China (Includes Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Read A Section: China

Tibet | Xinjiang | Hong Kong | Macau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  The government recognizes five official religions:  Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.  Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services, although other groups reported meeting unofficially.  CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices.  National law prohibits organizations or individuals from interfering with the state educational system for minors younger than the age of 18, effectively barring them from participating in most religious activities or receiving religious education.  Some provinces have additional laws precluding minors’ participation in religious activities.  The government continued to assert control over religion and to restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceived as threatening state or CCP interests, according to religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international media reports.  NGOs and media continued to report deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, disappeared, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced labor and forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, and harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.  The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers estimated the government imprisoned 2,987 individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief as of December 7.  According to Minghui, a Falun Gong-affiliated publication, 101 Falun Gong practitioners died during the year as a result of persecution of their faith, compared with 107 in 2020, and both Minghui and the Falun Dafa Infocenter reported police arrested more than 5,000 practitioners and harassed more than 9,000 others.  According to the annual report of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), authorities arrested more than 11,156 of its members and subjected them to physical abuse, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and being forced into stress positions, resulting in the death of at least nine individuals.  There were reports the government pressured individuals to renounce their religious beliefs.  The government continued its multiyear campaign of “Sinicization” to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine, which included requiring clergy of all faiths to attend political indoctrination sessions and suggesting content for sermons that emphasized loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” requires all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Authorities did not issue a “clergy card” to individuals not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including pastors of Protestant house churches, Catholic clergy who rejected the government’s 2018 provisional agreement with the Holy See and refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, rabbis, and religious personnel of new religious movements.  The SARA issued new regulations on September 1 that require all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization of religion.”  The government prohibited private tutors, including those based abroad, from using textbooks “propagating religious teachings” and closed several informal, religiously affiliated schools.

During the year, officials across the country shut down religious venues, including some that were affiliated with the authorized patriotic religious associations, in some but not all cases citing COVID-19 restrictions.  The government intensified its campaign against religious groups it characterized as “cults,” including the CAG, maintained a ban on other groups, such as Falun Gong, and conducted propaganda campaigns against xie jiao (literally “heterodox teachings”) aimed at school-age children.  Authorities limited online worship.  Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible, the Quran, and other religious literature, and penalized businesses that copied and published religious materials.  The government removed religious apps from app stores and censored religious content from the popular messaging service WeChat.  Authorities censored online posts referencing Jesus or the Bible and there were continued reports that authorities destroyed public displays of religious symbols throughout the country.  The government continued to remove architectural features that identified some churches and mosques as religious sites and removed crosses from private property.  The SARA’s “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy” made no provision for the Holy See to have a role in the selection of Catholic bishops, despite the 2018 provisional agreement between the Vatican and the government concerning the appointment of bishops.  At a national conference on religious affairs in December, President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping called on religious personnel and government officials to “uphold and develop a religious theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities.  International media reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with a range of government officials to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance, and for the release of individuals imprisoned for religious reasons.  The Charge and other embassy and consulate general officials met with members of registered and unregistered religious groups, family members of religious prisoners, NGOs, and others to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom.  The embassy continued to amplify Department of State religious freedom initiatives and advocacy directly to Chinese citizens through outreach programs and social media.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Charge, and other State Department and embassy officials issued public statements, including via social media, supporting religious freedom and condemning the PRC’s violations of the rights of religious minorities.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Charge d’Affaires, and other senior State Department officials and embassy and consulate general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom in China, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.  On January 19, the then Secretary of State determined that since at least March 2017, the PRC has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.  On January 13, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order that prohibited the import of all cotton and tomato products produced in Xinjiang.  On March 22, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned two officials under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.  On May 12, the Secretary of State announced visa restrictions against a PRC government official for his involvement in gross violations of human rights against Falun Gong practitioners.  On June 24, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Department of Labor took action against companies in the polysilicon industry using forced labor of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 9, the U.S. Commerce Department added to the Entities List 14 Chinese electronics and technology firms and other businesses for helping enable “Beijing’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 13, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Labor, and the U.S. Trade Representative issued an updated Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory that highlighted for businesses with potential supply chain and investment links to Xinjiang the risk of complicity with forced labor and human rights abuses.  On December 6, the Presidential press secretary announced the United States would not send diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic or Paralympic Games because of human rights abuses in China.  On December 10, the U.S. Department of State imposed visa restrictions on four current and former PRC officials for complicity with human rights violations in Xinjiang, and the U.S. Department of Treasury also sanctioned two officials and one company.  On December 23, the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Since 1999, China has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 billion (midyear 2021).  According to the State Council Information Office (SCIO) report Seeking Happiness for People:  70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China, published in September 2019, there are more than 200 million religious adherents in the country.  An SCIO April 2018 white paper on religion in the country states there are approximately 5,500 religious groups.

