Religious Affairs Bureau (State Administration for Religious Affairs)

Formerly known as the Religious Affairs Bureau, the State Administration for Religious Affairs or SARA (Guojia zongjiaoju) is the government bureau charged with implementing the state’s religion policies and enforcing official regulations. Headquartered in Beijing, SARA is administered by the State Council and its policies dictated by the United Front Work Department of the Party. It has branches from the national level on down to the municipal and district levels. Its institutionalization at lower levels varies widely. Offices in provincial capitals, major cities and sensitive regions are well staffed and highly bureaucratized. In many small cities, villages and most rural areas, however, SARA has a minimal presence, and it is not uncommon for its entire portfolio to be managed by a single cadre with other responsibilities.
SARA is responsible for registering venues for religious activities and conducting annual inspections of them. It also retains ‘administrative control’ over all religious organizations (see religious policies of the state). In practice, this means that religious organizations may not act as autonomous legal entities, but must go through SARA to reclaim properties, obtain permits from other ministries, and so forth.
SARA is also charged with authorizing religious professionals. In practice, SARA cadres often tap politically loyal figures within religious circles, or SARA may even appoint its own cadres to leadership positions within the patriotic religious organizations. SARA is also responsible for monitoring religious activities to ensure that their content, locale and leaders are in conformity with official regulations.
SARA’s political orientation has become increasingly conservative since the appointment of Ye Xiaowen as its director in 1995. Formerly an official in the Communist Youth League, Ye attracted the attention of Party leaders by writing treatises which advocated enhanced Party-state control over religion. Shortly after his appointment, Ye Xiaowen instructed an assembly of cadres at the annual SARA conference that the government’s objective is not merely ‘registration for its own sake’, but is to assume ‘control over places for religious activities as well as over all religious activities themselves’. Ye’s remarks were published in the People’s Consultative Conference News on 1 February 1996 in a section entitled ‘Religion and the Nation’ under the title ‘Stress Three Matters’ (see Tripod 16.92:45–50 for a translation).
Ye, Xiaowen (1996). ‘China’s Current Religious Question: Once Again, an Inquiry into the Five Characteristics of Religion’ (22 March). Selection of Reports of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, no. 5. [Reprinted in Chinese Law and Government 33.2 (2000): 75–100].
JASON KINDOPP

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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