Religious awakening in China – NewsIn.Asia
By PKBalachandran / Daily Mirror
Colombo, January 10: When Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong visited the predominantly Tamil Northern Province in mid-December, he did things that no Communist Chinese envoy did ‘had done before. Ambassador Qi played puja at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple in the traditional Tamil way, shirtless, not shod, wearing white silk vetti and carrying a basket of ritual offerings. The ambassador did so “with full respect for Hindu religious and cultural tradition,” the embassy tweeted.
The ambassador’s action is generally seen as political action, intended to woo the Tamil minority that Beijing had neglected in accordance with its policy of not taking sides on domestic issues. Its mission was also to send a message to New Delhi that it cannot claim the monopoly of the Tamils because of their cultural and linguistic ties with Tamil Nadu.
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However, Ambassador Qi’s act reflected the emergence of a Communist China of a new face where religion becomes kosher. A fanatically anti-religious Communist China began to gradually change after Chairman Mao’s death in 1976. Article 36 of the Chinese constitution says that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief.” It prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and prohibits state bodies, public organizations or individuals from forcing citizens to believe or not to believe in a particular faith. Since February 2018, five years after Xi Jinping’s accession to the presidency, the government has allowed state-registered religious organizations to own property, publish literature, train and approve clergy, and collect donations. . According to “Freedom House”, in 2017, there were more than 350 million recognized believers in China following a variety of religions of local and foreign origin. According to the World Religions Database, agnostics are 31.8%; Chinese folk-religionists 30.8%; Buddhists 16.6%; Christians 7.4%; atheists 6.8%; ethnic religionists 4.2%; Muslims 1.8%; Taoist 0.4%; Others 0.2%.
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Commenting on this, Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, states in his 2018 article titled: “China’s religious awakening after Mao“It would not be an exaggeration to say that China is experiencing a spiritual revival similar to the Great Awakening in the United States in the 19th century.”
Explaining the phenomenon, Johnson says that although China has made rapid economic progress and lifted millions of people out of poverty, “hundreds of millions of Chinese are consumed with doubt about their society and turn to religion and religion. faith to get answers that they do not find in the world radically. secular world built around them. They wonder what is more in life than materialism and what makes a good life. He quotes a Chinese Protestant pastor saying, “We thought we were unhappy because we were poor. But now many of us are no longer poor, and yet we are still miserable. We realize that something is missing and that it is spiritual life.
Ordinary Chinese people, who are not members of the still strictly secular Communist Party, say that religion “runs in the blood” of Chinese people, although they avoid trumpeting it.
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Root of religion
For centuries, China has been rooted in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and various popular religions. Each village had its temples and its gods. Religion and politics were inseparable, so much so that China was a “politico-religious state” and the Emperor was the “son of heaven”. It was in the temples that the local nobility met and organized social and economic life.
But since religion was closely tied to the state, its politics, and corruption, the revolutionary Sun Yats-sen (who overthrew the Qing dynasty in 1912) began his political career by destroying temples. The temples have become secular schools. Johnson says Sun’s successor Chiang Kai-shek started the “New Life” movement to cleanse China of old ways, including “superstitions” like religion. Executives from his Nationalist Party (KMT) destroyed temples, he added. When Mao’s Communists took power in 1949, they applied the “anti-religious” doctrine even more vigorously.
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However, Buddhism and other indigenous religions could not be erased. After Xi Jinping took the presidency in 2013, he co-opted religion, especially Buddhism. During a visit to UNESCO in 2013, Xi praised Buddhism, saying it had “contributed mightily” to China after being “indigenous” hundreds of years ago. It increased allocations for the preservation of “intangible cultural heritage” which included religious heritage. Buddhists from around the world from 30 countries gathered at an ancient temple in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province in October 2014 for the 27th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. The temple houses one of Buddha’s finger bones. Xi uses Buddhist ties to strengthen economic ties with Buddhist countries on the outskirts of China.
Islam and Tibetan Buddhism
But Islam poses a problem for China. Its dominance in the Xinjiang border region and the activities of the East Turkestan Movement have resulted in oppressive measures against Uyghur Muslims such as mass incarceration in “re-education centers” according to Western human rights organizations. While Buddhism as such poses no problem, Tibetan Buddhism is viewed with suspicion because historically it has been subject to a separate order led by the Dalai Lama. Communist China, which absorbed Tibet in 1950-51, replaced the order led by the Dalai Lama with its own. The current Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet to India in the 1950s, is persona-non-grata in China.
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During colonial times, Christianity had an appeal among the Han Chinese. Chinese reformers viewed Christianity as a progressive doctrine because the developed Western nations were Christian. In fact, Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), was a convert to Christianity. But among the broad Chinese masses, Christianity was a foreign religion as evidenced by the saying: “One more Christian; one less Chinese.
Beijing is suspicious of Christianity apparently because of its ties to the West. Western accounts say that between 2014 and 2016, the government forcibly removed crosses from the tops of more than 1,500 churches in Zhejiang Province. Johnson says this turned out to be the forerunner of a series of measures against other churches, including three of China’s best-known Protestant underground churches: Zion Church in Beijing, Ronguili Church in Guangzhou and Early Rain Church in Chengdu.
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Government policy on Catholicism, on the other hand, is softer and more diplomatic, Johnson points out. In 2018, China and the Vatican agreed to allow the two sides to jointly appoint bishops. Pope Francis has recognized seven Chinese appointed bishops. The BBC said the question of who can appoint bishops has been at the heart of a dispute since China first severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951.
Sinization and limits
In any case, it is specified that churches and Christian places of pilgrimage are monitored by closed circuit television cameras, as is the case in mosques. Buddhist or Taoist temples are not monitored as they are considered indigenous Chinese religions. But all religions must “sinise” which, in effect, means following the dictates of the Communist Party and the government on the issue of culture and nationalism.
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Although religions today have huge and growing followers in China, they are not allowed to dictate policies to the government. Religions should follow Chinese state prescriptions dictated by the Communist Party. According to Johnson, what President Xi is doing is recreating the old politico-religious state that China was in the past. But the difference is that religion is now clearly subordinate to the political apparatus. In the public sphere, religion functions as a tool in the hands of the government pursuing its political, social and ideological agenda.
Regardless of what China says, the Western view on the state of religion in this country is that Xi Jinping, like Vladimir Putin in Russia, is using religion to “legitimize an authoritarian regime.” Western commentators fail to recognize that China has come a long way from religious intolerance to allowing believers to express their beliefs. As in other spheres, popular and academic opinions on this issue are tinged with geopolitical considerations.
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