November 1, 2011

"Are China’s Rulers Getting Religion?"

Asks Ian Johnson:
...China is now in the grips of a moral crisis. In recent months, the Chinese Internet has been full of talk about the lack of morality in society....

... Beijing is giving new support to religion—even the country’s own beleaguered traditional practice, Daoism....

This is a sharp change for a religion that that was persecuted under Mao and long regarded as suspect. What, exactly, is gong on here?
(NYRB needs some better editing, or is "gong" some kind of tweaking-the-Chinese joke?)
One reason authorities are now embracing Daoism as a source of moral guidance is that, in contrast to Christianity—which sometimes runs afoul of authorities—Daoism is widely seen as an unthreatening, indigenous religion.... Daoism can be seen as the original tune-in-turn-on-drop-out religion; many Daoist luminaries have preferred a life of contemplation to pursuit of earthly power....
But the more China’s leaders try to use religion for their own purposes, the more difficult it may be to have an actual effect on perceived problems like society’s moral decline....
Think about how governments use religion for their own ends, perhaps to shore up morality among the citizenry, perhaps to foster obedience and quiescence. What's the best religion for government's ends? And how much can we infer about a government from the religion it chooses? When a government selects Daoism, what does that mean?

88 comments:

Methadras said...

Come on China, bang a gong, get it on!!!

Christian said...

"When a government selects Daoism, what does that mean?"

It means government thinks there is no purpose to life, and doesn't want you to start thinking this life has a purpose but wants you to be a good person because it's the "right" thing (for society) for you to do.

Carol_Herman said...

Nope. Some Chinese people in America do have their own christian churches. But China's biggest problem is that it is a lawless country. And, pretty much WHO YOU KNOW, is WHERE YOU GO, when you want an unfair advantage. Which is the rules.

The other thing? Mao was very colorful. But the small number of leaders who followed him chose to go in "very grey." They are an UNSEEN mafia! For the most part. Since the Chinese seem to know "whose in charge."

Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese really aren't disciplined at all.

And, their "economy" is a giant balloon, waiting for its pin prick.

Just like the EURO.

Have faith in America. We're of a humongous size. (Russia is larger than us. That's true. But Russia sits in five time zones. And, none of their subjects gets along with one another. Nor is travel "free." Vodka, however, is quite cheap.)

Unfortunately for the USA, where we exported all our great jobs ... we put in, instead, a bunch of "credentialed elites" ... who feast off of the rules drawn up by Congress. Without regard to how well they function.

Someday? We'll get a handle, again, on functionality. And, the Chinese in America will still own take-out food services. And, laundromats.

Don't believe anything you read in the papers. (And, don't believe anything you hear from salesmen. Be they on Wall Street, or in used car lots.)

traditionalguy said...

Over the last 20 years Christianity has had more converts in China than any other place o the earth.

The Chinese get the person and message of Jesus as savior and a morality demanded by a Holy God very easily.

But Jesus did start with the Iasaih 61: 1-3 prophecy as his job description:

"The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners..."

The Chinese accept that Lord who can see beyond their faults and see their needs, and demonstrats it by works of the Holy spirit.

traditionalguy said...

The Chinese get to hear radio broadcasts by Ye Guang-Ming. And hearing that teaching of the Word has had the usual results. (I have donated to those broadcasts for 20 years, and I am glad to see the results.)

Clyde said...

The gong tweak might have something to do with Falun Gong, a meditation movement that the Chinese government has tried to suppress.

Psychedelic George said...

How many Christians are there in China?

About 130 million, The Economist estimated in 2008.

That's more than the number of Communist Party numbers.

The tipping point will come.

Then...one wonders who those Chinese will want to evangelize. If I were Muslim, I would worry. China has already developed big economic trading footholds throughout the Mid East and northern Africa. China loves exporting....

Shouting Thomas said...

A little obedience and quiescence wouldn't be such a bad thing in the U.S. I think it would be a genuine relief from the current standard of every boring lout wanting to parade his or her individuality across the TV screen. (Think Kim Kardashian. What in the hell does she do? We do we want our kids to emulate her?)

