This is a continuation of the discussion from the June 14th 2008 blog entry “Chocolate City” – Africans seek their dreams in China“, an article originally published in The Southern Metropolis Daily Jan 2008. Because of axes and grinding the discussion morphed from a debate about race relations in China to one about religions in China. As I have been invited to turn it into a blog entry and the issue of religions in China appears topical, I am posting the extract from my comments and other posters’ responses and questions, sans editing (apart from my own extract’s typos).
Please Note: I am a newbie at blogging and nor am I a full- time blogger. Any perceived expletives occurred in the heat of passion(ate) (debate), as these things are wont to happen and I beg readers’ indulgence.
June 19th, 2008 at 3:31 pm
So we have moved from race to religion now have we? My, some people do have a very big axe to grind and I wonder what carrying around such a big axe all the time does to a person’s mental health and rationality particularly when one is prone to using sweeping generalisations.
@ FOARP & Anon
“Metrics of religious freedom” depends on who commission these reports/statistical analysis, their motivations and agenda, what are its criteria, parameters, interpretative methodology etc. Consequently, anybody can play these absurd statistical games. Survey companies and statistical analysts/researchers/”scientists” churn out such “studies” by the busload every week to say what partisan/marketing/interest groups want it to say, such that it all becomes so much “marketing”, hypercritical BS.
In China, with its 50+ ethnic groups and corresponding religious and cultural practices, people pretty much practice whatever religion/belief system they want within the privacy of their own homes, subject to certain legal restraints and exclusions, some of which are no different from other countries’ and some that are specific to China’s own socio-political circumstances, evolution and perceived needs.
If you are born into a family of certain religious convictions and continue that belief/practice or you seek to join certain legally recognised religion of your own volition or seek to individually convert, there are no existing ban stopping you from doing so. But, the biggest NO NO is the ban on public proselytising, preaching, actively seeking converts and the politicisation of religion.
Such restrictions/rejections didn’t began with the Communists, but have always been both part of Chinese culture and were at one time or another formalised in its legal code or by imperial edict. The reasons are manifold and some of it includes maintaining social peace (imagine the fuss Chinese Muslims or Tibetan Buddhists will kick up if some happy-clappy American/S. Korean missionaries publicly and loudly set up shop in their neighbourhood and seek to convert their youth) and other Chinese’ cultural disdain for their children to join a celibate clergy, whether of the Buddhist or Christian persuasion, because of a perceived duty/importance to continue the family name/line and to have progenitors, especially under the one-child policy.
Nor are such restrictions/ban unique to China. Turkey bans the wearing of the head scarf in certain circumstances, Malaysia bans the seeking of Muslim converts, certain US states ban the practice of religious polygamy (I would love to see them go after the Saudi princes, no wait oil is at stake) and same sex marriages. Ireland bans abortion on religious grounds (if you are pro-choice), the UK generally allows abortion (if you are pro-life), Germany imposes a church tax on everybody irrespective of their religion and the list goes on, including bureaucratic or judicial mechanism for the automatic banning of cults that are deemed not conducive to public health or interests.
As different religions have always been practised in China and for the sake of social stability and efficiency, Chinese governments have always maintained and insisted on its legal and political supremacy over any religious/spiritual institutions. And this was so even long before the idea of a separation of state and church and parliamentary/legislative supremacy was but a twinkle in the eyes of Voltaire (a fan of Confucian rationalism), Rousseau, Bacon and the French/Scottish revolutionaries of the European Enlightenment period.
Because of historical experiences and competing religions, China’s peoples, particularly the majority Han Chinese have always been too pragmatic and cynical/sceptical to go wholesale into one religion or another, so that they are more superstitious, at best “spiritual”, than religious. Consequently, China is perhaps the only ancient civilisation that does not have a home grown organised religion (personally I consider Taoism (The Way) more a philosophy than a religion) nor adopted an official state religion.
Besides, the loudest complaining seems to come from foreign pseudo-religious interest groups who are being deprived of potentially new “customers” and new “revenue streams”. And lest we forget, it is these same religious groups/people who are so irrationally convinced of the “rightness” of their own interpretation of the divine or its existence that have so often been the cause/impetus of religious/sectarian bloodshed.
