Free, but Not so Much: New Measures to Control Believers

12 / 05 / 2019

The “five-on-one system” assigns officials and relatives to monitor each member of China’s banned religious groups who is released from custody.

Li Mingxuan

After a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) was recently released from custody, she returned home in China’s central province of Henan, hoping to get her life back. It was easier said than done. As soon as the woman got to her village, which is under the jurisdiction of Pingdingshan city, four officials – one from each the local Religious Affairs Bureau and the township government, as well as two village functionaries – immediately started keeping an eye on her 24/7. On top of that, a family member was instructed to monitor her movements and prevent her from contacting her fellow religionists.

As it turned out, the woman was named as a surveillance target of the so-called “five-on-one control system,” which was created to monitor recently released inmates who have been incarcerated for being active in a xie jiao organization, such as Falun Gong, the CAG, All Sphere Church, and alike. She was also demanded to keep her mobile phone on at all times so that the designated officials could randomly check her whereabouts or inquire about her activities and the people she meets, to make sure that she is not attending any religious meetings.

Unable to continue living under such scrutiny, the CAG member decided to leave the village and seek work elsewhere. But yet again, her freedom didn’t last long: An official from the Religious Affairs Bureau in the area where she moved immediately contacted her by phone, informing her that she would continue to be monitored.

The “five-on-one control system” is putting additional pressure on the believers of religious movements like the CAG, who are brutally persecuted already, and is spreading fast across China. Threatened with pledges of personal responsibility, local officials are rolling up their sleeves to control and suppress the religious.

“Responsibility Statement” for the work of preventing and dealing with xie jiao, issued by a locality in Heilongjiang Province in 2019. (Parts of the text in the document have been covered for security reasons.)
“Responsibility Statement” for the work of preventing and dealing with xie jiao, issued by a locality in Heilongjiang Province in 2019. (Parts of the text in the document have been covered for security reasons.)

In April, a city government in Shandong, an eastern coastal province, convened a meeting, launching a “five-on-one control system.” The assigned officials were also forced to sign “personal responsibility statements.” To prevent any information from leaking, the meeting was allegedly called to discuss the campaign of “cleaning up gang crime and eliminating evil” – a go-to disguise of the Chinese authorities to hide crackdowns on people of faith.

A government official from Shandong gave an example of the county-level city of Jiaozhou, with the population of nearly 800,000, where 1,100 targets for supervision under the “five-on-one control system” have been assigned; 200 of them have been identified as “key,” meaning that they need increased surveillance.

Those assigned to the “five-on-one control system” must ensure that their targets remain within the scope of their surveillance. If they move, the authorities in the new location should be contacted to ensure the continuation of monitoring and ideological work.

The rank and positions of the persons charged with the supervision of believers vary, but often may include an employee of a local police station in charge of political work, the head of a subdistrict office, the village Party branch secretary, or functionaries of CCP-related organizations, like the director of a village’s Women’s Federation.

According to an internal document obtained by Bitter Winter, a local government in the northern province of Shanxi demanded that along with the launch of the “five-on-one” system, low-level government officials sign “target responsibility statements” to combat the CAG. The assigned officials are instructed to “promptly ascertain believers’ movements” and regularly hold “legal education classes.” A detailed file should be created for each believer under supervision, indicating his or her ID information, education, and alike. The data should be updated regularly, detailing the “transformation progress,” evaluation conclusions, and so on.

“Target Responsibility Statement” for preventing and combating xie jiao organizations, issued by a locality in Shanxi Province in 2018. (Parts of the text in the document have been covered for security reasons.)


A CAG believer from Shandong’s Zibo city reported that after his release from prison, he was regularly visited and photographed by personnel from the neighborhood committee and the police station. The police enter his home at any time, without any warning. His family members have also been instructed to keep a close eye on him. If they find out that other believers have contacted him, they are obliged to report to the police. If any proof were found that he continues his religious activities, he would be arrested again and receive an aggravated sentence, while his relatives’ employment could be terminated. The threatened family members are questioning him after each phone call, even from his non-religious friends, or goes to visit his parents for an hour or two.



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