Local and regional figures for the number of religious followers, including those belonging to the five officially recognized religions, are unclear.  Local governments do not release these statistics, and even official religious organizations do not have accurate numbers.  The Pew Research Center and other observers say the numbers of adherents of many religious groups often are underreported.  The U.S. government estimates that Buddhists comprise 18.2 percent of the country’s total population, Christians 5.1 percent, Muslims 1.8 percent, followers of folk religions 21.9 percent, and atheists or unaffiliated persons 52.2 percent, with Hindus, Jews, and Taoists comprising less than 1 percent.  According to a February 2017 estimate by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, there are more than 350 million religious adherents in the country, including 185 to 250 million Buddhists, 60 to 80 million Protestants, 21 to 23 million Muslims, seven to 20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Roman Catholics, six to eight million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions.  According to Boston University’s 2020 World Religion Database, there are 499 million folk and ethnic religionists (34 percent), 474 million agnostics (33 percent), 228 million Buddhists (16 percent), 106 million Christians (7.4 percent), 100 million atheists (7 percent), 23.7 million Muslims (1.7 percent), and other religions adherents who together constitute less than 1 percent of the population, including 5.9 million Taoists, 1.8 million Confucians, 20,500 Sikhs, and 2,900 Jews.  According to the Christian advocacy NGO Open Doors USA’s World Watch List 2022 report, there are 96.7 million Christians.  According to 2015 data from the World Jewish Congress, the country’s Jewish population is 2,500, concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kaifeng.

The SCIO’s April 2018 white paper found the number of Protestants to be 38 million.  Among these, there are 20 million Protestants affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-sanctioned umbrella organization for all officially recognized Protestant churches, according to information on TSPM’s website in March 2017.  The SCIO report states there are six million Catholics, although media and international NGO estimates suggest there are 10-12 million, approximately half of whom practice in churches not affiliated with the CCPA.  Accurate estimates on the numbers of Catholics and Protestants, as well as other faiths, are difficult to calculate because many adherents practice exclusively at home or in churches that are not state sanctioned.

According to the 2018 SCIO white paper, there are 10 ethnic minority groups totaling more than 20 million persons for whom Islam is the majority religion.  Other sources indicate almost all Muslims are Sunni.  The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uyghur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and in Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  The SARA, also referred to as the National Religious Affairs Administration, estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million.  A June report on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) issued by the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the PRC’s National Bureau of Statistics estimates the total population in Xinjiang is 26 million.  The report states Uyghurs, along with ethnic Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups, number approximately 15 million residents, or 58 percent of the total population there.

While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by school, the vast majority of Buddhists are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.  Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion.

Prior to the government’s 1999 ban on Falun Gong, the government estimated there were 70 million adherents.  Falun Gong sources estimate tens of millions continue to practice privately, and Freedom House estimates there are seven to 20 million practitioners.

