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On China and Religion

For different cultural, political and historical reasons, the Chinese government officially recognises Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism as religions. As in the realm of commerce, medicine, the legal profession or any other human endeavours, China, like many nations and for her own reasons have chosen, as it is her right, to lay down a legal and regulatory framework within which religions are practised.

Within the above five religions, the government does not prefer one religion to another and neither does it care about ecclesiastical or inter-faith doctrinal differences. It does not care whether Jesus is the Son of God, one of the Prophets of Allah or just a mere rabbi. It does not care whether the Virgin Mary or the Saints ought to be worshipped and much less whether the Quakers are pacifists who live according to personal beliefs. Like any other governments in the world, what it does care about are whether they break China’s laws while in China and whether a belief system contravenes the public interest.

In no countries are the clergy or religious institutions free from or above the temporal laws of the land. An American Catholic priest convicted of paedophilia, fraud or mere speeding in America is still guilty and may suffer the appropriate judicial consequences, irrespective of the fact that he is a priest. Should the Church as an organisation in any way be involved, it too is liable to criminal as well as possible civil lawsuits.

Just as there is no such thing as absolute political and commercial freedom, neither is there such a thing as absolute religious freedom. There are only varying degrees of religious freedom that is regulated in turn by ecclesiastic rules, doctrines, temporal laws, social customs and traditions in accordance with the demands of the relevant state and society. For example, many in the UK believe in Fengshui, but nevertheless in a test case before the English Court of Appeal, the Judges, as it is within their remit, chose not to recognise it as a religion, just as they do not recognise any religion that is not monotheist as a matter of policy. By contrast, because of its Chinese community Indonesia recognises Confucianism as a religion when China only sees it as a school of philosophy, so that just because something is lawful in one country does not make it so in another.

While under Chinese laws, proselytising, preaching and the politicisation of religion is unlawful; China does not ban the personal practice of any religions nor its variations so long as they adhere to the laws of China. Irrespective of race, if you are a British Anglican, an American Quaker or a South Korean Evangelical living in China, you are free to practice your faith within your own homes or congregate subject to approval, at a lawful Christian Church. But should you proselytise, preach or seek to politicise religious beliefs or practices, you will be prosecuted for breaking China’s laws.

The authorities may also suspect your company’s involvement so that as well as suffering personal and professional consequences, the authorities will likely consider you to have entered the country under false pretences and you may be deported and declared persona non grata. This is in line with international practices, just as if you overstayed any host nation’s tourist visa or decided to take up employment. It’s as simple as that.

China does not ban the practice of Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism or Buddhism, it simply chooses not to recognise the authority of the Vatican or that of the Church of England, just as it does not recognise the Pope’s and the Dalai Lama’s authority in China, such as in his ban on the worshipping of Dorje Shugden and other Tibetan Buddhist traditions that are still widely practised within China.

In Catholicism’s case, the reasons are manifold and not dissimilar to the political reasons why the Church of England and other Protestant movements split itself off from the Roman Catholic Church (except the part about Henry 8th being a horny old goat with a low sperm count and gout, but who desperately wanted a son and blames his wives, but the Pope wouldn’t let him) and includes the issue of Taiwan, sovereignty and whose laws are supreme in China, particularly on the issue of the right to appoint bishops, who will in essence become community leaders.

In the case of Anglicanism, China does not recognise the Church of England because firstly, it is the Church of England, not the Church of China, secondly, as noted above China regards the Anglican Church as very much a political creation, which coupled with the fact that a British monarch is its “Supreme Governor” with the right to appoint the Archbishop and England’s history in China, renders it unacceptable to the government and to many Chinese people. A third reason is the often preachy, windbag-like and politicised nature of Anglican sermons (yes, I have attended quite a few and fell asleep at many more).

As for Quakers, Baptists and Evangelists, China simply considers them and Anglicanism as part of Protestantism out of administrative and policy convenience, but the same laws and same attitude applies equally. Just as China will not tolerate some self-appointed redneck hellfire and brimstone merchant from the American mid-west setting up shop or TV channel for their own narrow purposes in China as a matter of public policy and interest, it will also not allow some radical foreign Muslim imams invoking jihad against kafirs, be they Han Chinese or otherwise. Consequently, to prevent religious radicalism and politicisation, China insists that all its clergy, be they monks, priests or imams at one time or another undergo “patriotic education” (I suggest that people research this for what it really is rather than the negative/sinister spin that has been put on it), just as France insist that Muslim imams preaching in France undergo education on what it means to be French.

Fundamentally, just as in Western societies, it is generally considered impolite to bring up the topic of money, politics or religion, so too among the majority Han Chinese there has always been an implicit rejection of forcing one’s religious beliefs onto others. Such that especially since the fall of the Qing Empire, coupled with a rejection of foreign cultural and religious imposition, this attitude has crystallised into today’s prohibition and the cultural view that religious devotion should be sought out of one’s volition, free from any current incentives nor be based on promises of the thereafter.

Because of their generally perceived vulnerabilities and susceptibilities to “undesirable” influences, no nation state or society can afford to abdicate its collective responsibility towards its youth. For better or worse, corresponding laws, customs and traditions exist in China as in all societies, for its children’s protection, whether it is negatively expressed as regards tobacco, alcohol, pornography, gambling, advertising and the age of sexual consent or positively expressed as regards compulsory immunisation or schooling. Because of socio-political, cultural as well as historical reasons, in China this perceived need extends to belief systems, be they cultish, religious or pseudo-religious.

This law is a reflection of many Chinese’ cultural disdain for their children to join a celibate clergy, whether of the Buddhist or Christian persuasion, because of a perceived duty and importance to continue the family line and to secure progenitors, especially under the one-child policy. This is no different from many religions’ emphasis on the need and desirability to procreate, except that in China such values are expressed culturally rather than religiously.

The restrictions/rejections did not began with the Communists, but have always been both a part of Chinese culture and were at one time or another formalised in its legal code or by imperial edict because of its historical experiences with organised religions and competing domestic and foreign religious claims of the divine and their impact on China’s peoples and society. Consequently, China’s peoples, particularly the majority Han Chinese has culturally always been too pragmatic, cynical and sceptical to go wholesale into one religion or another.

Whilst from a Western perspective, it can be argued that the issue of whether a family wishes its single child to enter a life of religious celibacy is for the family and the child alone to decide. However, just as with all nations and societies, China and its peoples have always placed significance on the family unit, be they nuclear or extended, as the society’s and the nation’s building blocks, so that laws are inevitably enacted in support of and to reinforce the family and issues of family values regularly crop up too during elections in Europe or the Americas.

However, policies and laws in support of the family unit must necessarily also be balanced against public interests and the need of the society, less a family feels compelled to have more children simply to fulfil or to satisfy the parents’ or others’ spiritual needs. An example is the prevalence of polyandry that is still practised in Tibet and where Tibetan women, to the chagrin of feminists, inevitably bear the brunt of competition between brothers and even between fathers and sons to have surplus children to enter the clergy and to satisfy the whole family’s perceived spiritual needs, to safeguard family wealth and to gain social status (imagine Tibetans’ reaction should the Dalai Lama call for a ban on polyandry).

Therefore together with a ban on proselytising, preaching and the politicisation of religion, those under 18 years of age and/or are students, cannot attend religious establishments nor receive religious education, irrespective of their family’s background or religion. But once a child reaches 18 years of age or is no longer attending education, the issue of whether he or she wishes to join a religion, join a clergy or to convert from her family’s religion to another of her choice becomes a matter for the individual and the family.

As the CCP forms the government of China, it is also a government of over one billion people and of over 50 ethnic groups and their associated cultural and religious practices, so that from a practical and administrative perspective no government officer can be seen to favour one religion or one ethnic group over another as he/she moves from one posting to another. This is not a new practice, but harks back to imperial traditions when imperial officials are regularly reassigned to different parts of China for administrative purposes. Just as any judicial process needs to be fair as well as appears to be fair, a government needs to be impartial as well as be seen to be impartial in the execution of its functions. Consequently, government workers and CCP members are banned from having any religious affiliations under China’s laws.

In doing so, China, like Turkey or France, has simply enacted into law practices that in other countries are restricted by cultural customs and traditions. An example is the controversy over Ruth Kelly being appointed UK Minister for Education under Tony Blair’s government when it became known that she is also a member of Opus Dei, thereby causing public unease over her influence on the direction of Britain’s education policy, particularly with regards to that government’s predilection for faith schools in a country that largely considers itself as either Anglican or secular, but with a large Muslim minority.

China does not regard any religion as inherently good or evil, but simply sees the need for the regulation of the practice of those religions based on what it deems necessary. These laws are not there to benefit or to hinder any one religion. They are simply a reflection of China’s cultural and socio-political circumstances, being a function of its historical experience.

Just as there are now female Anglican priests because of a need to give expression to equality of the sexes within the Anglican Church, China’s Muslim community is unique in that there are female Muslim imams. And should in the near future there arise within China’s Catholic community a desire and a consensus for female priests, this too will be allowed and it is doubtful what the Vatican can do about it. In a similar vein should in future there arises within China an impetus for a change of these laws and it is appropriate to do so, the Chinese government will and must inevitably respond.

