Exclusive with Bitter Winter‘s Marco Respinti on International Religious Freedom Report and China’s Persecution of Religious Groups
In June, the U.S. State Department unveiled the Report on International Religious Freedom for 2018. The report singled out Iran and China as the worst countries for minority religions. It found that, while Iran persecutes non-Muslims, China persecutes all religions.
The report quoted Bitter Winter twice as much as any other news publication. Bitter Winter is a magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China. It has several hundred reporters in China reporting daily on the persecution of religious groups there.
Today we hear from Bitter Winter’s Director-in-Charge, Marco Respinti, on the situation in China, why the Chinese Communist Party persecutes religious groups, and why the world should pay attention.
Here’s Jessica Beatty’s conversation with Marco Respinti.
Q: The Report on International Religious Freedom quoted Bitter Winter more than any other publication. This is impressive because Bitter Winter was just launched in May 2018. Could you tell us a little bit about Bitter Winter and why it was launched?
We are a peculiar combination of academics, professional journalist, activist for human rights and exiles from China. I said peculiar combination because sometimes it’s not easy to put together these different brands of people because all of them have different angles and perspectives in the work they do on the same subject.
And as a matter of fact, Bitter Winter started remotely from the interest of some academics who were studying religion in China. They realized after a while that you cannot actually study religion in China without going into details of religious freedom and denied religious freedom in China.
You can only have an intellectual approach or detached approach. Even if an intellectual approach is the business of scholars without going into considering religious freedom. Because religion is persecuted in China. So out of this scholarly interest came the idea of trying to inform the general public on the situation of religion in China.
So Bitter Winter tries to unite the seriousness of academic studies in a journalistic way because China is not transparent. It’s very difficult to get truthful news about what’s going on in the country.
Q: Because China is not transparent, it’s very difficult to get truthful news about what’s going on inside China. But Bitter Winter has several hundred reporters all throughout China, and they’re reporting on the CCP’s persecution of religious groups. So I was wondering if you could tell us what the situation is like inside China for religious groups, according to your reporters who are on the ground there.
The most important part, so to speak, of Bitter Winter is the people on the ground, in the field. They risk every day their own lives to get us fresh information, to get us regional material, videos and pictures. And this is not easy, as you understand.
This goes directly to your question, it is not easy because the war that the CCP or the Chinese Communist Party is waging against religion, all religion, is terrible.
It always has been like this since the CCP took power in 1949. There is a particular situation in China that maybe some people don’t know. And the situation is that it goes back to the Mao Zedong Era. The war against religion by the CCP was conducted in two ways.
One was trying to destroy all religions that were not obedient in any possible form to the regime.
The other way was trying to establish some control states, control the national, so-called national, so-called patriotic association to try to control the religions, who are maybe available to be, so to speak, to some deal or to some compromise with the regime.
Especially that was the policy that the CCP was trying to use against the huge religious groups, meaning that they tried to destroy them. But when you have really big religious groups or churches, sometimes it’s not that easy to destroy them directly.
So they tried to domesticate or tried to tame them. And that was done with Islam, Buddhism, Protestantism and Catholicism and Taoism.
The ‘harsh way’ was reserved for some smaller groups. This has produced a very particular situation where people are torn into different obediences between the level of hierarchy in their religion and with the state regime.
So again, this situation is still going on in China. You had the regime, which is on the one hand persecuting directly religious groups especially, and then religious groups that are banned and forbidden because the state says that they are not true religion.
And on the other hand, you have them trying to compromise with some groups, but this compromise means that they are trying to control from within, those religions because of the regime. It’s of course communist. It’s Marxist-Leninist, so it’s atheistic.
So it’s kind of interesting to see the regime, which is an atheistic regime, deciding which is a ‘good’ religion and which is a ‘bad’ religion, basically deciding what religion is.
It’s very arrogant.