CHINA: New regulations introduced to control religious activity venues

China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs has drafted another set of restrictive religious regulations, the “Administrative Measures for Religious Activity Venues“, which come into force on 1 September 2023.

The new Measures are the seventh set in a series of religious regulations that have been introduced since 2018 with the aim of increasing the authorities’ control over all religious practice in China. The regulations reflect the intent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to sinicise religion by making it Chinese in character and bringing it into submission under the CCP.

Final text “even worse than draft”

As is common with new sets of regulations, a draft version of the “Administrative Measures for Religious Activity Venues” was circulated first, in April 2023. Online magazine Bitter Winter (which focuses on religious freedom and human rights in China) explains that “Normally, this is a cosmetic exercise of pseudo-democracy, comments are ignored, and drafts become laws” but goes on to say, “In this case, however, it appears that some comments came from official agencies and were taken into account. The final text of the Measures… is even worse than the draft.”

Bitter Winter highlights the fact that the new Measures mandate including propaganda in sermons and establishing study groups of CCP documents in all places of worship, and warns that “the Measures will convert places of worship into branches of the CCP propaganda system”.


Chinese Church Support Ministries comments that the new Measures “make it clear that to open a church and stay open, the leadership must be unswervingly loyal to the party. The rules say not only what cannot be included in a service; they go further, and lay down what must be added.” It adds, “Although, at first glance the article conditions seem reasonable, history has shown that many of the items below have been weaponised to jail pastors and close churches.”

China Aid says the new Measures “continue to suffocate religious freedom in China” and explains, “All religious activities will be limited to official religious venues, and the display of religious symbols will be restricted indoors.

Elizabeth Kendal of Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin concludes, “These Measures will not merely further limit the space in which Bible-believing, Gospel-focused individuals can operate, they will effectively obliterate it.

Three-Self Church accepts Measures

On 2 August leaders of China’s government-controlled Protestant church the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) held a special meeting to accept and swear allegiance to the Measures, promising to enforce them strictly in all churches under its control.

Pastor Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the TSPM Committee, presided over the ceremony, at which the full text was read to participants. He praised the Measures for guaranteeing “the safety, harmony and stability of Christian places of worship”.

Other speakers included Pastor Wu Wei, president of the China Christian Association (CAA), Pastor Kan Baoping, vice chairman of the TSPM Committee, Pastor Shan Weixiang, vice president and director-general of the CCA and Pastor Lin Manhong, deputy director-general of the CCA. Pastor Wu Wei stated that pastors should understand that their job is now the “construction of a religious order that is compatible with a socialist society”.

Restrictive articles

While many of the 76 articles in the new Measures relate to matters of administration, health and safety, planning and governance, several are explicit about the extent to which Religious Activity Venues must support the CCP and its sinicisation programme and some potentially impose restrictions on normal church activites.

Article 3 states: “Places of religious activity shall uphold the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, thoroughly implement Xi Jinping’s ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era… practice core socialist values, adhere to the direction of Sinicisation of China’s religions, [and] adhere to the principle of independence, autonomy and self-sufficiency.”

Article 6 raises the question of denominational affiliation and of local churches working together, stating: “No affiliation shall be formed between different places of religious activity.”

Article 9 orders that “To prepare for the establishment of a place of religious activity, a religious organisation shall submit an application to the religious affairs department at the county level where the proposed place is located” and the following two Articles go into great detail about the restrictions on any “religious group applying for preparation for the establishment of a place of religious activity” – even down to submission of proposed members’ ID cards (11.3) and a “description of the capital budget and the source of funds” (11.4).

Article 27 stipulates that members of the management organisation of venues must “love the motherland and support the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system”.

Article 29 says that members of management organisations of places of worship shall be promptly removed if one of ten listed circumstances occurs, two of which are particularly relevant to church life: “Participating in illegal [i.e. unregistered] religious organisations, engaging in illegal religious activities, or facilitating illegal religious activities” (29.6) and “Organising or hosting unauthorised religious activities held outside the place of religious activity” (29.7).

Article 30 orders the management organisation of a place of religious activity to perform duties including “To unite and educate religious citizens to love the motherland, support the leadership of the CCP, practice socialist core values [and]  adhere to the direction of the Sinicisation of China’s religions.

Article 36 requires that “Places of religious activity shall establish a study system, and regularly organise the personnel of the place to study the guidelines and policies of the CCP, national laws and regulations, Chinese excellent traditional culture, religious knowledge, and so on.”

Article 39 stipulates that “the content of sermons and teachings shall be suitable for the characteristics of China’s national conditions and the characteristics of the times, and shall be integrated with the excellent traditional Chinese culture and reflect the core socialist values”.

Article 42 states: “Places of religious activity shall not organise or hold religious activities outside their premises without authorisation.”

Article 43 adds a layer of control over religious charity work, stating: “Places of religious activity that organise and hold religious activities for the purpose of public welfare and charity shall report them to the local religious groups and registration authorities for the record.”

Article 71 warns that “If a place of religious activity is established without authorisation, it shall be punished by the department of religious affairs in conjunction with the relevant departments in accordance with the provisions of the Regulations on Religious Affairs or relevant laws and regulations.”

Article 72 adds punishment at individual clergy level, warning: “Any member of the management organisation of a place of religious activity who violates the provisions of these Measures shall be ordered by the registration authority to make corrections; if the circumstances are serious, the place shall be ordered to be closed, and if he or she is a member of the religious clergy, he or she shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of the Regulations on Religious Affairs.”

Read more about the situation facing Chinese Christians in Church in Chains’ China Country Profile.

(Bitter Winter, China Aid, Chinese Church Support Ministries, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin)

Photos: Bitter Winter/Weibo