Some ethnic minorities follow traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  The central government classifies worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, as an expression of “cultural heritage” rather than a religious practice.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

CHINA | Tibet | XinjiangMacau

Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, state that residents have freedom of conscience, freedom of religious belief, and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public.  The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  In 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) imposed a broad National Security Law (NSL) for the SAR with the stated aim of combating secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers.  The Falun Dafa Association and some churches active in the prodemocracy movement said the government had grown less tolerant since passage of the NSL.  Other religious leaders and advocates stated the NSL did not impair their ability to conduct or attend worship services in conformity with their religious norms; however, they continued to express concern regarding self-censorship and potential PRC targeting of civil society organizations affiliated with religious groups active in the 2019 prodemocracy movement.  An unknown assailant physically attacked the head of the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association, and unknown assailants vandalized and destroyed printing presses at the contracted printer’s facility of the Falun Gong-affiliated publication Epoch Times.  On April 2 and April 3, masked individuals wielding knives and spray paint destroyed eight Falun Gong public information displays in what the group said appeared to be coordinated attacks across several locations.  In April, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention and a critic of the NSL, resigned and moved abroad, saying he feared government retaliation if he remained in Hong Kong.  In May, the Good Neighbor North District Church, which had supported the prodemocracy movement, ceased operations.  There were reports of emigration of other religious leaders.  Media reported that on October 31, bishops and religious leaders from mainland China briefed Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on the PRC central government’s policy of “Sinicizing” Christianity.  Authorities curtailed activities of Falun Gong practitioners during the year, banning their street kiosks under what practitioners said was a pretext of violating COVID-19 protocols.  In July, several members of the SAR Legislative Council urged the SAR government to outlaw the Falun Dafa Association under the NSL.  In September, an editorial in the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po called on SAR authorities to ban “cult organizations,” a term the PRC government has historically used to refer to Falun Gong, among other groups.  In April, Wen Wei Po reported that national security police blocked access to the website of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church for internet users in Hong Kong due to “national security” concerns.

In June, an unknown group hung banners defaming Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Catholic Church policy on China, around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  On May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan Bishop of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide spiritual and monetary support to underground churches in mainland China.

The U.S. Consul General and staff repeatedly raised concerns regarding the shrinking space for civil society, including religious groups, during meetings with a range of official counterparts in which they also affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief.  U.S. officials delivered similar messages to religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community representatives, as well as in public messages.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.3 million (midyear 2021).  According to SAR government statistics, there are more than one million followers of Taoism and approximately one million followers of Buddhism; 800,000 Protestants; 404,000 Catholics; 300,000 Muslims; 100,000 Hindus; and 12,000 Sikhs.  The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, which recognizes the Pope and maintains links to the Vatican, reported approximately 621,000 followers (404,000 local residents and 217,000 residents with other nationalities).  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported it has approximately 25,100 members.  According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 2,500 Jews, primarily expatriates.  Small communities of Baha’is and Zoroastrians also reside in the SAR.  Confucianism is widespread, and in some cases, elements of Confucianism are practiced in conjunction with other belief systems.  The Falun Dafa Association estimates there are approximately 500 Falun Gong practitioners.

There are numerous Protestant denominations, including Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, the Church of Christ in China, Seventh-day Adventist, and Pentecostal.

Macau

Read A Section: Macau

ChinaTibet | XinjiangHONG KONG

Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education.  These rights may be limited in extraordinary situations for national security reasons.  The law protects the right of religious assembly and stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad.  Under the Basic Law, the SAR government, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), safeguards religious freedom in the SAR.  In June, a group of 25 representatives from various religious groups, accompanied by officials from Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office in Macau, visited Zhejiang Province in mainland China.  The office said the visit was designed to maintain good relations between the PRC government and Macau’s religious communities.  Some religious activists in the diaspora called on the PRC government to allow for greater religious expression in Macau, as provided for by the Basic Law.  Some activists on social media criticized the meeting as insincere, stating the PRC has frequently cracked down on religious expression.

In May, a video showing more than 100 primary school students from a prominent Macau Catholic school singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of a Catholic site sparked discussion online on the ability of religious schools to preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.