Religion is about shared moral values. Isn't the collapse of shared moral values precisely what has happened in the U.S.? I would say, in general, that public deference to Christian institutions that characterized the U.S. in the 50s is a much better foundation for governing than what we have now... which is a decent into ethnic and sexual tribalism.

The trouble with the ethnic and sexual tribalism is that each of the tribal groups seems to have a call on the public treasury. You can see this in the extreme in California, where every tribal group demands an agency devoted to serving it, and the revamping of the school curriculum to recognize it.

As a musician, I see clearly that the great popular music of the U.S. emanates from its Christian tradition. Rock, blues and country all come from church music.

Christianity is the religion of the enlightenment and intellectual and scientific advancement. It's also the religion that promotes racial and sexual equality. It's not an accident that all these things developed in the Christian West.

I'm one of those nasty people who thinks that the U.S. really ought to treasure its Christian heritage, and that that heritage ought to play a big role in governing. And, I'm not a particularly religious person. I even think we should fashion our immigration policy to take heed of this.

Steve Sailer often talks of the goal of the multi-culti crowd being to "elect a new electorate," with the goal of undermining the traditional foundations of the U.S. He suggests the ultimate heresy... that we have the right to chose who we live with, and who we invite to live with us. I agree.

I was quite surprised last week, when Sailer turned to the subject of homesickness in a book review. He returned to a favorite subject of the 60s... how the corporate and academic elite see their job as turning us into interchangeable, fungible pieces in their schemes. Holding onto your religious and cultural heritage is an act of individualism.

raf said...

government selects Daoism

If they are successful on a large scale (i.e., successful) then, eventually, the religion will select the government.

They may think Daoism will remain submissive to the government, but this will be true only if the government is seen as adopting the tenets of Daoism.

If they are not successful, they may see their empire break apart into feudal enclaves, as has happened before, or they may see a different religion provide the shared moral/cultural values which will then define the same for the government.

Mary Beth said...

"Religion is the opiate of the masses."

ndspinelli said...

"Imagine" John Lennon

I'm a very spiritual person but don't like organized religion.

The Crack Emcee said...

Daoism can be seen as the original tune-in-turn-on-drop-out religion,...

Good luck with that.

Shouting Thomas said...

I'd rather that religion be the opiate of the masses, than government be the opiate of the masses.

Those seem to be the choices.

Government as religion has failed miserably.

Shouting Thomas said...

"Imagine" John Lennon

I'm a very spiritual person but don't like organized religion.


Classic idiot bullshit.

FloridaSteve said...

Christianity is almost the perfect government sponsored (wink wink) religion. It is rooted in servitude and humility. What more could you ask for?

Shouting Thomas said...

Christianity is almost the perfect government sponsored (wink wink) religion. It is rooted in servitude and humility. What more could you ask for?

And, yet, it's the secular left that wants government to own our income and regulate every aspect of our lives.

Amazing contradiction, huh?

Chef Mojo said...

Think about how governments use religion for their own ends, perhaps to shore up morality among the citizenry, perhaps to foster obedience and quiescence.

You mean like the religion of Anthropogenic Global Warming?

Chip S. said...

What's the best religion for government's ends?

If the government's goal is higher economic growth, then the best religion is one that promotes belief in an afterlife that rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior, but doesn't require a lot of time for worship.

edutcher said...

Damn!

Mary Beth beat me to it.

But, again, the only thing wrong with living in a People's Paradise is the kind of people you meet.

Raise people with the idea there's no morality besides Karl and Nikolai and Mao and Che, and something like this will happen.

YoungHegelian said...

Why would the Chinese government lean towards Daoism as opposed to Confucianism, a religion that developed hand in glove with the governing classes of China? The civil service exams in dynastic China were, in essence, exams on the tenets of Confucianism as applied to governance.

Do we have a scholar of Chinese history among us who could explain this glaring omission from the article to me? Thanks!

TMink said...

China is the most Christian nation on earth. There are an estimated 85 to 110 million Christians in China who are willing to face government scrutiny and oppression to practice their faith.

