Chinese authorities have launched a mass training program for censors to scrub non-governmental religious content from the tightly controlled Chinese internet.
According to a March 21 directive issued by Zhejiang Province’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission, online training sessions will begin for prospective “religious content reviewers,” including sessions on religious policy and regulation under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Protestant pastor Liu Yi, who now lives in California, worked for a church in Zhejiang for many years and said the new policy is an extension of already tight controls on all forms of religious activity in China.
“At the beginning of the CCP regime, there was [religious affairs] leaders of Protestant and Catholic churches, overseeing preaching and Bible study conducted by pastors [and priests]“, Liu told RFA.
“They would report the church to the authorities if they found any so-called anti-socialist content,” he said. “This type of espionage has always existed among religious groups in China. [under the CCP].”
An Xuanxuan, an official who answered the phone at the Zhejiang Religious Affairs Commission on Tuesday, said the provincial government was hiring people to monitor all kinds of religious content, including Christian and Islamic content.
“Any religious information service or religious website must be licensed and [its staff] trained,” An told RFA.
The online training was launched to avoid face-to-face contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Liu, authorities are now expanding their control over religious content online as churches and other religious organizations have increasingly moved online during the pandemic.
“Anyone can post on social media, that’s why the government needs these people, to oversee that,” he said. “They want them to monitor and report on all religious activity online.”
New set of rules
The move comes after a new set of rules governing religious content online came into force on March 1, 2022.
According to the rules, no individual or organization is allowed to create online religious groups, or conduct online religious classes or ceremonies, or recruit new followers.
Foreign organizations and individuals are also prohibited from posting religious content on the Internet in China.
“It mainly targets the activities of certain individuals and unofficial churches,” Liu said. “It puts additional pressure on people’s ability to preach online.”
He said only Protestant churches that join the official body of the CCP’s Three-Self Patriotic Church can post any kind of content online.
The Zhejiang training program said it was looking for religious studies graduates, office staff, religious studies researchers at institutes and other trainees with similar experience.
Although classes have already started, registration will continue, with new students allowed to start at any time.
Liu said the program is not limited to Zhejiang, however.
“The training and testing of online religious content reviewers is not just happening in Zhejiang; it also happens all over the country,” he said.
So far, similar advertisements have been seen on the official government websites of Jilin, Heilongjiang, Guangdong, Guangxi, Shanghai, Yunnan, Shandong, Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu, Sichuan, of Guangdong, Anhui and Tianjin.
The announcement in Tianjin dated March 7 said the course in that city will also include modules on the political thought of CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping on “socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era”, “core values Socialists” and “General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Remarks on Religion,” as well as relevant laws and regulations.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.