BEIJING (AP) — China has begun five-day Confucian culture immersion courses for religious leaders in the sage's hometown as part of a campaign to extend government control over faith communities through a process of sinicization.
The ruling Communist Party's United Work Front Department said in a news release issued Monday that the activity was designed to ensure the primacy of traditional Chinese values above all.
"To hold activities here ... is a collective tribute to excellent traditional Chinese culture and a conscious identification and integration with Chinese culture," said the release, posted on the department's website.
Participants pledged to "cultivate the Chinese cultural character of our nation's religions so that our nation's religions are rooted in the fertile soil of excellent traditional Chinese culture, and to ceaselessly and deeply advance the Sinicization of our nation's religions," it said.
President Xi Jinping has launched the harshest crackdown in decades on religious practices, especially those viewed as foreign such as Christianity and Islam, while at the same time elevating home-grown Confucianism.
While for decades the officially atheistic Communist Party attacked Confucius as a symbol of feudalism, he has been thoroughly rehabilitated in recent years as a means of rallying patriotism and countering foreign influences.
Confucianism's emphasis on strict social organization, advancement through study and exam taking, adherence to hierarchy and maintenance of social harmony appeals especially to the heavily bureaucratic party, which brooks no challenge to its authority.
Xi has repeatedly called for religious leaders and believers to be guided by "socialist core values." Party bureaucrats overseeing religion have demanded that key religious tenets and texts such as the Bible and Quran be interpreted "in conformity with the demands of modern Chinese development and excellent traditional Chinese culture."
That's been accompanied with a campaign of removing crosses and bulldozing many churches, destroying mosques and locking an estimated 1 million Chinese Muslims in camps where they are forced to renounce Islam and their cultural traditions.
Despite international condemnation, China claims it upholds freedom of religion and is seeking only to ensure regulations are followed while discouraging religious extremism and violence.
Those participating at the launch of the five-day course included the president of the Chinese Taoist Association, vice president of the Chinese Islamic Association, chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and president of the Chinese Christian Association.
Confucius was believed to have been born in the 6th century B.C. in the eastern town of Qufu. He is credited with authoring or editing key texts of statesmanship and social order, particularly the Analects that contain his key aphorisms and teachings.
The sage's legacy is also invoked in the name of the Confucius Institutes, quasi-academic bodies set up in colleges and other centers of education around the world.
Several U.S. universities have rejected offers to open Confucius Institutes on their campuses or declined to renew contracts over concerns about Chinese government political influence.