Knowing this makes current events more interesting.

Trey

Shouting Thomas said...

YoungHegelian, I searched for Big Jim's Boobie Bungalow and could not find a website for this fine establishment.

Have you visited? Can you vouch for its existence?

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea said...

Re Kim Kardashian: I've never seen her. I don't have tv. My existence has been blissfully free of Kardashians. And I don't even go to church!

Mary Beth said...

I'd rather that religion be the opiate of the masses, than government be the opiate of the masses.

I was only quoting Marx, not endorsing him. I would rather people think on their own and not be hypnotized by either. I am also hoping for a pet unicorn; which I think I has a better chance of happening.

Shouting Thomas said...

Re Kim Kardashian: I've never seen her. I don't have tv. My existence has been blissfully free of Kardashians. And I don't even go to church!

I kin dig it.

I really don't have a clue who she is either, but she's been on the sports pages recently because she's somehow connected to a basketball player.

How do you live without watching sports on TV?

Coketown said...

China isn't "getting religion." They're as cynical as ever. Religion is, in Communist parlance, an ideological state apparatus (I think Althusser is the father of this phrase). Individuals, defined by their preferences and values, exist only in the context of various power structures, including religion and the government. The Chinese Communists tried to eradicate religion first through force and then by absorbing religion into the superstructure of the Communist Party's government. But this failed, as evidenced by the continuing pockets of Daoists and Buddhists and the explosion in underground Christianity over the last few decades, and religion's history in modern China is one of the government ceding more and more ground to autonomous religious worship.

The religion a Communist government chooses reflects the Party's understanding of that religion in the context of an ideological state apparatus. They view the State and religion as two supplementary structures and choose the religion with the least overlap, so that the preferences and values of the individual in the context of the State are not in competition with the preferences and values of the individual in the context of his religion. Daoism seems well suited for this.

But non-Communist countries understand that the ISA model is bullshit and culture, not government or power structures, drives religion. This explains why there is no correlation between a state's sanctioning of religion and the religiosity of its people--otherwise China would be totally atheistic and England would be totally Christian and America would be, I don't know, totally Deist.

I see parallels between China's treatment of religion and its treatment of technology. It's tried over the last several years to free internet access for its people, and that experiment is blowing up in their faces. We'll see if this lasts.

ic said...

When a government selects Daoism, what does that mean?

Means a nation of pot heads without growing pots.

Carol Herman: But China's biggest problem is that it is a lawless country. And, pretty much WHO YOU KNOW, is WHERE YOU GO, when you want an unfair advantage. Which is the rules.

Welcome to Obamaland where a billionaire bundler could make off $535 million taxpayers' money, the brother-in-law of the House Minority Leader mades off 3/4 billion, where the MSM is a better govt mouthpiece than the People's Daily,...

" a bunch of "credentialed elites" ... who feast off of the rules drawn up by Congress. Without regard to how well they function."

Of course the rules function exactly the way the elites want: line their own pockets, making harder for the rest of us to compete with them. They are 21st century aristocrats, they want to put us in our place. The problem is us, the unwashed, we don't know our place.

kwood said...

As a non-Christian myself, I would nontheless have to say that, hands down, Christianity (virtually any non-Catholic variety) has so far proven to be the best at balancing the needs of the government with the needs of those governed.

I'm not saying there isn't a better choice out there somewhere, but we haven't seen it yet if there is.

I was tempted to say Judaism, because that's where much of our law comes from, but Judaism is not so much a proselytizing religion and tends to be somewhat exclusive.

Christianity has enough sects that almost anyone can find a branch of it that is either strict enough or easy-going enough to fit their world view. The sects may sneer about each other in private, but the basic tenets of Christianity support tolerance of sects (and other religions) and tend to minimize outright strife or violence.

Yes, I know, there have been exceptions. Sometimes professed Christians do really bad things in the name of their religion, but it's not institutionalized the way it is in some other religions.

Quite the opposite. Instead, the ideals of forgiveness and helping those in need is institutionalized.

Catholicism is too mired in hierarchy. A free, capitalist country or society is best served by a religion that is largely self-directed.


