China brings rural village preservation effort into line with its anti-religious campaign

China is increasingly targeting rural areas of the country in its anti-religion campaign, according to the newsletter Bitter Winter (April 20). Much of this rural crackdown on what is considered illegal religious activities are being conducted through the country’s “Beautiful Village” policy, where model rural villages are awarded with this designation if they meet criteria for preserving historic structures and local ecologies. The policy is part of a broader agenda to create a “new socialist countryside” and show foreign countries China’s concern for the environment. However, “under the banner of preserving history what is really happening is a ‘museumification’ of religious buildings. They are protected or even restored, but holding religious rituals there becomes forbidden, and they are converted into museums, sometimes displaying contents connected with the glories of the local Communist Party, which have nothing to do with the previous functions of the building,” writes Liu Wangmin. “Beautiful Villages” also have to follow the yearly directives of the “Central Documents” of the Ministry of Agriculture, focusing on the three precepts of “listen to the Party, love the Party, and follow the Party.”

Wangmin adds that “Beautiful Villages” are to be free of illegal religious activities. The 2021 Central Document of the Communist Party calls for an intensification of the “crackdown on illegal religious activities in rural areas and overseas religious infiltration activities, and [a] stop [to] the use of religion to interfere with rural public affairs.” This document calls for the elimination of “feudal superstitions,” a code word for Feng Shui and divination. Such directives are not new, and were also included in the Central Documents of previous years. But Wangmin adds that “legal” religions are also a victim of the Beautiful Village policy. Villagers in the province of Henan told Bitter Winter that to be awarded the “Beautiful” designation, “local authorities ask that no religious activity at all survives in the village. One villager reported that some village chiefs in fact cheat and declare that religion has been eradicated in their villages while this is not true.”

(Bitter Winter,