Ultimately, the laws as they stand now are there to protect and to benefit China’s society and all its peoples who call China home, not some fly-by-night, here today, gone tomorrow evangelical preachers or expatriates, nor foreigners not even residing in China.

UPDATE (by Buxi): Here are a few links related to this topic

– PBS Frontline documentary: Jesus in China
– Shanghaiist links to a number of related articles, including Chicago Tribune story that’s the basis of the Frontline documentary.
(by admin) More discussions in a related thread.

  1. Nimrod
    June 25th, 2008 at 03:54 | #1

    In anticipation of likely comments, I’ll say one thing first. Seems like we have here a difference of definition of what “freedom of religion” means, as we do about “freedom of speech”, for that matter. Certainly what China has in place is not what Western society is used to, nor is there a claim to be. China’s system isn’t perfect and things can be improved on some level, but I strongly believe that what constitutes “freedom of …” in the positive sense should not be monopolized by Western discourse. If China does have fundamental differences with the West on how to go about these issues, that by itself shouldn’t be grounds for accusation. Now let’s talk about it.

  2. overseaschinese
    June 25th, 2008 at 04:53 | #2

    Perhaps you should find a different word besides freedom. For example, “restricted.” It sounds a bit better than “non-free.”

  3. June 25th, 2008 at 05:33 | #3

    Personally, even when I was part of the religion, I was uncomfortable with the Christian Evangelist black/white world view. The more fundamentalist the leaning the more the contrast setting of his world view gets cranked up. But, I grew up with proselytizing messages from messengers with evidently earnest interest in my spiritual well being. Today, I’ve developed a good line of defenses to these messages.

    It’s like catching the mumps. It’s best to catch the mumps when you’re young. Let the disease run its course and your body gain an immunity to it. Catching mumps when you’re an adult is serious business. Catching religion as an adult can really mess with a person’s mind.

    And that’s the problem I see with the government’s approach to religion. It is too paternal, too protective. The individual doesn’t develop defenses to religious messages. So, when the huckster comes along with a message of good health, access to some supernatural power, and so on, what can the unprepared person say? He might ask what the science is behind the claims but the reality is that humans often need a faith in something bigger. If the person had an accepted orthodoxy, he could at least say that isn’t what he believes in.

    The evangelists’ easiest target is someone who doesn’t have an established belief system. What the government’s approach accomplishes is the creation of a large mass of easy targets.

  4. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 05:45 | #4

    Very informative, much thanks Oli.

    I do want to question one point you made, about the Chinese law limiting minors from receiving religious education. I had never actually thought about the “one child policy” aspect of this, and it’s an interesting link. But I believe current Chinese regulations on religion dates from shortly after the revolution in 1949, and *before* the “one child policy” was implemented.

    The law limiting minors from receiving religious education is actually very relevant to the discussion we’ve been having here about both Tibetans and Uygurs in Xinjiang! In both communities, one of the biggest points of dispute is on religious education for the young. (And in both communities, the “one child policy” also doesn’t apply.)

    The Dalai Lama hasn’t come out and said it to the Western press in so many words, but if you read between the lines (and what religious Tibetans in China are saying), one of the key aspects of “religious autonomy” would be revitalizing Tibetan Buddhist monasteries as a place for traditional Tibetan teaching to the young. I think I read pre-1950, up to 25% of Tibet’s male population were in monasteries.

    I believe even today the Chinese government is looking the other way on this issue by allowing minors in autonomous Tibetan areas the right to enter monasteries. However, as a compromise, it then limits the number of slots available to monks in any monastery (an operation supported by tax-payer dollars, I might add).

    In contrast, in Xinjiang, policies on religious education for minors is much more strict. Much of the “repression” in the 1990s involved arresting those who were trying to set up private Islamic madrassas in southern Xinjiang. With the wave of Islamic fundamentalism sweeping central Asia in the post-Afghanistan era (see: Chechnya), Xinjiang faced similar pressure. As far as I know, those under 18 in Xinjiang are strictly not allowed to study the Koran, or enter mosques. Students are explicitly warned not to fast (and tightly monitored by teachers) during Ramadan, for example.

    This is all an interesting question, isn’t it? Is there more “religious freedom” in a society that allows minors to practice religion if their parents choose it for them? Or is there more “religious freedom” in a society if minors are kept from brain-washed with religious dogma as children, but allowed to discover religion as informed adults?

  5. June 25th, 2008 at 06:27 | #5

    Candidly, I personally find the idea of placing young boys into a monastery as worrisome and potentially abusive.

    At the same time, if the government is preventing children from participating in things like reading the Bible or Qur’an, fasting, or even entering mosques, they can not turn around with a dumbfounded look on their face and wonder why these people are angry. All the government will accomplish is tightening the spring that will eventually snap out violently.

    It’s just Human 101.

    Every religion out there has ritual for children. Why is there Santa? Even the Easter Bunny has a role in teaching children. Christians get upset when these symbols, which are meant to be used to indoctrinate children, become secularized. Religion is a huge part of cultural identity. Passing that tradition to your children is an important human activity.

    Denying parents a way to teach their children their traditions is monstrous in its stupidity. I’ve been trying to figure out where the Tibetan venom in the March riots came from. One piece of that puzzle has just become clear.

    Let me be clear. I think religion has the potential to manifest some of the most anti-human, anti-intellectual, and evil behavior be it collectively or individually. But, most of humanity needs to have it and neither science nor political party are wacky enough for the masses. They need it like they need their daily bread or rice. When the state steps between a parent and their child’s soul food… the state might as well be physically starving the child as far as the parent is concerned.

    If what you say about Xinjiang is correct, it is only a matter of time before the anger explodes violently.

  6. June 25th, 2008 at 06:51 | #6

    Hmm… this seems to have touched a nerve of mine. Interesting.

    Buxi,

    This is all an interesting question, isn’t it? Is there more “religious freedom” in a society that allows minors to practice religion if their parents choose it for them? Or is there more “religious freedom” in a society if minors are kept from brain-washed with religious dogma as children, but allowed to discover religion as informed adults?

    This makes the false assumption that religion is something to discover as informed adults. It isn’t. For the parents of these children, the soul of the child is at risk. I’ve heard that some Catholics will sometimes sneak a child into a church to be baptized when its parents refused to do so. Rituals of the religion encompass every stage of the child’s growth. For the culture and for the parent, these rituals insure something like salvation or value of the child. Without them, the child is lacking in some way.

    Disrupt these rituals and you attack the heart and soul of the people.

    Having said that, “patriotic education” isn’t a bad idea. I think calling it “social education” might be more palatable. There are certain traditions in the world that are reprehensible and have no place in an enlightened society. In particular, many of these traditions have regressive attitudes towards women, for example Catholics and the priesthood (mentioning what happens in some Islamic states would be just too easy). In extreme, some practices should be aggressively prosecuted, such as female circumcision.

    In general, I wouldn’t stand between a parent’s attempts to brain-wash their children with religious dogma. Instead, I would encourage tolerance by giving fair and respectful education about the other official religious traditions. In that way, when the child grows up he can make an informed adult decision about religion.

  7. Nimrod
    June 25th, 2008 at 06:56 | #7

    Not so fast, MutantJedi. Is it just not encouraged at school or is there any restriction on home practice? Because I doubt the latter is true. People do fast at Ramadan.

  8. Nimrod
    June 25th, 2008 at 06:59 | #8

    MutantJedi wrote:

    Having said that, “patriotic education” isn’t a bad idea. I think calling it “social education” might be more palatable.

    +++++
    I think the better translation is “civics lessons”. “Patriotic education” is an intentional literal translation preferred by the Western press.

  9. S.K. Cheung
    June 25th, 2008 at 07:21 | #9

    To Oli:
    Nice post. Particularly enjoyed the Henry VIII reference :-)
    At the risk of oversimplifying your position, it seems your perspective is predicated on the fact that the government of China is merely enacting and enforcing laws that reflect the will of PRC citizens. If one accepts this premise, then admittedly there is little grounds to criticize China. However, even if one accepts that current laws reflect the historical attitudes of Chinese towards religion, can you be sure that they reflect the current attitudes of Chinese (or at least what those attitudes would have been had they been allowed to evolve naturally – pun intended)? It becomes a chicken/egg scenario. Do Chinese laws reflect popular attitudes, or do popular attitudes reflect Chinese laws? While I agree that the freedom of religion should not and cannot be boundless, it seems that the Chinese model is far more paternalistic than is necessary, as MJ also asserts. Did Chinese people request such paternalism?
    I apologize for speaking in general terms, rather than specifying individual quotes from your entry. Perhaps another time. But one point did stick out: if Chinese can’t proselytize and preach, what exactly do they do in a lawful church? And if religious practices can be illegal, then can a Catholic accept communion?

