|HONG KONG: RETURNING TO THE FOLD|
January 10, 1997
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in this forum:
Are the restrictions on China enforceable? What will life be like in Hong Kong in the year 2000? What's the prognosis for the future of the independent media in Hong Kong? How will the recording of economic data change? Will China phase out the HK dollar and replace it with the Yuan? What will be China's attitude towards the Eurocurrency market ? Has China made any specific commitment to hold free elections to parliament after the transition? What will the U.N. do if it refuses? Viewer comments
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December 17, 1996: As the Chinese defense minister tours the U.S., the NewsHour looks at human rights abuses in China.
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David J. Anderson of Mesquite, Nevada, asks:
Will those religions that currently have a place in Hong Kong be able to continue to practice their faiths?
Dr. DeGolyer reponds:
Perhaps for U.S. readers I should clarify first the nature of the place I work so that you might not get a misleading impression of my response on this question. Hong Kong Baptist University was founded by missionaries in the 1950s but was assumed by the government in 1983. It now is a Ph.D. granting university with some 4,800 graduate and undergraduate students full time and some 40,000 part time students. Two other tertiary institutions of religious nature (Lingnan College and Chung Chi College at the Chinese University) were also assumed and funded by government and have similar conditions. There is no separation of church and state in Hong Kong like that in the U.S.; it follows the British practice. Hong Kong Baptist Univ. is not a religious school, but has religious ties in the counseling service, some members of the religion department and some of their subjects, and student organizations and membership but not dominating Baptist membership on the university council. There is no religious test at the university and religious faith among the faculty and students is barely more prevalent than at any other university in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Transition Project which is headquartered at Baptist University but which has members in two other Hong Kong Universities and several overseas universities has not made religion a special focus of our research, but we do have fairly good contacts and some excellent informants among the various religious communities in Hong Kong. This response is based on the "official" position toward religion and as well on the unofficial perspectives of our informants. We also have some survey data which might be revealing on this issue.
Officially, the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC in Article 32 guarantees religious freedom, to wit: "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of conscience. Hong Kong residents shall have freedom to preach and to conduct and participate in religious activities in public." Article 141 is even more specific. The SAR government "shall not restrict the freedom of religious belief, interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or restrict religious activities which do not contravene the laws of the Region. Religious organizations shall, in accordance with law, enjoy the rights to acquire, use, dispose of and inherit property and the right to receive financial assistance." (This means get money from the government, a crucial issue for the many schools which are religiously affiliated.) They may also continue running schools and hospitals and other social services and "may maintain and develop their relations with religious organizations and believers elsewhere." However, the Basic Law itself comes under the Chinese Constitution, though the promise of "one country, two systems" has been supposed to mean that Chinese legal interpretation of such human rights will not prevail in Hong Kong after the handover. The Chinese constitution also says that citizens of the PRC "enjoy freedom to believe in religion." However, clearly the meaning of the phrase is somewhat differently interpreted or applied in China, as fairly frequent reports of religious persecution attest. Many of the religious believers in Hong Kong fled persecution in China, and thus they are understandibly more sensitive to the issues raised by your question. This question, like many others, hinges on what the "rule of law" is ultimately taken, or allowed, to mean. The ultimate power of interpreting the SAR Basic Law rests with the National People's Congress, China's rather restricted version of a parliament.
Estimates of religious affiliation in Hong Kong vary, though all religious groups and churches are registered (or supposed to register) with the state. Officially, reports estimate about a quarter million Protestants, with Baptists the single largest group, another quarter million Catholics, about 50,000 Muslims, 12,000 Hindu, 1,000 Jews, and then scattered groups of nearly every belief system every spawned. The vast majority of people claim no religion at all. Our surveys show about 10% of those 18 and above with Right of Abode in Hong Kong are regularly practicing Taoists or Buddhists and about 5% are Catholic and 10% Protestant. This is certainly a much higher proportion than in China. In Hong Kong, Catholics, Buddhists and Taoists are much more concerned about the handover than Protestants, at least in looking for correlations among religious belief and responses to some of our questions on worry about personal freedoms are concerned. Informants tell us that many Catholics have prepared "underground churches" if persecution arises post- handover and also some of the protestant groups have also prepared such contingencies. Several churches are also offering Sunday School programs on the SAR and possible challenges to religious belief. There are many Catholics who are members of the Democratic Party, or I should say many members and leaders of the Democratic Party (the largest organized political opposition) are Catholic, including Martin Lee. There are also, however, prominent religious leaders who belong to various groups characterized as pro-Beijing, including the President of Baptist University, Daniel Tse, a prominent leader in the Baptist community.
A final note, while Hong Kong religious believers are understandibly nervous about the fulfillment of promises of religious freedom by Beijing authorities, the Chinese authorities themselves have very good reasons for anxiety when it comes to the untrammeled and unsupervised practice of religion. A variant religious interpretation of western protestantism sparked perhaps the bloodiest civil war in human history in China in the 19th century, the Taiping Rebellion. Up to some 60 million people may have died in a war spanning a generation. Further, western imperial inroads into China often followed the steps of the missionaries, and religion has become associated, fairly or not, with some very deeply resented historical experiences. Certainly Hong Kong's own origin as an imperial enclave, heavily populated with adherants of foreign religions, makes many members of the Chinese government more nervous and negative about Hong Kong than its vaunted nature as a center of rampant capitalism.
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