In virtual meetings with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organizations, representatives from the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau stressed the importance of religious diversity and religious freedom and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 630,000 (midyear 2021).  According to a 2015 estimate by the research group Association of Religion Data Archives, 48.1 percent of the population are folk religionists, 17.3 percent Buddhist, 11 percent Taoist, 4.5 percent Catholic, 2.5 percent other Christian, 1.2 percent other religious groups (including Hindus, Muslims, and Jews), and 15.4 percent nonreligious.  The SAR Government Information Bureau 2021 yearbook states the majority of the population practices Buddhism or Chinese folk religions.  The yearbook does not provide an estimate for Buddhists, but it states they are numerous and individuals often practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Chinese folk religions.  The SAR Government Information Bureau estimates 4.5 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, of whom almost half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and 2.5 percent of the population is Protestant.  Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches.  Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with officially recognized mainland churches, are also present.  Various reports estimate the Muslim population at 5,000 to 10,000.  Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, who estimate their membership at more than 2,000, and Falun Gong practitioners, who estimate their numbers at 20 to 50 persons.

Taiwan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief.  The labor standards law does not cover domestic service workers and caretakers, who are therefore not legally guaranteed a weekly rest day.  Due to this exclusion, many domestic workers continued to be unable to attend religious services.  According to the Ministry of Labor (MOL), foreign caregivers and household workers whose employers denied them a weekly rest day to attend religious services could report their cases to the ministry.  The MOL continued to coordinate with the Ministry of Health and Welfare to expand subsidized short-term respite care services for employers, thereby enabling more migrant caregivers to take leave to attend religious services or other conduct other activities without risking their jobs.  Pusin Tali, Taiwan’s Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, stated Taiwan’s failure to safeguard migrant workers’ rights, including guaranteeing their ability to attend weekly religious services, might affect Taiwan’s relations with the migrant workers’ countries of origin.  Taiwan authorities conducted outreach to the Muslim community – for example, by organizing an Islamic cultural exhibit in coordination with civil society groups and foreign missions of Muslim countries.

In April, the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po reported that PRC authorities temporarily blocked access to the Taiwan Presbyterian Church website for internet users in Hong Kong.  Radio Free Asia (RFA) stated the interference was done in retaliation for the Church’s support of the 2019 prodemocracy movement in Hong Kong.

Throughout the year, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) representatives engaged with legislators and ministries, as well as Ambassador Pusin.  AIT representatives encouraged religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and representatives of faith-based social service organizations throughout Taiwan to continue promoting religious freedom.  AIT used social media to engage the public on religious freedom issues.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 23.6 million (midyear 2021).  According to a survey by the Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology released in 2019, 49.3 percent of the population exclusively practices traditional folk religions, 14 percent Buddhism, and 12.4 percent Taoism, with 13.2 percent identifying as nonbelievers.  The rest of the population consists mainly of Protestants (5.5 percent), I-Kuan Tao (2.1 percent), Catholics (1.3 percent), and other religious groups, including Jews, Sunni Muslims, Tien Ti Chiao (Heaven Emperor Religion), Tien Te Chiao (Heaven Virtue Religion), Li-ism, Hsuan Yuan Chiao (Yellow Emperor Religion), Tian Li Chiao (Tenrikyo), Pre-cosmic Salvationism, Church of Scientology, the Baha’i Faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mahikari, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).

Some studies found that as many as 80 percent of religious practitioners combine multiple faith traditions.  Many adherents consider themselves both Buddhist and Taoist, and many individuals also incorporate some aspects of traditional folk religions, such as shamanism, ancestor worship, and animism, into their belief in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or other religions.  Some practitioners of Buddhism, Taoism, and other religions also practice Falun Gong, a self-described spiritual discipline.  According to the Falun Gong Society of Taiwan, Falun Gong practitioners number in the hundreds of thousands.