  10. snow
    June 25th, 2008 at 11:00 | #10

    Oli,

    A good post and I agree with you whole heartedly! You may want to check a documentary “Jesus in China” by PBS Frontline aired on 6/24, which is mostly what I intended to write against in a documentary film proposal on the same subject rejected by the PBS three years ago.

    Most western views of China and religion suffer a serious lack of historical perspective. For instance, the first missionaries arrived in China in the seventh century. But it was not until after the two Opium Wars in the latter part of the nineteenth century that Christianity began to grow and take root in China, largely due to the Unequal Treaties forced on the Qing government after its defeat — a Clause of Tolerance gave privileges to the churches run by the Christian missionaries from the victorious nations. Afger 1949 the CCP confiscated foreign church property and dismissed foreign missionaries. The one million Chinese Christians then split between those who joined the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), which echoed an earlier indigenous movement to some extent and being endorsed by the government, and those who refused to associate with it.

    The booming of Christianity in China today has become not unknown to the world by now. While the major western media has indulged in reporting on incidents of persecution of “house church” Christians, their coverage on the activities of the registered “official church,” which is estimated to have nearly twenty million members, have appeared to be nothing but negative.

    They have also failed to ask important questions: Do the people from the “official church” hold the same faith as their brothers and sisters from the “house church?” Why is it that in spite of “suppression” the “house church” networks had established a powerful presence all over China, operating completely outside of the domain of officialdom? What kind of role does the government play anyway? Moreover, to what degree is this Christianity booming influenced by the indigenous culture tradition and folk religions that are rooted in the country’s unevenly developed economy? How is the issue of religious freedom affected and circumscribed as always by both the historical events and the economic and social issues of the time? How do the Chinese Christians identify themselves as both Chinese and Christian?

    I believe that the majority of Chinese Christians, both from the “house church” and “official church” are respectable people who have suffered and endured for their faith, and who still persist in cherishing a spiritual home and values in an increasingly materialistic society. The extent to which religious freedom is allowed is always the measure of the fairness of a society. However, deeply entangled with and entrenched in the many other social, economic, political and cultural issues of a society in rapid transition, the issue of religious freedom in China is extremely complex, as it has been throughout its history. And there will be no easy answers to the difficulties and problems that both the Chinese Christians and the government have been experiencing.

  11. June 25th, 2008 at 12:04 | #11

    @Snow – Interesting questions, but unimportant when considering the question of why atheist officials believe they should have the right to control religious worship.

  12. Anon
    June 25th, 2008 at 12:06 | #12

    @Oli

    Just as S K Cheung has pointed out, you seem to confuse a number of very different issues. I just want to add a couple of factual points.

    Just take the case of secularism in France and Turkey. French secularism has nothing to do with controlling religion along the lines of Chinese policy, what French policy does do is to ban the government from sanctioning any particular religion. The same applies to Turkey. This secular zeal is sometime taken to absurd expressions, such as banning girls in government schools from wearing scarves. But there is no general ban on head scarves in France or Turkey as such.

    Consequently, to prevent religious radicalism and politicisation, China insists that all its clergy, be they monks, priests or imams at one time or another undergo “patriotic education” (I suggest that people research this for what it really is rather than the negative/sinister spin that has been put on it), just as France insist that Muslim imams preaching in France undergo education on what it means to be French.

    Really? Where did you get that from? As a matter of fact, a lot of imams in France don’t even speak French.

    In the case of Anglicanism, China does not recognise the Church of England because firstly, it is the Church of England…

    Interesting conflation of two different things. Anglicanism and the Church of England are not identical. You have a world wide community of Anglicans that are not affiliated with the Church of England. And in the US, Anglicans call themselves Episcopalians, just to show that they are not subject to the queen of England. If the Chinese government wanted to recognize the Anglican church they could do so.

  13. snow
    June 25th, 2008 at 13:14 | #13

    Faorp,
    “Why atheist officials believe they should have the right to control religious worship.”

    This seems to be the whole point that Oli’s post tries to make here. To put it simply, people do not worship religion in a social and historical vacuum and there is hardly a thing called religion for religion’s sake in this world. Besides, the Chinese government in past decades has in fact helped facilitating the Christianity boom in many aspects if you do a serious research despite sporadic incidents of suppression which mostly caused by activities that were deemed to have crossed lines of restrictions set by the government. a pastor I interviewed a few years ago told me that some “house church” in remote places had conducted appalling illegal and even criminal activities in the name of Jesus and bible; people in social and economic disadvantages are especially vulnerable to be manipulated by the so called religions. There has not been short of incidents of social unrest and disturbance instigated by people using the tool of religion in recent Chinese history. The point is to what degree and in what manner certain government control should be properly exercised.

  14. snow
    June 25th, 2008 at 13:35 | #14

    Ironically, as much as the missionaries and Jesuits had tried to Christianize China, most of them see hong xiuquan, the leader of taiping rebellion who used Christianity to call on people to overthrow the Qing regime as sacrilegious. In July 19, 1864, the Taipings were defeated by the Qing army, which was assisted by gunboats, cannons and men from the Christian British and French. One of the reasons the British helped the Qing court was that the Taiping government banned the use of opium in Taiping lands.

  15. June 25th, 2008 at 13:39 | #15

    The article is interesting.

    Chinese just have no strong concept of religion. Will you please compare Confucianism and Taoism and tell me which is religion and which is not? Also, ancestor warship is popular in many part of China, is it religion? IMO, China sometimes can’t draw a clear line between religion and philosophy.

    Buxi raised his question on minor religion practicer, that’s cute. From this point, sometimes I can’t see what’s the meaning of the freedom of religion. Religion just like market share, when one religion occupies one region, first the parents then the children. The children actually have no choice on that. That’s not only the phenomenon in Tibetan and Xinjiang, that’s also the same in Western Christian families. I was told, every year, there are monks/lamas quitting Jokhang temple in Lhasa. In modernized society, when boys grow up, they can’t resist the outside temptation and choose by themselves.

    I never say China has freedom of religion. The background is, China is still not a democratic country. Yes, current Chinese society is much opener than 30 years ago. Ordinary people freely select their style of life. However, they don’t experience the full freedom like in most democratic country. That’s the fact also in religion domain. The freedom of religion is definitely limited. The freedom listed in the article is quite low-level. If one can’t generate their religion head freely according to the religion custom, how can you say he/she has religion freedom.

    China government is always quite alert on any organization. That’s their attitude toward NGO, toward spontaneous worker/peasant union, also toward FLG. With the same reason, they put tight control on religions. For religions they have more confidence, the control is loose such as inland Buddhism/Taoism. Otherwise the control is tight. In China’s history, the uprises start with a face of religion, the two famous examples are White Lotus Sect and Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and also the latest one, FLG. Another historic reason is Western colonism with missionary. During some period, the Christian missionaries are working as a major anti-communism force coorperating closly with CIA. Also, You can easily understand why China government is difficult to achieve agreement with Vatican. As indicated in the article, history just repeated itself as English or European precedents.

    Finally I want to say, sometime, I feel Communism in China has lots of elements as a religion, esp. in pre-1978 era. You can see how they wash brain, how they educate the minors and the majors, how they inspire people to rely on mental force. The bundle style of the party and the state is alike to Caesaropapism. Their reaction to FLG exactly reminds me the war of two religions.

  16. June 25th, 2008 at 15:51 | #16

    @Snow – None of this excuses wholesale bans on certain religions simply for refusing to allow the CCP to exercise control over areas essential for the true expression of religious faith.

  17. June 25th, 2008 at 16:39 | #17

    “particularly on the issue of the right to appoint bishops, who will in essence become community leaders.”

    So, what you are saying is that organised religious faith confers authority apon its leaders and that the CCP, an atheist organisation, thinks it should control this authority?

    “if you are a British Anglican, an American Quaker or a South Korean Evangelical living in China, you are free to practice your faith within your own homes or congregate subject to approval, at a lawful Christian Church.”

    Quite apart from the fact that the Quakers do no meet in Churches, and that congregating in a Catholic church is not much good for an Evangelical or Greek Orthodox, the freedom to practice a religion ‘in private’ is not freedom at all

    “In the case of Anglicanism, China does not recognise the Church of England because firstly, it is the Church of England, not the Church of China, secondly, as noted above China regards the Anglican Church as very much a political creation, which coupled with the fact that a British monarch is its “Supreme Governor” with the right to appoint the Archbishop and England’s history in China, renders it unacceptable to the government and to many Chinese people. A third reason is the often preachy, windbag-like and politicised nature of Anglican sermons (yes, I have attended quite a few and fell asleep at many more).”

    The Church of England is a member of the Anglican Communion, many members of which have no connection to the British crown. There is no single all-encompassing Church leadership, the Archbishop of Canterbury is recognised as a symbolic head of the Communion and nothing more. The government-approved ‘three-self’ movement not only disallows membership of the wider Christian community, but even restricts what parts of the Christian message may be preached – this is not freedom.

    “China does not ban the practice of Roman Catholicism”

    Since the role of the Church and the pope is central to what Roman Catholicism is, this is total nonsense – nor does it require recognition of the Holy See for people to be able to practice their religion, what it requires is the ability to establish churches in communion with the Holy See – this is what the CCP forbids.

