Thursday, October 21, 2004

From combined dispatches

BEIJING — China plans to allow more autonomy for religious groups and curb arbitrary state interference in their activities, a Religious Affairs Bureau official said.

Zhang Xunmou, director of the Religious Affairs Bureau’s policy and legal department, said Tuesday the old pattern of handling religious affairs by administrative decree would be replaced with clear rules limiting officials’ powers, the South China Morning Post reported Wednesday.

The new policy would define the rights and obligations of both the officials and the groups they administer, Mr. Zhang said. He described the approach as a “paradigm shift.”

Mr. Zhang was speaking at a two-day international conference in Beijing on religion and law that ended Tuesday. He said limiting state authority over religion was a revolutionary concept in Chinese history.

In another development, middle schools in Shanghai will recommend that students spend their spare time reading kung fu novels and the Bible — a policy that has some parents worried, Shanghai Daily reported Tuesday.

The Shanghai Education Commission’s academic research office would recommend the Old Testament and tales by Jin Yong, China’s most popular writer of kung fu novels, the newspaper reported.

“Officials point out that the list is just a recommendation and students aren’t required to read the books,” the paper said.

Previous recommendations for spare-time reading included Chinese classics such as “A Dream of Red Mansions” as well as some Western literature.

“Finally, they changed the recommended list,” Wang Wengjia, a student in Shanghai, was quoted as saying. “We are no longer asked to only read those monotonous classics.”

Parents appeared less happy, though.

“I don’t want my young son getting involved in religion too early,” one mother was quoted as saying. “Reading the Bible at such an age is no good for him.”

Nine local primary and secondary schools also plan to use modern movies such as “Shrek” in their literature courses this term, the newspaper said.

“The films are supposed to help students better understand the literary works they are studying, although some of the films, such as ‘Shrek,’ weren’t exactly adapted from Shakespeare,” Shanghai Daily noted.

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