According to 2021 MOL statistics and the Council of Indigenous Peoples, the majority of the indigenous population of 580,000 is Protestant or Roman Catholic.  There are an estimated 695,000 foreign workers, primarily from Southeast Asia.  The largest group of foreign workers is from Indonesia, consisting of approximately 247,000 persons, who are predominantly Muslim.  The second largest group of workers is from Vietnam, consisting of approximately 243,000 persons, who are predominantly Buddhist.  Workers from the Philippines – numbering approximately 146,000 persons – are predominantly Roman Catholic.

Tibet

Read A Section: Tibet

CHINA | Xinjiang | Hong KongMacau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  CCP regulations allow Chinese citizens to take part only in officially approved religious practices and stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security.”  CCP regulations control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools, and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities said included Tibetans living outside the country – particularly the Dalai Lama.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled the “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” that required all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 that required all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization” of religion.  In the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas, there were reports of forced disappearances, arrests, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detentions without trial of monks, nuns, and other individuals due to their religious practices.  There were also media reports stating prison authorities routinely sexually abused nuns.  There were reports of individuals dying in custody after being beaten.  There were reports of individuals who had been released from detention dying as a result of long-term illnesses and injuries suffered following beatings and mistreatment during incarceration.  Authorities arrested writers and artists for promoting Tibetan language and culture.  Authorities continued to arrest individuals for possessing photographs of, or writings by, the Dalai Lama.  The government continued to restrict the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries and to prohibit them from practicing elsewhere.  The CCP continued to promote “Sinicization” policies that aimed to interpret religious ideas in accordance with CCP ideology and to emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The CCP continued to implement the Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations regulations, released in 2020, that further formalized administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions.  Media reported authorities took measures to require Buddhist monasteries to translate texts from Tibetan to Mandarin, in what observers said constituted an ongoing attempt to erase the Tibetan language.  On May 21, the government issued a white paper that asserted Tibet had always been part of China and that the PRC would be responsible for the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama.  Authorities continued to restrict the religious practices of monks, nuns, and laypersons.  Travel and other restrictions hindered monastics and laypersons from engaging in traditional religious practices and pilgrimages.  Repression, including arbitrary surveillance, increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  The government, citing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, again canceled some religious festivals and limited access to religious sites for Tibetans but allowed Chinese tourists greater access to the same locations.  Authorities intensified overt surveillance of monks and nuns and forced former political prisoners to use government-issued mobile phones and wear ankle bracelets containing recording and GPS tracking devices.  One nongovernmental organization (NGO), the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), described surveillance methods at monasteries and nunneries, including ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras, police stations adjacent to or on the premises, monitoring monks’ and nuns’ internet and social media use, and thousands of government workers employed at temples, as being “of dystopian proportions.”  The government encouraged families to inform on their neighbors, and it attempted to control access to social media.  It continued to force monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag and required Tibetans to replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas in their homes with portraits of prominent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong and General Secretary and PRC President Xi Jinping.  PRC authorities continued to restrict children from participating in many traditional religious festivals, going on pilgrimages during school holidays, or receiving religious education.  As part of efforts to Sinicize the population, authorities aggressively promoted Mandarin-language-only instruction.  According to a report by the NGO Tibet Action Institute (TAI), the government required nearly 80 percent of Tibetan children to attend government-run boarding schools, where they were separated from their families, suffering emotional and psychological harm, and were at risk of losing connection to their language and culture.  Authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in monastic practices, including by appointing government and CCP personnel and government-approved monks to manage religious institutions.  The government continued to control the selection of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervised their religious and political education.  It continued to force monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology.  Religious leaders and government employees were often required to denounce the Dalai Lama and express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu.  Officials routinely made public statements denigrating the Dalai Lama and promoting the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.  President Xi visited the TAR on July 21-22, where he urged Tibetans to “follow the party.”  Authorities continued in state media to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

Some Tibetans continued to encounter societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, and traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources.