    “Whilst from a Western perspective, it can be argued that the issue of whether a family wishes its single child to enter a life of religious celibacy is for the family and the child alone to decide. However, just as with all nations and societies, China and its peoples have always placed significance on the family unit, be they nuclear or extended, as the society’s and the nation’s building blocks, so that laws are inevitably enacted in support of and to reinforce the family and issues of family values regularly crop up too during elections in Europe or the Americas.”

    I really do not see your point here. Are you saying that the way in which certain chruches encourage their followers to enter in vows of celibacy is sufficient grounds to ban them? What about the monasteries and nunneries that already exist in China?

    “Just as any judicial process needs to be fair as well as appears to be fair, a government needs to be impartial as well as be seen to be impartial in the execution of its functions. Consequently, government workers and CCP members are banned from having any religious affiliations under China’s laws.”

    This is odious rubbish. CCP members are allowed to engage in many activities that may produce potential conflicts of interest – the main one being business ventures. This ban functions as a way of discouraging the religiously inclined from open religious belief, and excludes the voices of the religious from the governmental decision making process.

    “In doing so, China, like Turkey or France, has simply enacted into law practices that in other countries are restricted by cultural customs and traditions. An example is the controversy over Ruth Kelly being appointed UK Minister for Education under Tony Blair’s government”

    This is not an example – Ruth Kelly held her position.

  18. yo
    June 25th, 2008 at 16:42 | #18

    @Oli
    Interesting post, well done. Here are some general questions and thoughts.

    “Consequently, government workers and CCP members are banned from having any religious affiliations under China’s laws.”

    -That is the theory, but in fact, they do practice religion. I think the documentary, “Jesus in China”, that snow mentioned shows the same. IMO, I would be more interested in the topic Islam in China.

    -Would the correct interpretation of your essay be that religious regulations are more so for ORGANIZED religions?

    -Also, I would also like to know the actual degree of regulations. I know China has the “Policy vs Law” thing. In your opinion, how does religious regulations fit into that, and how much is it enforced(for example in the U.S., murder is almost always enforced, downloading music illegally is sometimes enforced, jaywalking is rarely enforced.)?

  19. Person
    June 25th, 2008 at 16:56 | #19

    Dear David Peng:

    I think you are wrong about brain washing in China. You must been brain wash by all the things media and US and other like them telling you about China.
    Also you may gain some understanding of FLG, you may even find them to be a brain wash group of people.

  20. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 17:21 | #20

    @Person,

    David Peng is also Chinese, and I think very informed about China. I don’t think he means that the Communist Party is brain-washing today, he’s talking about the time period before 1978. During the Cultural Revolution, we can say that was pretty accurate. I actually agree with him that during the ’60s and ’70s, the Communist Party was closer to a religion than a political party.

    But that was 30-40 years ago, of course. And today’s Communist Party is very different from that Communist Party. And FLG… well, I think everyone knows what they are.

  21. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 17:27 | #21

    Yo,

    -That is the theory, but in fact, they do practice religion. I think the documentary, “Jesus in China”, that snow mentioned shows the same. IMO, I would be more interested in the topic Islam in China.

    That’s actually one of the points I’m most dissatisfied with in the Frontline documentary. It took one anecdote and tried to suggest it was a trend, and I completely disagree. The Party is still very tightly regulating religious practice, and I personally don’t think it’s going to change any time soon.

    Going back to the issue of Tibet and “autonomy”, one of the OTHER common points of complaint (which you’ll rarely hear about in the Western press), is that Communist Party members in Tibet are tightly regulated from any sort of religious practice. There are stories that over the last decade, Party members have even told to clear their homes of religious shrines… basically forcing their spouses/children to also be atheist. This is also a source of discontent for many. Yes, that’s right, Party members are more heavily “oppressed” than just about anyone else in Tibet.

    One more thing I didn’t like from the Frontline documentary… the narrator said something like this:

    There are more Christians in China today, than members of the Communist Party.

    Probably true, but very misleading in terms of implications. The Communist Party remains very, very, very selective in terms of membership. It’s like making Eagle Scout in the United States, a tremendous challenge involving multiple interviews, background checks etc. On the other hand, the Christian church is actively evangelizing and trying to bringing anyone with a pulse.

    In terms of *support*, as in… how many people would *like* to be a Party member (certainly not 100%, but probably 50%)… and how many people would *like* to be a Christian church-goer… the Communists are still way, way ahead.

  22. Nimrod
    June 25th, 2008 at 17:38 | #22

    Here’s another question: What’s better, having an official state church and no restrictions on other religions, or having no state church but having restrictions on all religions? If China had a state church like many countries in Europe do, people would scream bloody murder. (I think they already do scream bloody murder because they equate communism to atheism to “religion”, which is a kind of loose hand-waving I don’t want to indulge in).

    FOARP wrote:

    the freedom to practice a religion ‘in private’ is not freedom at all

    +++++
    Just to be clear we’re talking about the same thing, I think “in private” here means “as a private citizen”, or as yo interpreted, not organized religion. It doesn’t mean in stealth or hiding that you are religious. I agree that if you need to do it in stealth that is not really freedom. But is your position that any form of restriction on organized religion is also “not freedom”?

  23. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 17:41 | #23

    @MutantJedi,

    This makes the false assumption that religion is something to discover as informed adults. It isn’t. For the parents of these children, the soul of the child is at risk. I’ve heard that some Catholics will sometimes sneak a child into a church to be baptized when its parents refused to do so. Rituals of the religion encompass every stage of the child’s growth. For the culture and for the parent, these rituals insure something like salvation or value of the child. Without them, the child is lacking in some way.

    Disrupt these rituals and you attack the heart and soul of the people.

    Well, this in some ways is at the heart of the “cultural genocide” that Tibetans and Uygurs are complaining about.

    I was raised an atheist (of course), and I remain one today (by choice, of course). I respect the choices of others, but I do not agree that an argument about “souls of the children” is necessarily convincing. What about Christian science faith-healers, convinced that their childrens’ souls are destroyed if they use medicine to treat their disease? What about polygamists, or religions that require sexual contact between children/adults?

    Surely we can agree that society has the right and obligation to determine where the limits for religious practice lies, right?

    It’s then a matter of opinion WHERE these limits should lie. I personally believe a requirement that religious teaching should be limited to those 18+ is perfectly reasonable. How many people in the West have left their faith, or discovered new faiths after 18? Many, of course. So, how many more would probably prefer to be in another faith, if they weren’t still terrified by child-hood nightmares about eternal damnation?

    I’m not really trying to lobby that as a policy for the West, but I’d ask for some understanding from those in the Wes; those who feel this way do so for a reason, and are not motivated by evil.

  24. Nimrod
    June 25th, 2008 at 17:55 | #24

    I can understand where MutantJedi comes from because much of religion is culture and identity, and only secondarily mysticism and spirituality.

    So I don’t know that all religious upbringing should be banned for children. If that is the case now you need to find the boundary between what is a religion and what is not, etc., which is impossible.

    But I can accept that oversight needs to be exercised over how children participate in organized religion. Parents shouldn’t have all the say in this just like they shouldn’t have all the say about whether their children shouldn’t go to school.

  25. yo
    June 25th, 2008 at 18:07 | #25

    Buxi,
    “The Party is still very tightly regulating religious practice, and I personally don’t think it’s going to change any time soon.”
    Actually, I didn’t get that pov from the Frontline documentary. My good friend knows some personally. Extent, of course, I have no idea, however, the point is made, supposed religious regulation within the party is overstated.

    “There are more Christians in China today, than members of the Communist Party.”
    Yeah, I agree, that’s a useless statistics. I’m going out on a limb and say there are more Muslims in China than “Communists”. It’s not comparable to be relevant.

    “It’s like making Eagle Scout in the United States”
    I don’t know man, I feel that’s a bold statement to make :-)

    “In terms of *support*, as in… how many people would *like* to be a Party member (certainly not 100%, but probably 50%)… and how many people would *like* to be a Christian church-goer… the Communists are still way, way ahead.”

    That’s your opinion right :-)???? Irregardless, I would say that’s not comparable, similar to the statistic mentioned above.

  26. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 18:22 | #26

    @Nimrod,

    But I can accept that oversight needs to be exercised over how children participate in organized religion. Parents shouldn’t have all the say in this just like they shouldn’t have all the say about whether their children shouldn’t go to school.

    Sure, that’s closer to what I mean. We’re past the point where we should limit what parents are telling their children in the privacy of their own homes, but children should still be attending *secular* schools teaching an entirely *secular* curriculum.

    On the question of whether children should be going into places of worship… I don’t know. The United States limits porn not because sex is dangerous; casinos are off-limits not because gambling itself is dangerous; alcohol is off-limits not because drinking itself is dangerous… it limits these because of concerns minors aren’t ready to evaluate and understand the implications of these things.

