The deal represents a rare concession by the Pope of the privilege of appointing bishops. Critics, including the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, say the deal is a betrayal of the country’s underground Catholics loyal to the pope.” (3)

The position of religions under socialist rule

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese administration, led by Mao Zedong, sought to bring religious adherents into line with socialism. Premier Zhou Enlai discovered a solution in May 1950 during a meeting with Chinese Protestants. A “Christian Manifesto” was written, criticizing imperialism and proposing the establishment of a Chinese Protestant church free of foreign influence. It was founded on a plan of establishing an indigenous church based on the “three principles of autonomy”: self-government, self-sufficiency, and self-distribution.

The Guangyuan Manifesto, published in December 1950 by Chinese Catholics, stated that they were “determined to sever all relations with imperialism, to do our utmost to reform ourselves, and to establish a new Church, independent in its administration, resources, and apostolate.”

When China gained its independence, Pius XII, the pope at the time, proclaimed that he would no longer bless Chinese Christians and that their church could no longer claim to be “Catholic.” 

After great controversy, in July 1957, allegiance to the Papacy was abandoned and the “Association of Patriotic Catholics” was founded. In 1958 the first Catholic bishops were appointed without recourse to the Pope. In June 1958, Pope Pius XII refused to recognize appointments made without Vatican approval. The issue of the appointment of bishops has been a major problem in China-Vatican relations ever since. 

CFR report: “Christianity flourishes in China”

Christianity, the religion of capitalist imperialism, is spreading as a tool of cultural domination of Western imperialism. Undoubtedly, “Moderate Islam”, which US imperialism has produced in the CIA laboratory, also receives similar support. 

The cost for China’s deviation from the Mao line, which began in 1978, is being paid in the form of the Christianization of a considerable number of Chinese individuals.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which formulates US foreign policy strategies, published a report on the spread of Christianity in China. (4)

The Report describes the change that has come with the policy of Opening Up and Reform as follows: “China has witnessed a religious revival over the past four decades, with a particularly significant increase in the number of Christian believers. The number of Chinese Protestants has increased by an average of 10 percent per year since 1979. By some estimates, China is on track to have the largest Christian population in the world by 2030.”

“Free market” brought Christianity to China

In the 17th century, the introduction of Christianity in China was part of the colonial imperialist campaign to conquer China. Christian missionary groups propagated the gospel while assisting their masters in plundering China. As a result of this process, China lost its sovereignty and became a semi-colony. Christianity and the “Free Market” ideology are inextricably linked. 

Following the implementation of the market economy in 1978, social institutions in both rural and urban communities disintegrated. Religion arose as a new social order, mostly through conversion. “Whatever the exact number, the fact is that Protestantism has become a dynamic part of China’s religious landscape, especially in its major cities and among the best-educated people,” says Ian Johnson in “The Return of Religion after Mao.” (5)

With the election of Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the CPC, attempts to restore the damage created by the market economy started. Efforts were made to integrate religions into the Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. The Chinese government amended religion rules to strengthen national security as well as prevent radicalism and foreign infiltration. The new restrictions, which went into effect in early February 2018, aggressively enforce bans on underground religious organizations and bar their funding. 

President of the Chinese Protestant Association: The West wants to use Christianity to destroy China

The Western Press and Christian organizations in the US have been lambasting China for cracking down on illegal religious activities. “In China they are closing churches, imprisoning pastors, and even rewriting scripture.” (6)

On March 11, 2019, Xu Xiaohong, President of the “Association of Pro-Three Autonomy Patriotic Christians”, the supreme body of Protestant churches in China, warned at the annual meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which he attended as a deputy, that “anti-China forces in the West are using Christianity to influence our country’s social stability and even try to destroy our country’s political power.” (7)

Secularism also benefits religions

In Türkiye, many people are inundated with news about China’s persecution of Islam. However, China is one of the countries that has taken the clearest stance against Islamophobia at the international level. In China, Islam is respected just like all other religions. There are no obstacles to the individual practice of faith. Mosques are open, and halal food restaurants and butchers can be found everywhere. Hajj pilgrimages are possible. Theological education is available. China is struggling against those who want to use Islam or Christianity to change China’s political and social system and the US imperialism behind them. 

Türkiye, which has experienced the scourge of the Gulen Terrorist Organization, should support China’s struggle to protect its independence and sovereignty. Because secularism is the most important safeguard that ensures that religions serve their original function today.


  1. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/254812/pope-francis-confirms-shanghai-bishop-appointed-in-violation-of-vatican-china-deal
  2. Ibid.
  3. https://www.wsj.com/articles/pope-francis-accepts-bishop-unilaterally-installed-by-china-9eec803e
  4. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/christianity-china
  5. Ibid.
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/13/china-christians-religious-persecution-translation-bible
  7. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-parliament-religion-idUSKBN1QT03C
Adnan Akfırat

Adnan Akfirat is former representative to China and Member of International Relations Bureau of the Patriotic Party of Türkiye; Chairman of Turkish-Chinese Business Development and Friendship Association (Turk-Cin Is Der); visitor researcher of Shanghai University Turkish Studies Center and Shihezi University Silk Road Research Center. Mr. Akfirat has been living in Shanghai since 2011.

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May 2024