Alas, sometimes Christians say mean things about homosexuals, so, the whole thing must be thrown out and we must all instead embrace the glorious eight-legged spider god of Nihilism.

Pogo said...

God is for the little people.

Modern leaders prefer atheism, but depend on religious observance for social control.

Christianity carries a risk for any nation, as fealty belongs not to land or lord.

jamboree said...

There was a big news in China a few weeks ago when a two-yr-old was caught on street video being run over by not one, but two trucks, with an 18 minute interval in between during which a lot of people walked by and no one stopped to help. Finally an old street woman walked by and, with nothing to lose, helped the kid find his/her mother. I don't know if the child lived.

It was very very hard video to watch - particularly the first hit when a delivery truck driver drives over the kid with his front wheels, stops to think about it, then driver over the kid with his back wheels to get out of there instead of getting the kid out of the way of his wheels and then moving on. You couldn't read his license plate. It was probably painted with that reflective stuff.

It was interesting to read the comments on the Chinese sites. No one really blamed anyone for this. They said that if they helped they would cause trouble for themselves. There had been a court decision where a good samaritan was held responsible for whatever had befallen the person he helped, so no real moral outrage.

I also found it interesting that when the skeletal pictures of a dying Steve Jobs were posted the western sites went into discussions of PC adn treatments, prayers, and a few catcalls of "bad karma" with a distinctly western "burn in hell" tinge, whereas on the Asian sites, birthplace of Karma, they took one look at him and called it "karōshi" or "death by overwork."

A friend from China just laughs off the enormous amount of bribery of government officials that is needed to do business there: Hahaha. Yes, it is good to have friends. Hahaha.

It seems to be kind of a merry, officious amorality because the main value is in promoting yourself and family through success with no other underpinnings.

I thought the West was in that same place as well, but it's still different.

kwood said...

The Chinese want to institutionalize Daoism in the mis-guided belief that adherents will continue to hold their government as the 'higher power'.

They hope that Daoism will be enough to keep folks friendly and occupied without becoming self-directed threats to the all-knowing / all-providing / all-deciding State.

Daoism at it's core is a quest for personal enlightenment. Whatever you think 'enlightenment' may mean, you can rest assured that the last thing any tyrannical government wants is an enlightened populace. Hope they get what they're asking for!

Ann Althouse said...

"Mao was very colorful."

Especially his teeth, which they say he never brushed. They were green.

Pogo said...

I saw the video, too, jamboree. Awful.

The mother was anguished, but no one else seemed affected at all. Just like running over a cardboard box.

ricpic said...

I don't think the Chinese ever "got religion" in the western sense. They have been a people who have functioned relatively well sans any passionate God hunger or God pursuit. The English are similar in that respect. In the case of the Chinese Confucius seems to have sufficed, and he preaches the middle way, abjuring passion, either positive or negative. So even if the Chinese communists wanted to strengthen their rule via religion they'd have no religion to use as a vehicle to that end.

kwood said...

I'm one of those nasty people who thinks that the U.S. really ought to treasure its Christian heritage, and that that heritage ought to play a big role in governing. And, I'm not a particularly religious person. I even think we should fashion our immigration policy to take heed of this.

Yes. This is why I'm very supportive of Mexican immigration, of the legal variety. Most of them that I have met are very friendly, productive and civic-minded people. We need all of those folks we can get, of any color or nationality whatsoever.

Ron said...

So the College of Cardinals are finally picking out patterns,eh?

Oh...that headline would be "Are Religion's Rulers getting China?"

M'bad!

Alex said...

How about the immorality of the virtual slave labor camps of Shenzhen region? You know the place where they build all your electronics by working 20-somethings to death.

Freeman Hunt said...

Of course they'd pick Daoism. The government wants to be god and doesn't want competition.

Balfegor said...

Why would Daoism be the choice of an authoritarian government? That seems bizarre. All the more bizarre if it is supposed to be some kind of response to the immorality of society in general, since I've never thought of Taoism as having particularly strong moral content (although perhaps this is because my image of Taoists is that they are superstitious people who are terribly concerned with their precious bodily fluids.)

