Accepted paper:

The rule of law with Chinese characteristics: legal indeterminacy in the PRC's management of religion

Author:

Maja Veselič (University of Ljubljana)

Paper short abstract:

This paper scrutinizes religious legislation in the People's Republic of China through the concept of legal indeterminacy and examines the different meanings attached to the rule of law in the cultural and political context of contemporary China.

Paper long abstract:

This paper scrutinizes religious legislation in the People's Republic of China, in particular the 2005 Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA) through the concept of legal indeterminacy. Part of a broader government endeavour to introduce the rule of law, the purpose of RRA has been to systemize and homogenize previously scattered religious regulations, to integrate them with other laws that touch upon religious affairs, and to increase the transparency of registration of religious organizations, venues and personnel. Although it was hoped that the final document would be proclaimed as a national law, giving the right of its interpretation to the National People's Congress, it eventually became an administrative regulation, promulgated by the State Council (i.e. government). While the RRA does partly restrain the intervention of officials in management of religious affairs, it also continues to use arbitrary legal concepts, most notably that of 'normal religious activities', as its key guiding principles. RRA implementation is analyzed in order to argue that the final determination of (il)legality of religious activities ultimately remains - not unlike in the traditional China - with the ruler(s). As examples related to Islam show, completely identical activities may be permitted in one place while banned in the other, depending on their perceived usefulness or threat to authorities. Finally, an examination of arguments put forward by various parties in the dispute over registration of an underground protestant church in Beijing reveals the different meanings attached to the rule of law in the cultural and political context of contemporary China.

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