    Of course… if we look at the West today, extremist religion is obviously in decline, beaten back by secular commercialization of everything. That’d be an argument for stepping back and doing nothing. But if we look at other areas of the world, it’s not so obvious that’s the case.

  27. Anon
    June 25th, 2008 at 18:40 | #27

    @Buxi

    We’re past the point where we should limit what parents are telling their children in the privacy of their own homes, but children should still be attending *secular* schools teaching an entirely *secular* curriculum.

    Secular? In a way, nationalism is also a form of religion. Given this post endorsement of patriotic reeducation of clergy, should foreign countries accept the fact that the Chinese government is funding organizations and schools overseas that inculcate pro-PRC nationalism in children that are less than 18 years old? Or is this, as usual, a one way street?

  28. June 25th, 2008 at 18:59 | #28

    Nimrod #7,

    Not encouraged is different than discouraged. Still, a child being told by his teacher not to obey his parents on something that is as simple as eating is significant to that child. Children want to please the adults around them. Conflicting messages like this would be unsettling for the child.

    Buxi #23,

    My position isn’t what I seek for myself. I, and my sons, would fit quite well into the government’s container.

    I think where we see things differently is where you say “It’s then a matter of opinion WHERE these limits should lie.” Yes and no. From a dispassionate atheist point of view, religious teaching is an oddity and if it is to be indulged, it is best left at a later age in life where the individual has developed a better, fuller understanding of society, reality, and so on. If we lived in a world with a species that could actually function like that then, absolutely, 18+ is perfectly reasonable line in the arbitrary sand.

    However, we don’t live in that world we live in this one.

    People need, just like they need food clothing and shelter, to be able to teach (brainwash, indoctrinate, whatever) their children. To these people, religious discovery is not important. In fact it is exactly what they don’t want to happen with their children. In some religions, apostates or converts away from the religion are viewed very seriously – they could get themselves stoned.

    A government can’t pretend that human beings are something that they are not. This bit of information about no religious education until 18+ explains so much as to why various groups are unhappy. It doesn’t matter if you and I are not concerned about the damnation of the children’s souls, it only matters that the parents do. Use a bit of compassion and imagine the grief a parent would experience when he or she is gripped with the belief that their child may become lost.

    Wishing our species wasn’t this way doesn’t make us not this way. A government that fails to recognize the humanity of its citizens is doomed to fall.

    Otherwise, regulate the crap out of religion. There is absolutely no justification for child abuse, abuse of women, and so on. Don’t let the religious nutbags block sex education in the schools. Young Earth Creationism belongs in the chapter of “Nutty things people believe in” of the curriculum, otherwise titled “Religious Studies”. Prosecute aggressively heinous crimes such as honor killings.

    To bring my rant back to this issue being a matter of opinion where to draw the lines, I would strongly disagree that the lines are arbitrary and hence of equal merit. I absolutely agree that lines need to be drawn. But drawing the line at 18+ for religious education is reckless.

  29. yo
    June 25th, 2008 at 19:34 | #29

    Mutant Jedi, Buxi,

    I would like some more background about this 18+ issue. Can you guys give me some specifics on the policy and how it’s carried out?

    thanks.

  30. June 25th, 2008 at 20:22 | #30

    yo, really, I don’t have anything more than what is here. One source is never sufficient so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more information.

  31. Lindel
    June 25th, 2008 at 20:45 | #31

    “China, like many nations and for her own reasons have chosen, as it is her right, to lay down a legal and regulatory framework within which religions are practised.”

    You should modify your statement to be “The government of the People’s Republic of China for reasons determined by that said government has adopted a legal and regulatory framework within which religions are practised.” China is not a she nor is it something from which religious laws emanate. You might be further specific in that the PRC’s constitution is the source of the legal and regulatory framework for religion with in the nation of the PRC.

    Also it should be added as dictated by Chairman Mao contrary to the natural rights of mankind and levied upon the citizen’s of the PRC via force of arms.

    In the united states it is considered a natural right of all human beings to exercise freedom of religion. This right does not come from a government, but is a right that is to be protected by but not infringed upon by the government.

    There was no reason to read past the first paragraph since you are unable to articulate the basic concepts of the PRC’s legal framework or the constitution of your own nation.

    You should read your own constitution and try to understand your own legal framework before you start to compare your countries legal framework to the legality of religions in other nations. Then I would suggest you proceed with an easier comparison to say North Korea or possibly Cuba .

    You kids should tackle Immanuel Kant before you proceed further.

  32. yo
    June 25th, 2008 at 21:40 | #32

    Nimrod #22

    I think you allude to a good point, what is “Freedom”? And this is a fundamental point in any sort of debate in regards to a “Free” society. Ask 100 people about freedom and you will get 100 different answers, it’s so subjective. Who is to say your definition or my definition is the end all be all.

    For example, many Americans would say that their civil liberties have been infringed upon in the post 911 world. However, you will find others that would disagree. One side might say “what about wire taping” while the other side might say “yeah, what about it?”.

    We should be careful in using words like “freedom”, because IMO, it’s inherently hollow by itself. Makes for a good soundbite, but superficial debates.

  33. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 22:00 | #33

    @Lindel,

    We’ve been relatively fortunate here in keeping discussions on topic and respectful. I hope you’ll find it within yourself to continue the trend.

    As far as using the term “China” as short-hand for the “government of the People’s Republic of China” in this context, I think Oli is in excellent company, as every government on this planet, the Dalai Lama, and just about every reasonably informed conversation tends to use the same terminology. If you have a substantive point to make, try to keep it on topic, rather than this sort of asinine commentary. It’s not worth our time.

    In the united states it is considered a natural right of all human beings to exercise freedom of religion. This right does not come from a government, but is a right that is to be protected by but not infringed upon by the government.

    The United States constitution does lay out a number of rights that China does not share. Even so, even in the United States, religious practice must ultimately conform to established legal standards. On the issues of health care and education for minors, for example, even religious parents must conform to minimum standards set down by a secular, non-religious body. I don’t see how you can have any sort of reasonable knowledge of American history and society, and still claim that the United States government absolutely does not infringe upon the “right” to religious practice.

    There was no reason to read past the first paragraph since you are unable to articulate the basic concepts of the PRC’s legal framework or the constitution of your own nation.

    Well, I’ll be happy to help out, by reiterating the specifics of our constitution:

    Article 36. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

  34. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 22:11 | #34

    @MutantJedi,

    To bring my rant back to this issue being a matter of opinion where to draw the lines, I would strongly disagree that the lines are arbitrary and hence of equal merit. I absolutely agree that lines need to be drawn. But drawing the line at 18+ for religious education is reckless.

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t really understand your argument here. You made a strong moral argument for why no line should be drawn, but then you concede it should be wrong in some cases.

    I really don’t see the difference. There are literally parents who believe their children will suffer eternal damnation if modern medicine is used to prolong their life. Even if you save their children’s lives, you’ve destroyed their soul (in their eyes); how do you justify such a decision on the standard that you’ve listed?

    I think I might’ve used the phrase “religious education” too broadly. As I said above, I think whatever informal religious teaching going on at home is something we have to accept, if only because enforcing a ban would be ridiculous and too invasive. But requiring all minors to attend entirely secular schools rather than religious schools is, in my opinion, not an unfair request. And yes, the situation in France lends strength to this argument.

    @Anon,

    Secular? In a way, nationalism is also a form of religion. Given this post endorsement of patriotic reeducation of clergy, should foreign countries accept the fact that the Chinese government is funding organizations and schools overseas that inculcate pro-PRC nationalism in children that are less than 18 years old? Or is this, as usual, a one way street?

    Well, that’s a fair question to ask. For any nation that believes nationalism is more or less a religion, I can understand if they wanted to legally restrict the teaching of nationalist “ideology” in school, along with other organized religions. That belief is not dominant in China today, nor do I share that belief.

    There are Chinese with liberal perspectives make precisely that argument in China of course, and you’re welcome to join their effort in trying to talk the Chinese people into changing their minds.

  35. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 22:21 | #35

    I would like some more background about this 18+ issue. Can you guys give me some specifics on the policy and how it’s carried out?

    Yo,

    I don’t know much more than what I said above, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

    Just like everything else in China, this is pretty much decided on a local basis, especially in the autonomous regions. (And yes, this is one area where Xinjiang and Tibet have “autonomy”.) The national policy in general is clear: all those under 18 should not participate in worship at Catholic Churches, mosques, Buddhist temples, and Tibetan monasteries. They also must attend a secular school, like I said.

    In Tibetan autonomous regions, young boys *are* allowed to be monks and not attend schools at all; I think this was seen as necessary, because it would otherwise really mean the immediate destruction of Tibetan Buddhism. (Many Chinese, by the way, think this policy is idiotic and unconstitutional.) But as I mentioned before, monasteries have a limited quota of those who are allowed to board on site and study as a monk.

    Xinjiang has less autonomy on this front. I’m curious how this policy is enforced amongst the Muslim Hui. I think I read an article about it years back, but I don’t remember the details. I assume it’s not very different from what Uygurs in Xinjiang face.

