Chinese Theological Review 13

On the Thirty-Sixth Article of the Constitution

Bishop K.H. Ting

Following a nationwide critique of the extreme leftist line that dominated our country during the Cultural Revolution, order was restored. Our people care about socialist democracy and law. Together with legal experts they have taken part in two years of painstaking effort, including four months of discussion and consultation. Now at long last the Chinese people have a new and appropriate Constitution.

Because I am on the Commission for Constitutional Revision of the National People's Congress (NPC), I took part in the entire process of drafting this new Constitution. I would like to report to my co-workers and fellow Christians on the formulation of the article dealing with religion (the Thirty-sixth Article).

Long before the Commission was formed, we Christian delegates to the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), in concert with leaders of other religions, had already made a formal representation to the NPC and CPPCC. This representation advocated the deletion from the 1978 Constitution of the "leftist" wording of the article on religion. In effect, we opposed the statement in this article of "freedom to propagate atheism," without a corresponding statement of the freedom to propagate theism. We felt it unnecessary to state that there was "freedom not to believe in religion," because the concept of "religious freedom" includes the freedom not to believe. "Freedom of speech" does not require a statement of "freedom not to speak," nor would the "freedom of correspondence" require a statement of "freedom not to do so." We felt that the wording of the Eighty-eighth Article of the 1954 Constitution, "Citizens shall have the freedom of religious belief," a model of simplicity and clarity, should be restored.

These proposals seemed extremely fair and reasonable to us. However, because of the long-standing influence of "leftist" thinking, our proposals met with some opposition, and some of those who opposed us were people of considerable status and influence. They advocated retaining the wording of the article on religion found in the 1978 Constitution.

Happily, religious circles and believers across the country commended our proposal. It also garnered the support of intellectual, political and legal circles, as well as government cadres concerned about socialist democracy and law. The Religious Affairs Bureau under the State Council (RAB) had given their opinion to the Commission in writing, supporting our proposals. This fact in itself is enough to illustrate that the RAB's concern was to implement the policy of religious freedom and protect the legal rights and interests of each religion. People overseas attacked them by saying that their aim was the destruction of religion. This is too superficial and ignorant.

We know that since the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Party Congress, the Central Committee has resolutely restored order and implemented each policy. Vis-a-vis religion, it has resolutely overcome subjectivism and dogmatism and implemented the policy of religious freedom. This situation prevails throughout the nation. The Commission, too, has been resolved to restore order and eradicate "leftist" views and formulations in religion, and adopt all fair and reasonable views put forward by religious circles. My co-workers and fellow Christians will certainly have noted that the draft constitution given to the people for discussion restores the wording of the 1954 Constitution with regard to religion. Adherents of all religions in China experience this as the lifting of a heavy burden and a surge of heartfelt joy.

During the more than two years of constitutional revision, we leaders of the China Christian Council and of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China put forward many views that were given due consideration by the Commission. We can say that those views related to the religious policy were all adopted. Our Christian compatriots in Hong Kong and Macau also held a forum and expressed their valuable views on the draft constitution.

In the very first version of the draft, wording appeared to the effect that religion should not be involved in politics, education or marriage. People who are not adherents of any religion frequently lack sensitivity in this area, and have no appreciation of how this phrase "should not be involved in" grates on the ears of religious believers. We in religious circles had a responsibility to reflect this situation to the Commission and we did so. The Commission valued our opinions, and after studying the issue, avoided this type of wording. Incidents such as this show us the spirit of democratic consultation as it is expressed in our national political life. At the same time, we see that you cannot have consultation by looking at only one side of an issue. Thus we should actively take the initiative to express our views, so that consultation can take place. If we did not make our views known, the final version of the Constitution might have retained some unsuitable wordings.

Another example: my co-workers and fellow Christians might recall that the draft constitution sent out for a four-month period of discussion by all the people contained a statement to the effect that no one had the right to use religion to undertake counterrevolutionary activities. This is of course correct. However, religion is not the only means to counterrevolutionaries' hands - they can also turn speech and publications to their own ends. Today the vast majority of believers in all our religions are patriotic. Why should counterrevolutionaries only be mentioned in connection with religion? Our Buddhist friends raised this issue and persons in other religions felt their views had merit. We appealed to the Commission to delete this phrase. They duly considered our view and, with the agreement of the majority of Commission members, it was decided to delete this phrase. This is yet another expression of the spirit of democratic consultation.

The present Constitution stipulates that religious bodies and religious affairs shall not be under foreign domination. This is powerful support by our nation's people for the realization of independence by Chinese Catholicism and for the realization of self-government, self-support and self-propagation by Chinese Protestantism; an expression of care for our newly born self-run churches. It cannot be made any clearer. What is being opposed here is "domination" from outside; it in no way affects us in normal exchanges on a basis of equality with international religious circles. We believe that only an independent and self-governing Chinese Church can truly benefit the international church, and in like manner, only such a church can benefit from the international church. Some people overseas have made groundless statements that this sentence in the Constitution is meant to prohibit Chinese churches from international contacts. Perhaps they do not understand the meaning of "domination"?

I have taken part in the whole process of constitutional revision and I deeply feel that the highest leadership of our nation are resolved to implement the policy of religious freedom, to enable the believers of each religion to contribute to the nation with easy minds and hearts. Because China is a vast and populous country, because of the confusion "leftist" things have caused in people's thinking in former years, thorough implementation of the spirit of religious freedom at every level, in every department and corner, cannot be done without obstacles. However, since the central leadership is so resolved, we can be optimistic, knowing that our efforts at implementing policy and striving for socialist democracy and rule of law are not in vain. This Constitution represents the interests and views of the people of the whole nation. We must respect it, cherish it and protect it, and oppose anyone and anything that would offend against it.