For an authoritarian government, the obvious choice is the gloomy, feudal magnificence of Confucianism, with its ancient rituals, etiquette, and hierarchy. Although, during the Cultural Revolution, bestial students may have defaced the graves of their ancestors and strung up the exhumed corpses of Confucius' latter day descendants, I believe that even modern Han Chinese observe many of the rites, performing the memorial sacrifices at the New Year and the Cold Food Festival. I do not know whether they still observe the Three Years Mourning, but I would not be surprised to learn they did -- even in Japan, where Confucianism has been reduced to an undercurrent of modern Shinto and Buddhism, people still observe the Three Years Mourning, albeit in changed form. So there is much to build on for a Confucian revival.

Confucianism is not, of course, wholly pro-authoritarian. There is in the Classic of Rites, for example, the anecdote with the man-eating tigers by Mt. Tai, which concludes 苛政猛於虎也, "Oppressive government is more terrible than tigers." But in its emphasis on the relationship between subordinate and superior (忠) or between child and parent (孝), it offers a foundation for an orderly society, and one would think that, above all, is what the government of the PRC would be trying to inculcate in the population.

BarryD said...

Do they mean "Taoism", the belief system of Bruce Lee? Yeah, what a lazy bum he was.

AFAIK "Daoism" is the belief system that uses the Banana Boat Song, made famous by Harry Bellafonte, as its most sacred hymn. It was a predecessor of Rastafarianism, or maybe Pastafarianism, or Bokononism.

gerry said...

It seems to be kind of a merry, officious amorality because the main value is in promoting yourself and family through success with no other underpinnings.

An excellent encapsulation of Confucianism.

themightypuck said...

Values matter although I'm skeptical you can just create them sua sponte with a sprinkling of religion.

Allie's Apple said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ricpic said...

spinelli said...

I'm a very spiritual person...

Only chicks get a pass on that. And they better be not guilty pretty.

ricpic said...

The Chinese in America leave politics to those foolish long noses and get on with the only important thing in life -- making money.

John Bragg said...

Althouse: "When a government selects Daoism, what does that mean?" Well, it means that Daoism is the most popular non-foreign Chinese religion. If Turkmenbashi adopted Daoism, or Franco had tried to impose Greek Orthodoxy, we would have a puzzler. When government decides to revive religion, it is a traditionalist impulse and so the religion is going to be traditional.

Young Hegelian: Confucianism is more a philosophy than a religion. The very offensive answer: Confucianism isn't big on oogedy-boogedy. If the CCP wants to promote religion, it wants to promote a supernatural religion with lots of bright colors and festivals and rituals and such. Not a religion of quiet contemplation and self-discipline--like Falun Gong, come to think of it.

Sorepaw: If I'm a CCP economist looking at future projections, maybe I want to encourage the belief that not much is to be expected from government, since not much is likely to be delivered.

ricpic said...

There are only two important pursuits in Chinaworld: making money and gambling it away. Also it's a requirement to take the beautiful plot of land surrounding your house and pave it over.

Freeman Hunt said...

Is the transliteration switching over to "Daoism?" It's been "Taoism" my entire life. Now I have to axe the T?

Freeman Hunt said...

Is anyone else thinking of hopping vampires, by the way?

ic said...

Balfegor: The problem with Confucianism is: the ruler's duty to the people. When the rulers are corrupt and not responsive to the needs of the people, their heavenly mandate to rule is revoked. The people have the duty to overthrow them. (Sort of like Jefferson, no? Bloody revolutions once in a while to keep the rulers on their toes.)

BarryD said...

Personally, I don't want to hop vampires.

However, I believe that everyone is entitled to her own sexual fantasies. It's a fundamental human right.

Triangle Man said...

Now I have to axe the T?

Yes, and you can't fly to Peking anymore.

Thorley Winston said...

It was interesting to read the comments on the Chinese sites. No one really blamed anyone for this. They said that if they helped they would cause trouble for themselves. There had been a court decision where a good samaritan was held responsible for whatever had befallen the person he helped, so no real moral outrage.