  36. Anon
    June 25th, 2008 at 22:42 | #36

    @Buxi

    For any nation that believes nationalism is more or less a religion, I can understand if they wanted to legally restrict the teaching of nationalist “ideology” in school, along with other organized religions. That belief is not dominant in China today, nor do I share that belief.

    So, if I take you at your own word, you would have no problem with nationalist Uighur, Mongol and Tibetan schools? Or schools that taught Chinese Koreans the tenets of South Korean nationalism?

  37. Buxi
    June 25th, 2008 at 22:47 | #37

    @Anon,

    So, if I take you at your own word, you would have no problem with nationalist Uighur, Mongol and Tibetan schools? Or schools that taught Chinese Koreans the tenets of South Korean nationalism?

    I don’t think you’re taking me at my word, I think you’re attempting to put words in my mouth. The fact that I refuse to support a ban on the teaching of patriotism to China in schools doesn’t imply I’m in favor of racial rhetoric.

    What I said isn’t really that complicated, nor does it imply what you’re saying here. I don’t believe nationalism is a religion. But what you described (as well as Han Chinese nationalism) would be against our Constitution, and it would destroy the multi-ethnic that China is trying to build today.

  38. yo
    June 25th, 2008 at 23:52 | #38

    Buxi,

    I would definitely like to know more, perhaps another time. This is very interesting by the way, I have never heard of such a practice in China before.

  39. Oli
    June 26th, 2008 at 00:11 | #39

    When I wrote this article, my intention was purely to give a very brief overview rather than an absolute account of law and policy on religion in China, the government’s position and its people’s attitude towards religion. It is a subject on which a whole book can be written about, but which by the time it is finished will definitely be outdated by events on the ground.

    Many posters here raised some very interesting and constructive issues and questions that I will think about and will return to. And then there are THE OTHERS of whom I simply despair.

    Many of the questions they’ve asked are based on a selective, out of context reading of the article. Should they but bother to re-read the article, exercise their grey matter just a wee bit, reconsider exactly what it is that I wrote, and temporarily leave the comfort zone of their Weltanschaung that makes up their core identity, they will easily find the answers to their questions and criticisms. Consequently, I am really of two minds as to whether I ought to even bother with their oft pedantic, angels and pinhead arguments or should just leave them to continue chasing their own tails.

    @FOARP
    If you think I am defending a system that I don’t understand, mayhap you could be so gracious as to explain the “system” to me and what is it that I don’t understand.

    On Ruth Kelly: I think you should consider who was it that appointed her and who had the power to dismiss her as UK Secretary of State for Education and why she held her position under Tony Blair.

  40. June 26th, 2008 at 00:21 | #40

    @FOARP
    Hmmm, I noticed you haven’t answer my question as to why those surveys on religious freedom in China are credible. Or are criticism all that you are capable of, maybe that’s why you always seems so angry and bitter. Can’t be very healthy that.

  41. June 26th, 2008 at 02:01 | #41

    This post is slightly pro-government. Let’s face it. Religion, especially organized religion, along with culture, secular institutions etc, is a form of power. Confusion, if you call it a religion, has been in the fold of government power for thousands of years. It also extends itself into culture. The Chinese government wants to limit the power of religion. The Chinese religion, or cultural wants to fight the alien religion also. That’s the base of “people’s will”. Just as true, America is a Christian state. I will believe otherwise until “in God we trust” is removed from national anthem.

    As Jesus said: Let it be unto Caesar if it belongs to Caesar, let it be God’s if it belongs to God. The only question is, where do you draw the line? What really belongs to Caesar, the secular world, what belongs to God. Jesus, as a wise man, didn’t say. But he did say “God created man” and thus everything. On the other hand, the real church should be “in your heart”. Now go figure.

  42. June 26th, 2008 at 02:18 | #42

    It’s also easy to understand the popularity of “house church”, because those “underground” pastors wants their own power, maybe money comes along with it.

  43. Otto Kerner
    June 26th, 2008 at 02:22 | #43

    This is a post which does not deny the lack of freedom of religion in China, but seeks to explain and excuse it. If someone feels good about that, I guess that’s nice, but there can hardly be the expectation that the other people in the world will ever see this as acceptable civilised behaviour, or look on it other than with opprobrium.

  44. June 26th, 2008 at 02:24 | #44

    @Person,

    As mentioned by Buxi, I am Chinese living in China, I knew lots of goods and bads in current Chinese society. That’s not in books or in reports, but peoples and lives around me. I definitely understand why China can’t evolve in a radical way. However, if you say, China is perfect and free, that’s not truth.

    Buxi’s right, the most brain-washing practice was in pre-1978 era. Today the situation is changing and the whole society also the party are more tolerant. However, the brain-washing is still there, in a weaker form. You can refer to the discussion around Yuan Weishi’s “Don’t feed children wolf milk”.

    On FLG, I from the very beginning regarded it as a cult. I strongly don’t like it but I also strongly oppose the way the party/government oppressed it. I truely believe at the time, there is lots of unlawful behavior even with Western standard. The government should let the media expose the dark side, the law system to sue them openly and put the evil parts into jail. That should be slower but of less side effects. However, the party just organized another Movement. Suddenly, all TV programs are pause, all TV channels are occupied with the propoganda, all FLG believers are forced into some ‘educational’ class, the party, dragging the whole country into a war against it. With my knowledge of Chinese law enforcement branch, I am quite sure there is lots of human rights abuse cases in the movement. How a modern and open and non-religion society can do things like that? That happened in 1999.

    I don’t know the goal of the blog exactly. Surely there is tremendous bias toward China and Chinese from Western, some of them still expose lots of true facts and feelings. If the blog is aim to correct those bias by stating only good things in China, I will not continue commenting like that. IMO, such kinds of affirmative action will decrease the credibility of it.

  45. Person
    June 26th, 2008 at 02:46 | #45

    The blog are there so that people can talk about things, I don’t think there even a goal of any other kind to accomplishing things.

  46. Buxi
    June 26th, 2008 at 04:46 | #46

    @Davidpeng,

    Now, I think Person is right and you are wrong. :)

    We’re definitely not here to be “affirmative action”. I hope we are here to redirect the conversation in the English world onto the kind of things that Chinese people actually care about. In my opinion, 95% of the criticisms of China that are in the Western press aren’t about the things that even Chinese reformers care about.

    The Western press tends to build up their own dissident “heroes” (like Hu Jia), instead of talking about those who criticize the government effectively, and with a purpose. For example, Yuan Weishi’s article… has anyone seen a good English translation out there? Are the Western readers familiar with the article (beyond the fact that it led to the closing of Freezing Point)?

    You might also see our very detailed coverage of Six Four, for example:
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/tag/sixfour/

    I personally lean towards the left politically (in Chinese terms), but I try not to let that affect me here. Others posting here lean to the right. If you lean to the right, then you should do your part to make sure we’re balanced. If you haven’t yet, make sure you take this quiz:
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2008/05/23/quiz-what-kind-of-chinese-are-you/

    We have before, and we will continue to talk about corruption and political reform in China. But for now at least, we are also spending a lot of time discussing issues most of us *don’t* care about, but the West does. And freedom of religion falls in that category.

  47. Buxi
    June 26th, 2008 at 04:49 | #47

    but there can hardly be the expectation that the other people in the world will ever see this as acceptable civilised behaviour, or look on it other than with opprobrium.

    Well, let’s have some perspective here Otto. What’s the population of North American and Western Europe, combined? What’s the population of China?

    I don’t mean to suggest your opinions are worthless (they’re definitely not worthless, as that is why we’re here trying to explain our perspective)… but let’s not assume that you have the moral right to declare what is civilized for all of humanity.

  48. June 26th, 2008 at 05:44 | #48

    @Buxi,

    For goal of the blog, I am HAPPY to know I am wrong.

    Regarding to Yuan Weishi, just recently I noticed a Japanese source on the issue.

    http://www.asahi.com/international/history/pdf/00_ch_01.pdf

    Unfortunately, the english version of the article is lost of link. Japanese did a better job, eh?

  49. Buxi
    June 26th, 2008 at 05:49 | #49

    @Davidpeng,

    Well, I don’t know if it’s worthwhile going back and discussing translating it and discussing that old issue… I will tell you that I don’t fully agree with many of Professor Yuan’s conclusions… and if he read American textbooks just as carefully, he would think Americans were also raised on wolf’s milk, too. I think I’m more interested in the story about the textbooks in Shanghai last year.

    But definitely, if a story like that comes up *again*, we’ll certainly discuss it in full.

  50. CLC
    June 26th, 2008 at 06:11 | #50

    @Davidpeng and Buxi

    Just a side note here. ESWN has translated both Yuan’s article
    “Modernization and History Textbooks” by Yuan Weishi (http://zonaeuropa.com/20060126_1.htm, need to scroll down a little bit) as well as a rebuttal “The Main Theme in Modern Chinese History Is Anti-Imperialism/Anti-Feudalism” by Zhang Haipeng (http://zonaeuropa.com/20060302_1.htm).

