Authorities in China started a training program for censors and monitors to keep track of non-government sponsored religious content on their controlled internet.
The Zhejiang provincial ethnic and religious affairs commission on March 21 released a new directive that announced the launch of online training sessions for "religious content reviewers," who are tasked to crack down on non-government religious content in China's heavily regulated internet. The mass training program for censors will include sessions on the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) religious policy.
According to Radio Free Asia, a Protestant pastor by the name of Liu Yi, who now resides in California but served a Zhejiang church for many years, explained that the new policy is yet another extension of control by the CCP over religious activity in China. Liu explained that during the CCP's early days, there already had been Protestant and Catholic church officials who "[monitored] the preaching and Bible study carried out by the pastors [and priests]."
"They would report the church to the authorities if they found any so-called anti-socialist content," Liu explained. "This kind of spying has always existed among religious groups in China [under the CCP]."
An official at the Zhejiang religious affairs commission by the name of An Xuanxuan explained that the provincial government is recruiting individuals who will monitor all types of religious content in China's internet, including Chrisitan and Islamic content. He said, "Any religious information service or religious website has to be licensed and [its staff] trained."
But the Chinese government reasoned that the online training was launched in response to the COVID pandemic, to avoid face-to-face contact. Liu said that Chinese authorities are now demonstrating their control over religious content online as churches and religious organizations have resorted to communicating online due to the COVID pandemic. He said that the Chinese government now needs these censors and monitors to "report back on any religious activities online."
The Chinese government's move to launch a mass training program for censors comes after it released a new set of rules targeting non-government sponsored religious content online on March 1. The new rules mandated that no individual or organization is allowed to establish religious groups online or conduct religious schooling or ceremonies, or even to recruit new members.
Liu remarked, "This is mainly aimed at the activities of some individuals and of unofficial churches. It is putting further pressure on the ability of people to preach online." He added that only Protestant churches who have registered with the CCP's official Three-Self Patriotic Church may publish content online.
The Zhejiang commission said that for the mass training program for censors, they were looking for "religious studies graduates, clerical personnel, religious studies researchers in institutes and other trainees with similar experience." The courses have already started but the commission is still accepting applicants.
But according to Liu, the program is not limited to just Zhejiang, but nationwide across China as well. In fact, similar advertisements for training programs for censors targeting non-government sponsored religious content online have surfaced in Jilin, Heilongjiang, Guangdong, Guangxi, Shanghai, Yunnan, Shandong, Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu, Sichuan, Guangdong, Anhui and Tianjin.
In an announcement in Tianjin dated March 7, Chinese authorities said that its training program courses will include modules on President Xi Jinping';s political thought, including ""socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era," "socialist core values," and "important remarks from general secretary Xi Jinping on religion."
China has intensified its crackdown on Christian house churches throughout the years and in 2021, the charity organization China Aid declared the year as one of the worst for religious freedom in the country, the Church Times reported. Evidence of such are the schools that are run by house churches that have been shuttered and even the home-schooled teenagers from Christian families who have been arrested during raids.