The PRC continued to tightly restrict diplomatic access to the TAR and to deny U.S. embassy in Beijing’s requests to visit the area.  No U.S. diplomats were allowed to visit the TAR during the year.  U.S. officials repeatedly raised concerns about religious freedom in Tibet with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels.  U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who was appointed in December, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officers continued sustained and concerted efforts to advocate for the rights of Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government.  U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the succession of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by the Tibetan people, free from interference, and they raised concerns about the continued disappearance of Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, missing since 1995.  During the year, the U.S. government used a variety of diplomatic tools to promote religious freedom and accountability in Tibet, including continuing visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials that it had determined to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas,” pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018.  In July, the U.S. Secretary of State met with Central Tibetan Administration representative Ngodup Dongchung in New Delhi.  In April, the Department of State spokesperson said, “We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference.”  The embassy and consulates used social media to deliver direct messaging about religious freedom in Tibet to millions of Chinese citizens.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from the 2020 estimate of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the total population of the TAR is approximately 3,648,000, of which Tibetans make up approximately 90 percent.  Han Chinese make up approximately 8 percent.  Other ethnicities comprise the remainder.  Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported.  The majority of ethnic Tibetans in the PRC live in the TAR, in Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs), and in counties in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  Official census data show Tibetans constitute approximately 24.4 percent of the total population in Qinghai Province, 2.1 percent in Sichuan Province, 1.8 percent in Gansu Province, and 0.3 percent in Yunnan Province, although the percentage of Tibetans is much higher within prefectures and counties of these provinces designated as autonomous for Tibetans.

Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion.  Small minorities practice Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism.  Some scholars estimate there are as many as 400,000 Bon followers across the Tibetan Plateau, most of whom also follow the Dalai Lama and consider themselves to be Tibetan Buddhists.  Scholars estimate there are up to 5,000 Tibetan Muslims and 700 Tibetan Catholics in the TAR.  Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include Han Chinese, many of whom practice Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Taoism, Confucianism, or traditional folk religions, or profess atheism, as well as Hui Muslims and non-Tibetan Catholics and Protestants.

Xinjiang

Read A Section: Xinjiang

CHINA | Tibet | HONG KONG | Macau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  The U.S. government estimated that since April 2017, the government has detained more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, as well as some Christians, in specially built internment camps or converted detention facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under the national counterterrorism law and the regional counterextremism policy.  Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and academics estimated the number of individuals detained in internment camps or other facilities was higher.  According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) analysis of satellite imagery data, the government built or expanded 385 detention centers between 2017 and 2021, including at least 61 between July 2019 and July 2020 and five built during the year.  Human rights NGOs and former detainees said authorities subjected individuals to forced disappearance, torture, other physical and psychological abuse, including forced sterilization and sexual abuse, forced labor, political indoctrination, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity.  There were reports that authorities moved tens of thousands of individuals from their home areas to work elsewhere in the region and the country.  During the year, multiple organizations found the government’s widespread and systematic physical abuses targeting Uyghurs amounted to crimes against humanity and its actions suppressing the group’s regenerative capacity amounted to genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention.  A legal opinion by a group of British barristers stated there was a “plausible inference” that President Xi Jinping, Zhu Hailun, Deputy Secretary of the Xinjiang People’s Congress, and Chen Quanguo, XUAR Party Secretary since 2016, each possessed “the necessary intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a group, so as to support a case against them of genocide.”  The government continued to cite what it called the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as justification for enacting and enforcing restrictions on religious practices of Muslims and members of non-Muslim religious minority groups.  In May and September, the CCP adopted Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy and Administrative Measures for Religious Schools, respectively.  These measures placed greater scrutiny and rules on clergy and religious schools to uphold CCP ideological principles.  The whereabouts of hundreds of prominent Uyghur intellectuals, religious scholars, cultural figures, doctors, journalists, artists, academics, and other professionals, in addition to many other citizens the government arrested or detained, remained unknown.  There were reports of individuals dying of injuries sustained during interrogations, medical neglect, and torture.  According to PRC government documents, eyewitness accounts, and victims’ statements, the government continued to use family separation, forced sterilization, involuntary birth control, and abortion to reduce the birthrate among Muslims.  Authorities continued to implement a variety of different methods, including home inspections, to ensure families were not observing religious practices such as praying, and it banned certain groups from observing Ramadan.  According to government sources and eyewitness accounts, the government encouraged – and in some cases required – neighbors to spy on each other.  Other surveillance included behavioral profiling and forcing Uyghurs to accept government officials and CCP members living in their homes.  Government documents revealed extensive use of surveillance cameras and security checkpoints in public spaces, including religious venues, as well as telephone, online, and financial surveillance.  In December, the “Uyghur Tribunal,” an international group of attorneys, academics, and NGO representatives, stated surveillance was so pervasive, “parts of Xinjiang have become, to some of those ethnic minorities, an open-air prison.”  Based on satellite imagery and other sources, researchers estimated authorities had destroyed, damaged, or desecrated approximately 16,000 mosques in the region (65 percent of the total), and demolished a further 30 percent of important Islamic sacred sites.  Research conducted in 2020 estimated nearly 900,000 children, including some preschool-aged children, were separated from their families and living in boarding schools or orphanages, where they studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology.  In November, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) issued a report stating the goal of these schools was to erase Uyghur cultural and religious practice from the younger generation.  International media reported that in September, state media announced the launch of the “Pomegranate Flower” program, which assigned Han children from across the country as “relatives” to maintain contact with Uyghur toddlers and young children, in what activists and analysts said was a further effort to assimilate Uyghur children and eliminate their language and culture.  Textbooks in the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, which trains imams, emphasized the need to “be grateful to the Party” and build a socialist Xinjiang.  The government continued to seek to forcibly repatriate Uyghur and other Muslim citizens from overseas and detained some of those who returned.  The government harassed and threatened Uyghurs living abroad.

