China to list legal places of worship, "root out" illegal

Monks chant sutras for a half-way built Buddhist temple donated by a property developer in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province on Oct 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Monks chant sutras for a half-way built Buddhist temple donated by a property developer in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province on Oct 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China is to publish online details of legal religious venues, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday, apparently in an effort to identify unsanctioned groups as part of an effort to "root out illegal religious activities".

Names and addresses for "all Buddhist and Taoist venues" would be published within two years, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told a conference on Friday, according to the news agency.

Xinhua made no mention of other religions but it quoted Wang as saying the information would help stop illegal religious activity in unauthorised locations.

The government's attitude toward religion has softened significantly in recent decades, and people are allowed to practice religion at sanctioned institutions that are required to preach and practice loyalty to the government.

Despite the rules, unsanctioned religious movements, which the authorities call cults, have proliferated in recent years, and the government has grown increasingly active in trying to discourage their growth.

A court jailed 21 members of banned religious group Quannengshen and executed two this year after members were accused of murdering a woman.

Beijing also maintains a ban on the Falun Gong church, which has become one of the most strident public opponents of the Chinese Communist Party.

Anti-cult messages are prolific on message boards in some city neighbourhoods, and suspicion can extend to established religions.

The government is locked in a long-running dispute with the Vatican over who appoints Catholic bishops, and in recent months some officials have removed crosses from Christian churches and banned Christmas symbolism.

The government is even more suspicious of Islam, and has tried to discourage traditional Muslim practice in the Xinjiang autonomous region. It has also tried to suppress political activism among Tibetan Buddhists.

The government describes resistance to its rule in Muslim and Tibetan Buddhist communities as inspired by outside forces trying to dismember China, and defends its religious policy as suitable for "reasonable practitioners".