Kids can’t go to church in China… Can they?

Jerry Grey
4 min readJan 20, 2023

I received a question the other day in response to the script related to the video on religious freedoms. The question was this:

“I’ve heard that China disallows you to proselytize minors — Meaning you can’t even convert your own child to your faith, they need to be 18 & make their own decisions. According to the claim made re Chinese law. What’s your knowledge about this, if you don’t mind?”

I’d like to thank Kevin Wayne, from my Medium.com following for this great, and very politely worded question

I did write to Kevin an extensive answer in response but felt it was something that I should put onto Jerry’s Take on China as a video as well. The answer is: No, it’s not true at all.

Religious freedom, as the article and video says and supported by a link to the Constitution, is constitutionally guaranteed in China.

I’ve asked several people for their thoughts on this and I’ve checked the legal statutes online. Legally there is nothing to discuss — it’s allowed, end of story. Societally, there seems to be a slightly different point of view when I asked my wife her first words were rather loudly, “of course you can’t force a kid who doesn’t really know what they’re thinking to follow a religion, they must be 18 and make their own decisions” And, she went on: “what about their human rights, must they be forced to believe something they don’t understand?” It’s a fair point.

My wife, as I’ve mentioned, is a Buddhist, she discovered Buddhism in her late 40s and feels it was the correct time for her but several other people (all Chinese) have borne out her opinion on this. Kids should be allowed freedom of choice when they’re mature enough to choose.

So, what about kids in Church and I can attest, kids go in and out of Church all the time, I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. Catholic churches do baptisms, Confirmations, First Confessions and Holy Communion, again, I’ve seen some of this with my own eyes.

However, as with all things about China, there is a skerrick of truth which is either misinterpreted, misrepresented or just misinformation and this is no exception.

All schools including private or internationally owned schools are forbidden to teach religion and so, people outside of China who want to paint China as evil, do so by telling evangelists, particularly US evangelists, who seem to be so gullible, that children aren’t allowed religion — there’s even a statute they can call upon to “prove” their point. There is a law forbidding religion in school and forbidding enforcing others to believe your God (proselytizing). But at age 18 any student can choose a seminary, Islamic Institution or theological college, many of which exist in China. I don’t like to use Wikipedia as a source but there is also a list on there of all the religious training institutes in China — it’s a long list..

Now, let’s think about the logic of this claim that children are forbidden:

The same people who say this, will tell you that China controls the church and chooses what priest are allowed to say, right? If that were true, think about these three facts:

1) Surely children would be the most susceptible and easily influenced by a Priest, Vicar or Imam

2) Most children go to church with their parents and they trust their parents, so they would automatically trust the people their parents trust and that would be religious leaders

3) Those trusted religious leaders are enforced by this evil dictatorship to say what they want them to say

So, why on earth would China not encourage people to go to church from an early age to be indoctrinated into obedient little servants of a God which they would have you believe is subservient to the Party?

The fact is, none of that is true, religious freedom means exactly that, the Party does not control the sermons, what it does, like anywhere else in the world, is that it has laws that can’t be breached, or shouldn’t be. Religious leaders can’t encourage anti-State ideals, they can’t encourage violence, sedition or terrorism. They aren’t allowed to break or encourage others to break any laws that affect the harmony of society and they are encouraged to support a harmonious and helpful congregation.

And, if we think about it, there shouldn’t need to have laws to encourage people who follow God’s laws but let’s be honest, almost every war in history has been started due to religion and, particularly in Chinese history, many of the horrific things have occurred used God, Jesus or Allah as justification and this goes back a long way further than the issues of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims.

Take a look at the Muslim rebellion of 200 years ago and then the Boxer Rebellion and the Taiping Rebellion were also religious based although the Boxer is a lot more complicated it was assuredly Christian converts who were involved in inciting and leading the insurrection. Taiping was less complicated because it was just a disillusioned young man who failed Civil Service requirements but then decided he was the brother of Jesus and therefore another son of God.

Given the history, and what the allied nations, often using God as their justification, did to China and the tens of millions of deaths caused by religious beliefs, it’s hardly a surprise that there is some degree of control but there is no restriction on following the pope, Allah, Buddha or believing in your own Gods.

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Jerry Grey

I’m British born Australian living in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write mostly positively about my China experiences