Religion Bulletin, March 2022: Government Recaps 30 Years Of Control Over Cao Dai

Religion Bulletin, March 2022: Government Recaps 30 Years Of Control Over Cao Dai
The Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) works with Cao Dai religious organizations in Long An (left) and Kien Giang provinces. Photo: GCRA. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

[The Government’s Reach]

The government conducts work with a series of Cao Dai organizations to recap 30 years of Party control

In March 2022, government working groups met with several Cao Dai organizations in Da Nang, Ben Tre, Tay Ninh, Long An, Kien Giang, and Tien Giang. [1][2][3][4]

State media said the working groups were inspection teams of the Central Project Steering Committee, focused on "Recapping 30 years of implementing Circular No. 34-TB/TW dated November 14, 1992, of the Party Central Committee Secretariat on working policy towards the Cao Dai religion".

Circular 34-TB/TW enunciates the three views of the Party-State towards the Cao Dai religion: [5]

  • Discourage the development of religions, including Cao Dai
  • Prevent Cao Dai sects from establishing any state administrative apparatuses and do not allow cross-country unification of Cao Dai sects in any form.
  • Prevent […] and defeat the activities of reactionaries and those overseas who take advantage of the Cao Dai religion to oppose the state

The leaders of these working groups were all high-ranking state officials: in Tay Ninh Province, it was Deputy Minister of Public Security Luong Tam Quang; in Ben Tre Province, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang; in Da Nang, Vice Chairman of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front’s Central Committee Ngo Sach; and in Long An, Kien Giang and Tien Giang provinces, head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) Vu Hoai Bac.
The inspection team and local government officials in Kien Giang Province work with Bach Y Cao Dai Church dignitaries and functionaries in Mong Tho Commune (Chau Thanh Suburban District). Photo: GCRA.

The specific content of the work sessions was not reported in detail by the media. For example, the working group in the provinces of Long An, Kien Giang and Tien Giang stated that it would assist practitioners in solving religious problems but did not specify which problems.

The government's continued strict application of Circular 34-TB/TW contradicts the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion provisions, which allow religions the right to "establish, divide, separate, merge, and consolidate affiliated religious organizations”.

Cao Dai is a religion indigenous to Vietnam. After 1975, the government banned this religion until the 1990s due to its anti-Communist history. To this day, the Cao Dai religion remains strictly controlled by the government, and its churches are prevented from unifying through a state policy of divide and conquer.

The number of Cao Dai practitioners has decreased dramatically, from 4 million followers before 1975 to 2.3 million in 2010 and 556,234 in 2019 – according to GCRA data. [6]

The government continues to hinder Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism’s commemoration of the “Day of Virtuous Master’s Disappearance”

On March 26, 2022, the Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha stated that the government continued to prevent it from marking the “Day of Virtuous Master’s Disappearance.”

Authorities had the police set up two checkpoints at the sangha's headquarters in Long An Commune (Cho Moi Suburban District, An Giang Province). The sangha said the two checkpoints were intended to prevent practitioners and church officials from attending the memorial service. [7]

In the city of Hong Ngu (Dong Thap Province), the sangha reported that 19-year-old practitioner Huynh Huu Loi was summoned by police on March 28, 2022, for hanging up the Hoa Hao Buddhist flag and banners commemorating the holiday at his residence, all of which were confiscated by police. According to Loi, an officer threatened to beat him to death if a memorial service was held at his home again the following year. [8]
Practitioner Huynh Huu Loi (middle) at his home. Photo: Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha.

The “Day of Virtuous Master's Disappearance” is an annual commemoration marking April 16, 1947, when Master Huynh Phu So disappeared after a meeting with the Viet Minh. It is one of the religion’s three major holidays. However, the Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha ceased celebrating this holiday after the organization was recognized by the government in 1999.

Practitioners of the Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha and independent practitioners often hold their own memorial services at home due to fear of government reprisal.

Further reading: Hoa Hao practitioners prohibited from marking "Day of Virtuous Master's Disappearance" for 46 years: has government hatred still not abated?

