Freedom of religion in the People's Republic of China is provided for by the country's constitution; however, the Government, possibly because freedom of religion demands freedom of assembly, restricts religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship. The constitution forbids religious practices that cause "disruption" or "harm" to society. There are five registered religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.
A government-affiliated association monitors the activities of each of the five faiths. In cities such as Shanghai, a significant number of non-sanctioned churches and temples exist, attended by locals and foreigners alike. China does not permit "foreign domination" of religious affairs and religious bodies, due to fears of past colonialism and imperialism on the part of foreign missionaries.
Religious groups are required to register with the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA, formerly known as the central Religious Affairs Bureau) or its provincial and local offices (still known as Religious Affairs Bureaus (RABs)). SARA and the RABs are responsible for monitoring and judging the legitimacy of religious activity.
Christianity has been a growing minority religion for over 400 years. Growth has been more significant since the loosening of restrictions on religion after the 1970s within the People's Republic. Religious practices are still often tightly controlled by government authorities. Chinese over age 18 in Mainland China are permitted to be involved with officially sanctioned Christian meetings through the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Associations.
In the People's Republic of China (PRC), Roman Catholicism is officially banned. The Chinese government demands that all Chinese Catholics must be loyal to the state, and that worship may only be legally conducted through State-approved churches, which means the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association". Catholics are pressured to break communion with the Vatican by requiring them to renounce an essential belief in Roman Catholicism, the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. Catholics loyal to the pope currently worship clandestinely, out of fear of imprisonment. The PRC allows only state-approved candidates to be consecrated as bishops, and so-far the Vatican has not recognized the legitimacy of any of their bishops.
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement, National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China; the Three-Self Church) or "TSPM" is the government-sanctioned ("patriotic") Christian organization in the People's Republic of China. Known in combination with the China Christian Council as the lianghui, they form the only state-sanctioned ("registered") Protestant church in mainland China.
Chinese house churches are a religious movement of unregistered assemblies of Christians in the People's Republic of China, which operate independently of the government-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC) for Protestant groups and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CCPA) and the Chinese Catholic Bishops Council (CCBC) for Catholics. They are also known as the "Underground" Church or the "Unofficial" Church, although this is somewhat of a misnomer as they are collections of unrelated individual churches rather than a single unified church. They are called "house churches" because as they are not officially registered organizations, they cannot independently own property and hence they meet in private houses, often in secret for fear of arrest or imprisonment.
The People's Republic of China took full control of Tibet in 1959. In the wake of the takeover and especially during the cultural revolution many monasteries were destroyed and many monks and laypeople killed. The 14th Dalai Lama fled to India and has since ceded temporal power to an elected government-in-exile. The current Dalai Lama has attempted to negotiate with the Chinese authorities for greater autonomy and religious freedom for Tibet. As various high-ranking Lamas in the country have died, the authorities have attempted to force their own candidates on the religious authorities, which has led at times to rival claimants to the same position. In an effort to control this, the Chinese government passed a law in 2007 requiring a Reincarnation Application be completed and approved for all lamas wishing to reincarnate.
The present incarnation of the Panchen Lama is disputed. The Dalai Lama—who alone has historically enjoyed the right of officially recognizing the Panchen Lama—recognises Gedhun Choekyi Nyima; however, the Chinese government recognises Gyaincain Norbu as the incarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama. Exile Tibetan sources allege that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was kidnapped by the Chinese government. The identity of the Panchen Lama is of critical importance to Tibetan Buddhism because it is he who will officially recognize the next Dalai Lama.(See also State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5)
Falun Gong has been the focus of international attention since July 20, 1999, when the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) began a nationwide crackdown, except in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. The Chinese government banned the group for allegedly engaging in "illegal activities, advocating superstition and spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances, and jeopardizing social stability." Several governments, international human rights organizations and scholars consider the ban a human rights violation. Particular concerns have been raised over reports of torture, beatings, executions, illegal imprisonment, forced labour, psychiatric abuses, and live organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Amnesty stated that "the crackdown is politically motivated, with legislation being used retroactively to convict people on politically-driven charges, and new regulations introduced to further restrict fundamental freedoms."