China Bans Religious Gatherings for Children in Muslim Province

This picture taken on July 24, 2013 shows children sitting in temporary shelter after earthquakes hit the area in Minxian county in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu province. Authorities in Linxia, another county in Gansu, have banned children from attending religious events over the winter break. The area is mostly populated by Muslims. Getty

China's government has banned children from attending religious events over the winter break in Linxia, a predominantly Muslim county in the province of Gansu, as the Chinese Communist Party ramps up control of religious education.

The district's education bureau announced in a notice online that all school students in the area were prohibited from entering religious buildings over their holiday break.

Students must also not read scriptures in classes or in religious buildings, the bureau said, adding that all students and teachers should heed the notice and work to strengthen political ideology and propaganda.

A man who answered the telephone at the Linxia education bureau hung up when Reuters asked about the notice and a woman at the district education bureau declined to comment on the document's authenticity.

Xi Wuyi, a Marxist scholar at the state-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and an outspoken critic of rising Islamic influence in China, shared the picture and welcomed the apparent move by the authorities.

With the notice, the county was taking concrete action to keep religion and education separate and sticking strictly to education law, she said on the Weibo social media platform.

New regulations on religious affairs released in October last year, and due to take effect in February, aim to increase oversight of religious education, and provide for greater regulation of religious activities.

Last Tuesday, a large team of People's Armed Police demolished a church with dynamite in the city of Linfen, Shanxi province. It was the second time in the past month that a church had been torn down in the area.

Over the summer, a Sunday School ban was introduced in the southeastern city of Wenzhou, sometimes known as "China's Jerusalem" due to its large Christian population, but Christian parents found ways to teach their children about their religion regardless.

Chinese law officially grants religious freedom for all but regulations on education and protection of minors. It also says religion cannot be used to hinder state education or to "coerce" children to believe.

Authorities in troubled parts of China, such as the far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Turkic-speaking Uighur Muslim minority, ban children from attending religious events. But religious communities elsewhere rarely face blanket restrictions.

Fear of Muslims influence has grown in China in recent years, sparked in part by violence in Xinjiang.

The Chinese-speaking Hui, who are culturally more similar to the Han Chinese majority than to Uighurs, have also come under scrutiny from some intellectuals who fear creeping Islamic influence on society.