I seem to remember an episode of “Kung Fu” where Caine said that if you save someone’s life, you’re responsible for them forever. I always assumed it was a Hollywood trope and not an actual cultural tenet. It seems like a cultural tenet whose sole purpose would be to encourage people to be indifferent to the welfare of other and discourage them from helping.

Browndog said...

Our own Founders understood that belief in a Deity was necessary to maintain a moral citizenry, which was necessary for the success of the new Republic.

Alex said...

Our own Founders understood that belief in a Deity was necessary to maintain a moral citizenry, which was necessary for the success of the new Republic.

Bullshit.

Freeman Hunt said...

I know there have to be other people on Althouse who have seen a great number of Chinese movies.

Browndog said...

Alex said...

Bullshit right back atcha, pal.

YoungHegelian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YoungHegelian said...

@ST,

I've driven by the Boobie Bungaloo off of I-65 between Pulaski, Tenn and the Alabama border many times. Always with my wife, however, who has never evinced an interest to investigate. I've been told by friends in Al. it's truckerish and skanky.

Here's a NSFW Link that verifies its empirical existence.

@Balfegor, thanks for the posting.

WV: bedam -- Well, I'll ...

Balfegor said...

Is the transliteration switching over to "Daoism?" It's been "Taoism" my entire life. Now I have to axe the T?

I'll stop using the T when they stop calling us 美國 (Mei Guo). Yes . . . make them struggle to get our funny long names right.

Incidentally, the Japanese still pronounce 北京 (North Capital = Beijing) as "Pekin." The Wikipedia entries for Peking in French still says Pékin and tellingly, "ou plus rarement Beijing." German wikipedia also has Peking, and "teilweise auch im Deutschen: Beijing."

I swear, this is something that other countries do only to English speakers and only to harass them.

As a counterexample, though, I guess it's "Beijing" in Korean. I don't know if the PRC made them do that just to assert their symbolic dominance over Korea, though, since it might just be what Korea has historically called the city.

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YoungHegelian said...

Wade-Giles, Pinyin, it doesn't matter.

Try and say the transliterated words back to a Chinese speaker and unless he already knows context, he'll have no idea what you're trying to say.

A lack of proper intonation probably has a lot to do with that.

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
caplight said...

But whatever happens to me, you must live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ, as citizens of heaven. Philippians 1:27

The problem with Christianity for the Chinese government is that Christians see themselves as citizens first and foremost of God's kingdom.

@kwood:
An interesting article that originally appeared in the Times entitled, "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God."

http://www.afaithtoliveby.com/2011/02/18/as-an-atheist-i-truly-believe-africa-needs-god/

@Alex: I wouldn't even dignify that with an answer it is so absurd on its face.

@Shouting: You are on a roll!

NYTNewYorker said...

Browndog is correct, not bullshit.

Paddy O said...

Constantine got religion back in the day, worked out well for him.

YoungHegelian said...

@Paddy,

What's Classical Chinese for "In hoc signo, vinces."

The ideograms might work real well as a tattoo!

frank said...

If Christianity seeks 'grace' the Buddhism has it in spades.

Browndog said...

Shouting Thomas said...

A little obedience and quiescence...


I'd like to thank you for writing that post.

ndspinelli said...

Shouting Thomas, What did I say that required an ad hominem insult?

Oligonicella said...

NYTNewYorker --

Both of you are making assertions, not stating fact.

YoungHegelian said...

@frank,

No, there's no equivalent concept of Christian grace lurking in Buddhism.

Christianity really is unique in its understanding of justification by grace. There's really even precious little overlap into its sister Abrahamic faiths, Judaism & Islam, both of which are religions of the Law.

edwardroyce said...

China is turning into a real life version of the Dosadi Experiment.

And not for the better.

Craig said...

Ever notice that Daoism rhymes with Maoism?

frank said...

@ YH: I beg to differ based on a personal 5 year communion with both Buddhist and Christian theologists,in that order, resulting in a 10 year slice of Heaven on Earth,smile.

YoungHegelian said...

