The ruling Chinese Communist Party is pushing ahead with an ever-widening ban on religious activity among government employees, including schoolteachers and medical personnel, RFA has learned.
Teachers working in high schools in some parts of the eastern province of Zhejiang are being asked to sign a letter pledging to hold no religious beliefs, Protestant Christians said.
The move is linked to a recent visit to Wenzhou city, whose numerous Christian churches have earned it the nickname "China's Jerusalem," by investigators from central government in Beijing, a Zhejiang-based Christian said.
"[Authorities in Wenzhou's] Ouhai district put out a short video that was mentioned when the schools were holding their meetings," the Christian said. "It was saying that teachers mustn't hold any religious beliefs, and particularly that they mustn't proselytize in schools."
"Now all the schools are requiring teachers not to follow any religion, because there is an investigation team from the central government in Zhejiang from mid-September to around Oct. 10," he said.
"They will probably be carrying out incognito visits to schools to see if this is happening, so all the schools are holding meetings [about it]," he added.
Photos posted to social media of a "Teacher’s Commitment Letter" issued to teachers at a school in Yueqing requires them to "adhere to the correct political direction, promote atheism, firmly establish a Marxist religious outlook, not believe in any religion, and not teach any religious knowledge to students."
If the signatory is found in violation of these rules, they are "willing to accept punishment," the letter says.
Christian believers say the crackdown on religious belief among teachers comes alongside increasingly probing questions asked of students, who are being issued forms to fill in with personal details.
Students who tick the box owning up to religious beliefs, as opposed to "no religious beliefs," will be called in for a "chat," a Christian church member from Rui'an district of Wenzhou told RFA.
"The students can no longer tick the box that says they hold religious beliefs; they're not allowed to be Christians," the church member said. "If you tick the box saying you do have a religion, you will have to be interviewed by the school."
Similar "letters of commitment" are being handed out to healthcare professionals in Yueqing, local residents said.
Medical staff at the Yueqing Maternal and Child Health Hospital were recently issued with a letter requiring them to pledge not to follow any religion or participate in religious activities, according to a copy seen by RFA.
"Medical staff must discover, stop, and report violations of laws and discipline with regard to religion to police or administrative departments in a timely manner, including their family members, children, relatives, friends and neighbors," the letter says.
Any staff organizing or participating in religious activities in the hospital may be fired if the circumstances are judged to be "serious," the letter says.
Staff are also banned from wearing any clothing linked to any form of religious belief, and may subjected to "education." Further offenses will be penalized by dismissal, it says.
A second pledge letter posted to social media requires medical staff to "pledge to strictly conduct themselves in accordance with the standards set out in the party charter, strengthen their ideals and beliefs, enhance party spirit and strengthen party discipline."
An official who answered the phone at the Yueqing government's health department declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.
"Sorry, we can't give you an interview because we have no way to verify your identity," the official said.
'Veil torn aside'
A Protestant pastor in Hangzhou city who asked to remain anonymous said the banning of religious beliefs is continuing across schools and medical facilities in Zhejiang.
"Yes, this is actually happening," the pastor said. "And now [the authorities] are being very obvious about it, whereas before they tried to hide what they were doing."
"The veil has been completely torn aside now, and the [anti-religion movement] is spreading through schools and hospitals, and anywhere that is under [government] control," he said. "There is less and less room for religion to spread now."
Similar moves are afoot in the eastern province of Jiangxi, a Protestant church member told RFA.
"Hospitals in Xinyu now have banners and notices up [about this], while teachers in schools are banned from following religion," the church member said.
Health authorities in Jiangxi's Wanzai county issued an "emergency notice" all medical and healthcare facilities calling on them to set up a mechanism "to prevent religious beliefs among medical personnel," and another to punish offenders.
Hospitals were ordered to report back on their progress by Sept. 3, the notice said.
Schools in Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Henan have already asked students to register any religious beliefs, as well as carrying out a census of churches, their sources of funding and possible links to overseas organizations.
Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.