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Can foreigners conduct religious activities in China?

Photo courtesy of US Navy

Although China is officially a secular country, residents – including expats - are permitted to practice religious beliefs in the country (with the exception of 11 cults, listed at the bottom of the article). However, when it comes to conducting religious services or trying to convert others, things become a little more complicated…


What you can do 

  • Under Chinese law, foreigners are allowed to participate as worshippers in a religious activity or ceremony conducted in an officially registered place of worship, such as a mosque, church, Buddhist or Taoist temple etc.
  • Foreigners can preach or give sermons in such locations if they have been invited by religious organizations above province, autonomous region or municipality levels – that is, not just individual places of worship – and can enter China with official ‘clergy’ status. They will need an F Visa applicable for six months or less.
  • If a foreign clergy member enters China on with another status, such as on a tourist visa, and he or she is then invited by a suitably high-up religious body to preach or give sermons, he or she must obtain an agreement from a religious affairs department above province level; the religious body should be able to help with this. 
  • Foreigners can host or preside over group religious activities in legally registered places of worship, or temporary places of worship appointed by religious affairs departments above province, autonomous region or municipality level, but only if none of the congregation are mainland Chinese citizens. Congregations containing foreigners of Chinese heritage, or citizens of Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macao are not a problem. The exception to this rule is if the foreigner is invited by a Chinese religious organization, in which case mainland Chinese worshippers are not an issue.


What you can’t do  

  • Foreigners cannot found any religious organizations, set up religious offices, set up religious activity areas or open any religious schools or training classes. 
  • Foreigners cannot persuade mainland Chinese people into believing in a religion. 
  • Foreigners cannot preach or perform in religious activity locations without being invited by a religious organization. 
  • Foreigners cannot hold any religious activities in religious places that are not legally registered with the religious affairs office. 
  • Foreigners cannot intervene in the set up of, or subsequent changes to, Chinese religious organizations or places of worship; they cannot intervene in the appointment of, or changes in positions of clergy members decided by Chinese religious organizations; and they cannot intervene or dominate any other internal affairs of Chinese religious organizations. 
  • Foreigners cannot enter China with religious printed materials, audio-visual products or articles for purposes other than their own self-use; these materials cannot contain anything that might jeopardize China’s national security or public interest. 
  • Foreigners cannot create or sell religious print materials, audiovisual products and electronic publications, or other articles for religious use.
  • Foreigners cannot distribute religious propaganda material in China or to Chinese people. 
  • Foreigners cannot recruit people to study abroad for religious training purposes. 



If a foreigner in China breaches the relevant regulations regarding religious activity, the religious affairs office has the authority to intervene and stop the unlawful act. If the behavior is severe enough and constitutes a crime, the judicial department can look into criminal liability according to law, the fallout from which may vary depending on the case. 


Banned cults in China 

The 11 active cults recognized and banned by the China Anti-cult Association, and punishable by re-education (for followers) and prosecution (for organizers) are:

  1. Falun Gong (法轮功)
  2. Quanneng Shen or ‘The Almighty God’ (全能神/东方闪电)
  3. Huhan Pai or ‘The Shouters’ (呼喊派)
  4. Mentu Hui (门徒会)
  5. Tongyi Jiao (统一教)
  6. Guanyin Famen (观音法门)
  7. Xueshui Shenling (血水圣灵)
  8. Quanfanwei Jiaohui (全范围教会)
  9. Sanban Puren Pai (三班仆人派)
  10. Lingxian Zhen Fozong  (灵仙真佛宗)
  11. Zhonghua Dalu Xingzheng Zhishi Zhan (中华大陆行政执事站)


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