@Frank,

"...personal 5 year communion with both Buddhist and Christian theologists"

Too bad in five years no one told you they're called theologians in English.

Could you please point to a classical Buddhist text where the concept of "grace" or "justification" is discussed? And just what terms in Sanskrit, Pali, or Chinese get translated into "grace" in English? Thanks!

frank said...

@YH, you may be reborn or reincarnated, take your pick, smile. But either will be grace.

frank said...

@YH:

The`ol´o`gist
n. 1. A theologian.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co.

Or is it Daoist/Taoist/Maoist?

frank said...

@YH:

The`ol´o`gist
n. 1. A theologian.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co.

Or is it Daoist/Taoist/Maoist?

Foobarista said...

China has always had odd proxy messages sent by governments, including the Communists, in endorsing or attacking various Chinese religions. In the bad old days, attacking Confucius was a way to attack Liu Shaoqi, who was the boss at the time but was disliked by Mao. Recently, Confucianism has become quite popular with the government, as it is all about obeying the wise bureaucracy.

As for Daoism, it's so freeform that you can do a large degree of "fill in the blanks", which the government will happily do.

Christianity is a tricky issue for the Communists, as Chinese who get into non-Catholic Christianity are pretty hard-core about it, and all Chinese know that a weird form of cult Christianity kicked off the biggest civil war - in terms of death - the world has ever seen (the Taiping Rebellion).

Mitch H. said...

In China, as I understand it, Confucianism is the religion of the confident statists and centralizers, Daoism is the religion of the periphery, rebels, and those that want to devolve power to the local level, and Buddhism is the religion of the anti-politicals. Christianity and the weird cults that occasionally spring up which often use Christian tropes are revolutionary - spiritus animae of the stormfront rather than institutional aspects. (This is a view from the traditional Chinese perspective, not necessarily a true reading of the *current* Christian churches in the country)

It *could* be a sign that China's ruling elites are starting to move away from the centralizing dogma of the last sixty years. This could be a pretty bad sign. Better if it's just a tactical response to the increasing success of non-politically-controlled Christian churches.

Clyde said...

I read an interesting book a couple of years ago titled The Next Hundred Years: A Forecast For the 21st Century by George Friedman. Writing about China's dilemma in the 2010s, he notes that their problem is that the central government is trying to do a balancing act between the prosperous eastern provinces which do a lot of foreign trade, and the interior which is poor, backward and insular. The Chinese economy isn't about making a profit, but about sending money to socially/politically connected people and companies. This cronyism has led to a lot of bad investments (i.e. bad debt), estimated by Friedman in 2009 as somewhere between 25% and 40% of total GDP. The Chinese are running as fast as they can just to stay in place. If their economy goes into upheaval, the traditional Chinese government response is to clamp down on foreign investment and become more isolated. This causes friction with foreigners, of course. The government no longer can really use communism as an ideology to rally around, since nobody including the communists take it seriously any more. Chinese nationalism, however, would be easier for them to use, especially if the foreigners start making economic threats to China at that point. Daoism is a traditional Chinese religion and would be an obvious choice if the Chinese leadership are trying to appeal to nationalist sentiments.

BarryD said...

'Could you please point to a classical Buddhist text where the concept of "grace" or "justification" is discussed?'

Uh, pre-Christian Judaism has a lot in common with Christianity, philosophically. That's where Christianity gets the idea that God demands that we make a big show of killing little baby animals on stage, to somehow compensate for our screwups and evil behavior.

Buddhism doesn't come out of a tradition of blood sacrifice and a God who likes the aroma of burning flesh so much that it makes up for whatever we as humans do.

The New Testament is filled with references to these offerings and this God, even as it mentions "grace".

The only reason that Abrahamic religion sounds like anything but the bunch of outlandish, brutal, prehistoric superstitions that it is, is that we are so accustomed to it in our culture. A step back makes it look bizarre, cruel and primitive.

roundeye said...