Unequal treatment in society of Uyghur Muslims and Han Chinese continued in parallel with authorities’ suppression of Uyghur language, culture, and religious practices while promoting the Han majority in political, economic, and cultural life.  Muslims reported severe societal discrimination in employment and business opportunities, and in travel.  A journalist who traveled to the region reported manifestations of Uyghur culture, such as song, dance, and clothing, were packaged as tourist items for visiting Han Chinese in what one Western scholar referred to as the “museumification” of Uyghur culture.

U.S. embassy officials met with national and regional government officials to advocate for the human rights of Uyghur Muslims and members of other Muslim and non-Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.  On January 19, the then Secretary of State publicly announced a determination that since at least March 2017, the government has committed crimes against humanity and genocide against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.  On February 16 during a CNN townhall, the President said the United States would continue to speak out against human rights abuses China perpetrated against, among others, Uyghurs.  During the year, the U.S. government used a variety of diplomatic and economic tools to promote religious freedom and accountability in Xinjiang, including sanctions, visa restrictions, controls on exports and imports, and an updated business advisory raising awareness among U.S.-based companies about the risks of doing business in the region.  On June 22, the United States joined a group of 44 countries in issuing a Canada-led joint statement condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang, as well as the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Tibet.  On October 21, the United States joined a group of 43 countries in issuing a France-led joint statement condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang.  The embassy and consulates general delivered direct messages about religious freedom in Xinjiang through social media posts and promoted online engagement on the issue of religious freedom for Xinjiang’s ethnic minority Muslim populations.

Section I. Religious Demography

A June report on the XUAR issued by the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics estimates the total population is 26 million.  The report states Uyghurs, along with Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups constitute approximately 15 million residents in Xinjiang, or approximately 58 percent of the total population.  According to the report, of these, 12 million are Uyghurs.  The largest segment of the remaining population is Han Chinese (11 million, approximately 42 percent), with additional groups including Mongols, Tibetans, and others constituting less than 1 percent.  Uyghurs are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims.  The Globe and Mail reported in September 2019 that according to sources in the region, Uyghur and Han Chinese Christians likely number in the thousands.

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