  51. flotsam
    June 26th, 2008 at 11:47 | #51

    “What’s the population of North American and Western Europe, combined? What’s the population of China?” – uh-huh?

  52. June 26th, 2008 at 16:27 | #52

    Buxi (#34),

    I actually don’t have any issue with keeping religious organizations accountable to the values and expectations of the society at large. Membership or participation in any organization doesn’t transcend you out of the law of the land.

    When it comes to religion, in my opinion, we don’t have to overexert our imagination to think of situations or practices that are offensive to our common sense of humanity. Government has an obligation to correct religions that step outside of societal bounds. But, religion isn’t all bad and it is a factor of our humanity. It is also deeply intwined with sense of identity and culture.

    My concern with religion is one of governance. The topic is huge so I’ll just focus on the 18+ issue. First, let me get this out of the way. In a sentence, good government strives to ensure an environment where the individual has a reasonable expectation of security and prosperity. Barring children from the mosque, church, temple, or anywhere that they might receive religious or cultural education reduces security. The practice reduces security because the viability of the larger cultural entity is in dire jeopardy. Cultural identity is maintained in children. The 18+ regulation is, without exaggeration, putting a knife at a culture’s throat. When cornered, as with any organism or organization, it will seek any measure to survive, even desperate and violent measures. Such a policy is bad government because it risks security.

    More can be asked about this policy… If the Zhonghua minzu represents a Chinese societal value, what place does a policy have that aggressively undermines the viability of the various ethnic groups?

  53. ann
    June 26th, 2008 at 17:13 | #53

    Great read and thanks for the insight into the place of religion in a secular society. To be silly for a second, isn’t the world better off that China never adopted a Judeo-Christian culture where abortion is a cardinal sin? I mean, do you expect us to grow into oblivion meanwhile gobbling up all the resources left on earth? :)

    @MutantJedi
    “…religion isn’t all bad and it is a factor of our humanity. It is also deeply
    intwined with sense of identity and culture.”

    I agree with religion being an integral part of culture, but isn’t a little bit of stretch to suggest it’s hard wired into our humanity? Didn’t the advent of religion postdate that of mankind by millions of years?

  54. OLDSON
    June 26th, 2008 at 19:25 | #54

    I think a lot of Westerners react to religion in China based on their own limited socio-cultural & personal experiences and background. This means that they simply imagine themselves as an individual in China and inevitably will feel either outraged, sympathetic or apathetic. You can’t simply impose another society’s religious background/tradition onto another culture and expect the same results.

    Religion and politics are intimately related. In the West we tend to deny this and assert the idea of separation of church and state but the bottom line is that religion plays a huge role in the political field. Religion therefore, in the CCP’s eyes, has less to do with spirituality than social movements. The CCP believes that any such social movements have the potential to de-stabilize China. While the CCP might appear to be in control, currently China is very chaotic. People always point to the CCP as being bloodthirsty and evil, but almost every educated mainland Chinese person always tells me that it’s necessary for the stability of China. Remember, China isn’t really a united country – many of my Chinese friends and business associates always point out the fact that China is actually a miniature world and each province is its own country. Regional differences in tradition, language and attitudes are very big. Mainland Chinese people hate the government but recognize it’s a necessary evil.

    So, China has suffered from 5,000 years of turmoil, revolts, coup d’etat’s and intermittent peace. While Westerners focus on dualistic battles of ideologies like Catholicism vs. Protestantism, China had it’s ‘100 schools’ which served as religious organizations battling for government control. Historically speaking, the West has mainly had struggles between Christians and other sects (pagans, Muslims, etc). China however has historically had hundreds of different ‘religious schools.’ China has a very long history of religious intolerance (and tolerance) and religious diversity.

    Therefore as can be seen in previous posts, the discussion about religion in China comes down to a battle of Westernized Chinese/Chinese Americans arguing about their minority viewpoints. If you really want to understand religion in China you need to talk with and understand non-Westernized mainland Chinese. The majority of them do not believe in religion. They are technically ‘atheist’ but not exactly in the Western sense (either pessimistically angry and critical of a God which they don’t believe in or laid back and nonjudgmental.) Chinese tend to be laid back and but the bottom line is they don’t care.

    I miss living in China because I never had televangelist’s cheats screaming and begging for money on TV. I was never accosted by smiling pushy missionaries to change my religion. I never had anybody challenge my viewpoints about controversial topics based on religious reasons. Chinese people, while having different opinions, try to seek social harmony and balance. They do this through building guanxi. Also, Chinese people are some of the most down to earth, hard working people in the world. They don’t squabble over religious differences, they just speak their mind and opinions as they see them. I really miss having open, friendly discussions about religion with all sorts of mainland Chinese (farmers, taxi drivers, students, business people, and political officers). I never once got into an argument and always came away feeling satisfied and comfortable.

    Mainland Chinese people see religion for what it is: good values mixed with hypocrisy and intolerance. Why blame the CCP for trying to control what they see as social movements? Why does the US Gov always interfere with ‘cults’ in America and take children away and in some cases kill cult members through police? The US Gov also has its own reasons for trying to maintain social order. Please remember that the majority of Chinese people don’t care about ‘religious freedom’ the same as other people.

  55. S.K. Cheung
    June 27th, 2008 at 00:38 | #55

    To Oldson:
    I enjoyed your post. I have no soft-spot for tele-evangelists either. I would agree with you, if there was confirmation that the CCP is merely reflecting the will of the people. However, is it in fact imposing its will on her people?
    “China isn’t really a united country…China is actually a miniature world and each province is its own country” – interesting that you say this. Goes to the forced unification discussion on another thread. That China seems to have attempted forced unification for 5000 years with as yet imperfect results suggests, to me, that perhaps it’s an imperfect solution, or an imperfect goal. That the reach should exceed the grasp, I suppose, or what’s the CCP for?
    Also interesting that you mention “guanxi” in the context of religious differences. I always associated it with corruption…clearly not a desirable association. Perhaps different in a religious context.

  56. S.K. Cheung
    June 27th, 2008 at 00:51 | #56

    To Oli:
    I enjoyed your “article”. But let’s not make it out to be anything more than what it is…your opinion, albeit a well-crafted and fluent expression of same. People can understand your opinion and still vehemently disagree with it, or the premises behind it. Just remember that this isn’t rocket science, or astrophysics.

  57. June 27th, 2008 at 01:33 | #57

    @Oli – You clearly didn’t understand why exactly it is that the Anglican church is banned in China – that it would not have allowed the controls that the CCP insists on under the ‘three selfs patriotic movement’.

    As for why the quakers are banned, even this has me stumped – I can’t explain it except in as much as they are a pacifist organisation – but if you wish to defend a system and demonstrate that it is not arbitrary then why don’t you find out?

    The rankings are done on the basis of checking the degree of freedom found – I find nothing objectional in their methodology, and the figures produced seem reasonable. If you wish to attack them, do so, but ‘show your working’ as they say.

    @Nimrod –

    Just to be clear we’re talking about the same thing, I think “in private” here means “as a private citizen”, or as yo interpreted, not organized religion. It doesn’t mean in stealth or hiding that you are religious. I agree that if you need to do it in stealth that is not really freedom. But is your position that any form of restriction on organized religion is also “not freedom”?

    Let me say it again, some forms of religious belief require organisation for them to be practiced – the Roman catholic church being one. I have said before that religious organisations should be governed by the law, but they should not be subject to unjust and arbitrary laws targeted only at religious organisations.

  58. June 27th, 2008 at 04:48 | #58

    @ann,

    We are an evolving species. :) Yet, as to the question of religion being hardwired, every culture has its superstitions and its gods so I would think that the challenging assertion to defend would be the one that says humanity in general isn’t hardwired to religion.

    What gets messy with religion is that it is an integral part of culture. Culture was and is a brilliant human adaptation. It allows our hairless species to adapt and thrive in extremely cold climates, for example. Religion, as part of that cultural adaptation, helped codify and communicate behaviors that were necessary for our survival.

    The baggage of this adaption is silly things like Xenu, virgin births, and lucky numbers. And serious things like re-incarnated god-kings, honor killings, abuse of women, and so on. Personally, I feel that religion is an adaptation that has had its time and purpose but it is very poorly suited for tomorrow.

    I don’t disagree with the government’s objective with respect to religion. I would, however, caution that the purposefully atheistic approach to the issue of religion can produce undesired results.

    Christian home churches that spring up because of onerous registration requirements are such an example. I would think that a network of churches lead by lay pastors is a concern for both state and mainstream protestantism and for the same reasons. There is no control over what the lay pastors teach. Moreover, if you are concerned about regular church goers, why would you push them underground where they are harder to track?

    —–
    I just stumbled across this BBC article about Catholics in China dated Christmas Eve 2003.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3343535.stm
    Fascinating… underground churches, a devote faithful, persecution, fear. If a young person is looking for something meaningful in life, a faith that is as oppressed as he or she feels has got to be attractive.
    Funny. “In his sermon, Father Benedict must preach the use of contraceptives, and explain to his flock that former leader Mao Zedong has gone to heaven…” Getting the church to be socially responsible by promoting the use of contraceptives I understand. But why would an atheist have to go to heaven?