An Hoa Parish requests a stop to construction on disputed land

At the end of March 2022, An Hoa Parish in Da Nang submitted a fourth request to the authorities to halt construction on land currently being petitioned as belonging to the parish. [9]
Four projects are under construction on land that An Hoa Parish is currently petitioning as belonging to the group. Photo: An Hoa Parish.

In November 2021, construction on several permanent works began on this approximately 15,000 m2 piece of land. Beginning in May 1975, the parish agreed to let the state appropriate the land for industrial and handicraft production and agriculture for some parishioners.

The government believes the parish no longer has the right to own or use this land because it consented to the State's appropriation of the land after 1975.

In 2019, the land was handed over to private businesses to subdivide and sell as residential land. There has been no significant progress in the parish’s petition over the past three years.
An Hoa Parish is currently petitioning the Da Nang municipal government to return the two empty lots on the right. Photo: An Hoa Parish

In 2008, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued a directive on religion-affiliated land, declaring that state bodies could continue using land belonging to religious establishments as long as it was used properly and effectively; otherwise, the land would be transferred to other agencies or returned to the religious organization. However, the implementation of this directive depended on the voluntary consent of local authorities. [10]

Today, the Vietnamese government still holds many properties that belonged to the Vietnamese Catholic Church before 1975. Many areas have been turned into state assets, such as schools and government headquarters, while others are planned to become hotels or high-income residential areas.

[New Religions]

Party newspaper: 8,000 Hmong in five northern mountainous provinces follow the Duong Van Minh religion

A March article in the VCP Central Organization Commission’s Journal of Party Building said there were currently about 8,000 followers of the Duong Van Minh religion in Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Thai Nguyen, Tuyen Quang, and Ha Giang provinces. [11]

Like many other state publications, the Journal of Party Building forcefully accuses the Duong Van Minh religion of heresy, secessionism, anti-government activities, and superstitious propaganda that harms the Hmong.

On the other hand, practitioners claim that the Duong Van Minh religion only teaches them to give up spirit worship and traditional funeral practices and that Minh (the religion’s founder) did not force any of them to give him their money for personal use.
Left: Duong Van Minh and his followers travelled down to Hanoi in 2014. Source: J.B. Nguyen Huu Vinh.

Right: Police surrounded and removed a funeral home of the Duong Van Minh religion in 2013. Source: Thanh Phạm’s Youtube, as cited by BPSOS.

In March 2021, PAVN Major General Sung Thin Co, a National Assembly representative from Ha Giang Province, condemned the government's crackdown on the Duong Van Minh religion. He believes practitioners have no anti-government intentions.

Duong Van Minh, the founder of the religion, passed away in December 2021. Recent articles in state-run newspapers suggest that the government's stance on this religion remains unchanged and that practitioners may be in danger of heavier suppression.

Further reading: Who's lying to you about the Duong Van Minh religion: soldiers or police?

State media: Dieu Am Dharma sect is present across all provinces and cities

State media has reported that Dieu Am Dharma, a sect banned by the government from operating in Vietnam, has developed a network of followers across all provinces and cities. [12]

The article accused the sect of "economic profiteering; politicking; and causing religious and ethnic divisions” but did not present any evidence or witnesses to support the allegation.

The founder of the sect is known as Tran Tam. According to the article, the Vietnamese government has banned Tam from entering Vietnam since 1997 and has continuously extended this entry ban to this day.

Because Vietnam forbids it from operating publicly, the sect attracts followers through other means, such as organizing retreats abroad, practicing meditation online, and disseminating the sect’s books and videos to followers inside the country.
DVDs preaching Dieu Am Dharma were confiscated at the Moc Bai international border guard station (Tay Ninh Province) in February 2020. Photo: Bien Phong.

In 2021, the GCRA reported that there were approximately 85 "novel religions" in Vietnam. At the beginning of June 2021, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang said he was ready to welcome all religions, including novel ones.

However, Vietnam still strenuously prevents sects from operating, even though people seek out these sects in numerous ways.

Further reading: The Secret of the Dieu Am Dharma and other new sects: accept them or obstruct them?

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to The Vietnamese Magazine.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.