The Chinese Communist Party is a dynasty like many of the ones that came before it. They want to stay in power and have things run smoothly. Christianity in China has always been frowned upon by the CCP. Why? The Taiping Rebellion. wiki here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion

The Taiping Rebellion was very close to the worst war in human history. About 20-30 million Chinese died. After China was opened up during the Opium Wars the Christian missionaries came in (to save the heathens dontchaknow). Well, this Chinese guy had a vision he was Jesus little brother, people believed him and then they rebelled against the Qing dynasty and founded the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Fourteen years of war followed before they were finally defeated. Chinese Gordan became famous for defeating the Heavenly Kingdom and saving Shanghai.

So for the CCP Christianity is on bad paper, so that is why they try to control it so much by having authorized churches and crushing things like Falun Gong.

Balfegor said...

Re: BarryD

Buddhism doesn't come out of a tradition of blood sacrifice and a God who likes the aroma of burning flesh so much that it makes up for whatever we as humans do.

Nnn. I guess it depends on what you mean by "Buddhism."

So many people in the West have this image of Buddhist monks as super-peaceful, spiritual types, without, say, acknowledging that they invented Kung Fu (Shaolin is a Buddhist temple), or that in Japan, Buddhist monks regularly fielded armies during the late Heian and early Muromachi periods (see e.g. the army of the Enryakuji temple).

And what you are saying sounds like more of that gap between the ideal and the reality. Buddhist temples generally have altars, and they have altars for a reason -- so people can make offerings. Here, for example (in Japanese) is a quick guide on what kinds of offerings to make at a household altar (butsudan): incense, flowers, flame (candles), water/tea, rice, and fruit or sweets. At least in part, this is probably the hidden influence of Confucianism expressed through Japanese Buddhist forms, but even in China, where the Confucian rites were performed in the normal fashion, people also make offerings to the Boddhisatva Kuan-Yin and probably a bunch of others I don't know of. The Buddhas and Boddhisatvas may not command blood sacrifices, as such, but the pattern of worship, at least in East Asia, stands clearly in that same ancient tradition of sacrifice.

Furthermore, in connection with this discussion of "grace" -- I think the Pure Land sect (a 12th century Japanese Buddhist sect, still around today), has an analogous concept of universal salvation/enlightenment through belief in Buddha. Not sure exactly what term would be used that translates roughly to "grace," though, because I am not Buddhist and have never bothered to learn the reams of specialised vocabulary that are used to discuss Buddhism in Japanese.

Rick67 said...

I pastor a small congregation mostly of Chinese nationals. And last year I spent 4 weeks traveling through China with 3 main goals - the 3rd was to observe first hand the state of religion (in general) and Christianity (in particular).

Right now the Chinese government officially recognizes 5 religions. One of them is Daoism. Confucianism is not one because they do not perceive it as a "religion" but more of a philosophy.

There are some Chinese Christian leaders who see a strong contrast between traditional religion/philosophy (such as Daoism and teachings of Kong-zi aka Confucius) and Christianity. I am not Chinese but prefer not to discuss Lao-zi and Kong-zi as "wrong" or opposed to Christian faith. I prefer to emphasize commonality. I could be wrong.

The Chinese government does not give a rat's hind end about "religion" except insofar as they can co-opt it for their ends. Social-political stability and perpetuating the power and control of the Communist Party. I don't mean to criticize but simply to describe. They tolerate Christianity when it suits them, when it doesn't they repress it, and in between they try to co-opt it.

For the record I am *not* a critic of registered churches. I visited and talked with representatives of both registered and home churches.

The apparent lack of a common "morality" or moral sense is a genuine problem which my Chinese friends and congregants often mention. This is not to say Chinese people are "bad" or without morality. I happen to admire many aspects of their society. But Communist leaders are beginning to realize that when they tried to purge religion from Chinese society it left quite a vacuum.

Somehow they see Daoism as more amenable(?) to their ends. The problem with Christianity (and Judaism for that matter) is that *ultimately* human loyalty is to Someone higher than the government.

During my trip it seemed - especially in northern provinces like Shanxi and Shaanxi - that the Chinese government favored *Buddhism*. But then what is true in parts of China is not true in all of China.

sunsong said...

Daoism is based on the teachings of Lao Tsu - at least those that have survived. That is a plus for China, imo.