  59. ann
    June 27th, 2008 at 18:04 | #59

    @MutantJedi
    “…the challenging assertion to defend would be the one that says humanity in general isn’t hardwired to religion.”

    I guess it’s easy to shift the burden of proving the negative to others right? Well, it’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors of billions of years ago needed a post hoc explanation of such natural processes as growing old and death, or coming to terms with a mystical cosmos every time they hit something strange or inexplicable, so rather than religion I would say we are more hard wired to egos than anything else when we project them onto the natural processes or physical environment and cling to them in the form of organized religion and churchs (no offense to any churn goers!)…

    “…why would an atheist have to go to heaven?”

    The saying ‘better rule in hell than serve in heaven’ came to mind. :)

  60. OLDSON
    June 27th, 2008 at 21:46 | #60

    @ Oli – speaking of what S.K. Cheung said about opinions, when you want to learn anything about China it is useful to consider what the majority of Chinese people think. While Chinese people do tend to have diverse opinions about many topics there are usually centrally shared ideas which everybody agrees with.

    One of my TCM/philosophy professors would always tell me that if you want to learn anything about China, you must follow the Dao De Jing where it says “为学日益, 为道日损“- a rough translation is ‘for study you add daily, for Dao you take away daily”. (It also is reflected in the Confucian idea of 三人行,必有我师).

    I have found that while Chinese people can be quite opinionated, they aren’t as American in the fact that they aren’t interested in forcing other people to believe like they do (with regards to religion, foreign policy, etc).

    @MutantJedi “…in his sermon, Father Benedict must preach the use of contraceptives, and explain to his flock that former leader Mao Zedong has gone to heaven…”

    That is very interesting because some Buddhists believe that Mao was a reincarnated Buddhist God. You can buy his statue in certain Buddhist shops. You know, some cult-like Christian sects (Mormons) have done secret rites for Hitler, etc so he can go to Heaven. Thus it can be seen that regardless of country, some religious sects are heavily influenced by politics and it shows in their doctrine.

  61. Oli
    June 28th, 2008 at 18:25 | #61

    @OLDSON

    See A Discussion on Religion in China thread for my reply to SK Cheung, who I think may have misunderstood me about my comments regarding THE OTHERS (I have a thing for Nicole Kidman and redheads of the female persuasion you see).

  62. Otto Kerner
    June 29th, 2008 at 01:22 | #62

    I agree, Buxi. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, even if we’re talking about a small country, it might have a clearer idea of what is genuinely civilised than do the large or powerful countries. This will only become truly clear in the fullness of time — and, I guess if the future turns out badly, not even then.

  63. June 30th, 2008 at 00:24 | #63

    @ann (sorry for the delay)

    :)

    Interesting. Rather than argue religion argue a foundation of religion as hardwired – projecting our own ego upon the world we observe. Don’t look at religion, look at our own egos. But I still don’t see how that gets us away from saying that religion (which is our own egos projected onto the natural world) is innate. A better approach would be to find a culture somewhere at sometime that eschews even superstition, wives tales, and myths. If it can’t be measured it doesn’t exist.

    Shudder… I’d hate to grow up in that imagination-less culture.

    While I may liken religion to an infection, I think it is something that we need to learn to live with as the cure for religion may be worse than the disease. I see it like e. coli. Sure, e. coli is associated with fecal contamination and it is a bad sign when you find it in the wrong places, like when you find creationists in the science classroom. But if you remove all the e. coli from your gut, you will get very sick. Moreover, you become vulnerable to an opportunistic pathogen, like Scientologists or FLG.

    So, society needs a bit of e. coli in its gut to be healthy. But just a bit. Too much and you get blights like Islamic states, Jewish settlers that beat on old palestinian women, and the brain rot of Christian Fundamentalism.

    Anyhow… innate or not, the role of religion in cultural or ethnic identity can’t be arbitrarily diminished without consequences. For example, given what’s going on in the rest of the Islamic world, a 18+ policy isn’t happening in a vacuum, the problem isn’t going to fade away. Muslims of Xinjiang will only become polarized with plenty of support from groups just across their border. Reinfection with some really bad bugs.

    While I think that the building blocks of religion are innate and often desirable, such as imagination, I don’t think we are doomed to be religious, if you know what I mean. For example, I can read and appreciate the Narnia Chronicles and other works of C. S. Lewis without finding myself compelled to attend church. :)

    Here’s my struggle with religion… On one hand I can see the ugliness of it, which boils down to denying the full humanity of my neighbor simply because he doesn’t subscribe to my set of arbitrary set of beliefs which, by their very nature, are not supportable by observation. But on the other hand, I can see the beauty of it, the simple faith of a farmer or a work of art inspired by the artist’s faith. The myths told by the religion are a mirror for us to look into to find wisdom and insight on what it is to be human.

    My hope, I suppose, is that we can admire the myth but lose the religion. But, in some corners of the world, I’d have a better chance of survival selling Mormanism in a white shirt and black tie. :)

  64. Buxi
    June 30th, 2008 at 18:07 | #64

    A better approach would be to find a culture somewhere at sometime that eschews even superstition, wives tales, and myths. If it can’t be measured it doesn’t exist.

    Shudder… I’d hate to grow up in that imagination-less culture.

    @MutantJedi,

    You’re basically describing China, at least as of the Cultural Revolution. Other than the “myth” of international communism, for a decade the belief and exercise of even basic superstition was wiped out. The Communist Party today still rests on that as one of its fundamental principles, although Chinese society itself has obviously changed.

    This is probably one of the biggest cultural gaps between mainland Chinese and Taiwanese communities, especially overseas. I don’t mind some myth when looking at our history, but since I’m an engineer born in that era of China… I really am pretty “imagination free”. This leads to interesting debates between myself and my Taiwanese wife about reincarnation and decorating the house.

  65. June 30th, 2008 at 18:26 | #65

    Yes, actually, the Cultural Revolution does come to mind for such an intellectual environment. But, as you mentioned, it wasn’t devoid of myth. In fact, I would suggest that it would have been hard, once the outer layer has been removed, to distinguish heart of the fervor of the time from any other religious fervor.

    “imagination free”? Really Buxi? I would honestly be surprised to find that is actually so. Especially in someone who is so passionate about the future of China, someone who wonders what their next step should be – remain or return…

    A truly imagination free man would not even consider trying to move the mountain.

  66. June 30th, 2008 at 18:37 | #66

    As for describing China as devoid of superstition, wives tales and myths… :) 哈哈
    The culture is delightfully rich in these things. I love the animation 大闹天宫 孙悟空 is one of my favorite characters. :D

  67. Buxi
    June 30th, 2008 at 18:40 | #67

    @MutantJedi,

    I was just using the term the way you used it. :) I don’t have a superstitious, mystical, or religious bone in my body. At best, I believe in a general way that good things tend to happen to those who do good, and evil things tend to happen to those who do evil… so, try to be good. But nothing more.

    I don’t believe I’m missing out; I believe it makes my life easier and simpler, grounded on the principles that are actually measurable. I hope to raise my children the same way, although my wife and I will probably have a few discussions about that as well… they’ll draw their own conclusions in time.

    They (and I) can still be imaginative, but only based on a realistic interpretation of what man is capable of.

  68. cephaloless
    July 1st, 2008 at 16:43 | #68

    I just came across this blog recently and is refreshing to find one actually has discussions instead of being punctuated with senseless attacks.

    I apologize in advance if I’m posting something outside of this discussion on religion and also I didn’t read all the post yet since its a bit long. What I want to bring up is “morals and values” instead of religion. If a set of parents wants to bring up their children, the parents undoubtedly want to teach their morals and values to their children. If these parents happen to be religious (the way the maintain stream religions advertise their members), they’ll want their children educated in the morals and values instilled in their religion. If the religious organization the parents participate in has means for educating the children in their accepted set of morals and values, the parents may choose to have the religious organization educate the children on their behalf.

    What I’m saying is religion should not be viewed as a bunch of superstitious hocus-pocus. Yes, some are. Yes, some aspects of most are. But to have a government dictate what your children can learn and not learn just doesn’t seem make sense no matter which government you live under. After all, children are their parent’s responsibility, not the government’s (yes there are times when its better to take the kids away but I don’t want to go there).

    What about bad religions organizations (the ones we like to call cults). Should they be declared illegal? I think that crosses into the concept of separation of church and state. If an individual violates the law, that individual should be punished according to the law. If a whole bunch of individuals violate the law, they should all be punished. If that whole bunch belong to the same extended family, the rest of the family shouldn’t be punished along with the guilty individuals. On the other hand, if the Global Annihilation Party (GAP) decides to gather regularly in a field outside of town in camouflage and gas masks, is there any reason to stop them? Even if that’s a family gathering where they cook up some wicked stinky tofu? And yes, I don’t like the idea of needing permission to congregate.

    Anyway, just throwing some thoughts out there about what might be law but still not a good idea.

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