Religion Should Be 'Chinese in Orientation,' China's President Xi Says

The hammer and sickle of the Chinese Communist Party above Xi Jinping, with red drapes and the Communist Party assembled.

On Wednesday, China's President Xi Jinping gave a 3.5 hour speech, laying out a comprehensive — and nigh totalitarian — view of the Communist Party's control over all aspects of Chinese life going forward. His remarks also threatened religion in the country, undermining hopes of collaboration between Xi and Pope Francis.

"Ideology determines the direction a culture should take and the path it should follow as it develops," Xi declared. He stipulated that religion must be "Chinese in orientation," and guided by the party to adopt to socialist society.

Xi's speech was pivotal, as it opened the 5-year gathering of the Communist Party, which is expected to name him the leader for the next five years. There are even rumors that Xi will buck tradition, refusing to promote a next-generation leader to take his place at the party's helm at the end of the next five years.

The Chinese president set out his new book, an ideological contribution to the Communist Party's intellectual canon: "Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era." One official at the gathering described it as the "third milestone" in the party's "ideological innovation," following Mao Zedong's Thought and Deng Xiaoping's Theory.

The ideological focus is no accident. In the run-up to the 5-year congress, popular talk shows and costume dramas were taken off the air by order of the government, turning the media to focus on propaganda and anti-Japanese war films, The Washington Post reported.

These remarks seemed to spell doom for hopes of a formal rapprochement between the Chinese government and the Vatican. The Communist Party does not recognize Pope Francis' authority over the estimated 12 million Roman Catholics in China.

Xi's demand that religion be "Chinese in orientation" only scratches the surface of his ideological attempts to dominate the country. Last month, the Communist Party ordered schools to intensify efforts to promote "Chinese traditional and socialist culture," The New York Times reported. The government is pushing indoctrination in Communism and Chinese patriotism.

Some parents and educators have attacked such lessons as an anachronistic distraction from an essential modern education in math, science, and the liberal arts. Even math classes are drenched in Communist Party history, with students being asked to calculate the distance of the Long March, Mao's 1934-1936 retreat across China, for example.

"Today's life is rich, blessed, happy and joyous," Xie Hong, a fourth-grade teacher, told her students. "Where does our happy life come from? Who gave it to us?"

"It comes from the blood of revolutionary martyrs! From the Red Army!" 9-year-old Li Jiacheng declared, to applause from the classroom and a broad smile from his teacher.