China deploys Confucius in bid to boost religion controls

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2004, file photo, foreign tourists walk past a statue of ancient Chinese philosopher Confucious, at the Confucian Temple in Beijing. China is running five-day Confucian culture immersion courses for religious leaders in the sage's hometown as part of a campaign to extend government control through a process of sinicization. (AP Photo/Greg Baker, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2016 file photo, participants in traditional dress stand near an oversized portrait of Confucius during a ceremony to observe the 2567th anniversary of his birth in Beijing. A Chinese government department announced on Monday, May 27, 2019, that China is running five-day Confucian culture immersion courses for religious leaders in the sage's hometown as part of a campaign to extend government control over faith communities through a process of sinicization. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

BEIJING — China has begun five-day Confucian culture immersion courses for religious leaders in the sage's hometown as part of a campaign to extend government control over faith communities through a process of sinicization.

The ruling Communist Party's United Work Front Department said in a news release issued Monday that the activity was designed to ensure the primacy of traditional Chinese values above all.

"To hold activities here ... is a collective tribute to excellent traditional Chinese culture and a conscious identification and integration with Chinese culture," said the release, posted on the department's website.

Participants pledged to "cultivate the Chinese cultural character of our nation's religions so that our nation's religions are rooted in the fertile soil of excellent traditional Chinese culture, and to ceaselessly and deeply advance the Sinicization of our nation's religions," it said.

President Xi Jinping has launched the harshest crackdown in decades on religious practices, especially those viewed as foreign such as Christianity and Islam, while at the same time elevating home-grown Confucianism.

While for decades the officially atheistic Communist Party attacked Confucius as a symbol of feudalism, he has been thoroughly rehabilitated in recent years as a means of rallying patriotism and countering foreign influences.

Confucianism's emphasis on strict social organization, advancement through study and exam taking, adherence to hierarchy and maintenance of social harmony appeals especially to the heavily bureaucratic party, which brooks no challenge to its authority.

Xi has repeatedly called for religious leaders and believers to be guided by "socialist core values." Party bureaucrats overseeing religion have demanded that key religious tenets and texts such as the Bible and Quran be interpreted "in conformity with the demands of modern Chinese development and excellent traditional Chinese culture."

That's been accompanied with a campaign of removing crosses and bulldozing many churches, destroying mosques and locking an estimated 1 million Chinese Muslims in camps where they are forced to renounce Islam and their cultural traditions.

Despite international condemnation, China claims it upholds freedom of religion and is seeking only to ensure regulations are followed while discouraging religious extremism and violence.

Those participating at the launch of the five-day course included the president of the Chinese Taoist Association, vice president of the Chinese Islamic Association, chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and president of the Chinese Christian Association.

Confucius was believed to have been born in the 6th century B.C. in the eastern town of Qufu. He is credited with authoring or editing key texts of statesmanship and social order, particularly the Analects that contain his key aphorisms and teachings.

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