-By International Campaign for Tibet
Controls on Tibetan Buddhist monasteries look set to tighten with the coming into force of China’s “Measures for the Financial Management of Religious Activity Sites.” The measures jointly formulated by China’s National Administration for Religious Affairs and Ministry of Finance come into effect today, June 1, 2022.
This latest legal instrument—in accordance with the Religious Affairs Regulation promulgated in 2017—to control the finances of religious activity sites replaces the “Measures on the Supervision and Management of Financial Affairs for Religious Activities (Trial)” promulgated in 2010.
Over the years, the Chinese state has promulgated various regulations to bring Tibetan monasteries and monastics under tighter control of the state, including oversight of financial affairs of monasteries. These are the second measures related to religion that have come into effect in the first half of this year after the “Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Service” in March 2022.
The measures apply to all religious venues in the People’s Republic of China, but the effect will be more intense in Tibet owing to the crucial role monasteries and nunneries play as the cultural and social hub in Tibetan society. Seemingly like regulations on religious sites across the world, the measures in Tibet are in alignment with the purpose of accelerating the Communist Party of China’s “Sinicization” of Tibetan Buddhism and its institutions.
In contrast to the traditional Tibetan management model of monasteries, which gives significant autonomy to the administrators to run the monasteries according to the needs of society and the religious and academic priorities of the monastery, provisions in the new measures are geared toward bringing the religious sites under tighter control of the state and its institutions.
To date, the Communist Party and the government of China have been relatively unsuccessful in controlling the financial affairs of Tibetan monasteries. Although the trial version of the measures has been in effect for the past 12 years, the monastics have resisted official attempts to enforce the measures. The latest measures aim to remove legal grey areas and have a higher chance of enforcement in the wake of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on “law-based” governance.
Unlike the trial measures promulgated in 2010 (which had nine chapters and 40 articles), the new measures with 10 chapters and 55 articles are elaborate. State oversight has been strengthened purportedly for “internal management mechanisms” by adding a chapter on “Financial Management Institutions and Personnel” and tightening the “supervision mechanism” by adding the financial department’s “guidance and supervision duties.”
The role of the finance ministry in the financial management of religious activity sites has been significantly increased by the new measures. In the 2010 trial measures, the Finance Ministry’s role was not specified. The new measures reflect closer coordination between the Finance Ministry and the Religious Affairs Department in the financial management of religious sites.
Although in Tibet, it is understood that the Religious Affairs Department requires registration of monasteries, the International Campaign for Tibet believes it has not been stipulated in any of the regulations prior to the new measures. While the measures stipulate the Religious Affairs Department as the registration management authority (Article 4), the Regulation Governing Venues for Religious Activities promulgated in 1994 only stipulate that “Registration is required for the establishment of a venue for religious activities. The registration procedure will be decided by the Religious Affairs Bureau of the State Council” (Article 2).
Similarly, the new measures specify that the religious affairs department and financial departments shall “guide” and “supervise” the financial management of monasteries (Article 7). In comparison, the 2010 trial measures ambiguously state that “the registration and management organs of religious sites shall guide and supervise the financial management of religious activity sites” (Article 7). Click here to read more.