Just look at the Crusades and some American right wing religious neo-cons’ unquestioning support of Israeli government policies simply because they believe that the second coming of Jesus will occur if all Jews returned to Palestine. On the other hand there was nary a squeak of protest/condemnation from the pro-democracy/freedom of religion brigade when the Algerian military took power in a coup d’etat just when an Islamist party won the election in the 1990s and was poised to take power. How utterly hypocritical .
So ultimately tough luck, it’s the law of the land and to harp on about China restricting “freedom” of religion is a disingenuity based on a selective and myopic narrative, concluding in sweeping generalisations to support a narrow, partisan political purpose, whilst disregarding the overall picture and China’s socio-political evolution and circumstances. And frankly why should China be like everybody else??? How boring and inherently intolerant is that!
Consequently, I would rather that China’s peoples remain superstitious/spiritual rather than religious and that current restrictions remain in place. This way its people will continue to question the possible existence/non-existence of the divine and its social and ethical mores can continue to evolve and to adapt to changes, for this has always been what underpinned the perseverance of its civilisation. All too often it is only when we are too sure of ourselves and of what we believe in that we stagnate, ossify, and give rise to religious/racial/political conflicts.
June 19th, 2008 at 4:14 pm
@Oli – Please explain the ban on following Roman Catholicism, the world’s largest religion.
Please explain the ban on Anglicanism.
Please explain the ban on the Society Of Friends (AKA the Quakers).
Please explain the bar on the religious joining the communist party.
These are not quirks, and pointing them out is not an ‘absurd statistical game’. They constitute a campaign on the part of the government to eliminate any competition for the loyalty of the populace. You are right to say these restrictions are not unique to China, I believe North Korea exercises even stronger forms of oppression – no doubt the high level of development in that country is a result of this.
Do you not find the idea that those of religious belief in China must restrict themselves to the so-called ‘Patriotic’ religious organisations ‘boring and inherently intolerant’?
S.K. Cheung Says:
June 20th, 2008 at 5:20 am
“As different religions have always been practised in China and for the sake of social stability and efficiency, Chinese governments have always maintained and insisted on its legal and political supremacy over any religious/spiritual institutions” – it’s one thing to be spiritual/superstitious within the confines of your own home; but it’s a little harder to seek fellowship when the state condemns congregation. I agree with some of your points, for example, Christian-based faiths do have a somewhat “viral” nature about them, but if a family doesn’t want their “one child” to be enticed into leading a life of celibacy, isn’t that an issue for the family to deal with, rather than have big brother decide for them? It’s also striking how frequently China does things for the “sake of social stability”…is its society so inherently unstable, or is that just the convenient CCP tagline to quash any progenitors of potential dissent?
June 20th, 2008 at 10:38 am
As for answering FOARP and SK Cheung their questions, I would like to do it under a new entry and a new thread just for the sake of orderliness. But to give FOARP a hint of my answers to his questions, I would say that the they lie in FOARP’s own supposedly Anglican educational background and that he should look there for the answers to his own questions. And should he still not understand, he can ask me again under the new blog entry and I shall endeavour to answer them.
June 20th, 2008 at 1:31 pm
@Oli – Yes, I went to a C. Of E. Primary School – what’s your point? If I am anything now, I am an agnostic. If you think that the Archbishop of Canterbury is somekind of evil genius plotting against China, or are worried that someone like Desmond Tutu might come out of some Chinese Christian movement (and wouldn’t that be terrible?), let me just say that I doubt things would turn out that way.
Obviously, a group like the Society of Friends is an evil conspiracy against the Chinese people – I mean, they are pacifists who live according to personal beliefs, the danger is clear for everyone to see!
Generally, my approach is that I take things as I see it and try to discern why they are the way they are and if they are different, to understand why they are different rather than making self-limiting value judgements such as whether something is “good” or “evil”. My pointing you to search your own knowledge of Anglicanism for possible reasons why China bans the Anglican Church is just simply that, nothing more, nothing less. And, provided you don’t break the law nor cause harm, you could be a Satan worshipper who regularly prances around in diapers within a pentangle for all I care.
These (surveys on freedom of religion in China) are not quirks, and pointing them out is not an ‘absurd statistical game’.
Well, you can continue to stomp your feet and hold your breath, but until you provide specific reasons why such surveys on religious freedom in China should be credible or even considered pertinent, simply reiterating or insisting otherwise won’t make them so. Furthermore, if you define your understanding of people, places and things by what it is not rather than by what it is, you will never grasp its true nature and will continue to wallow in misguided prejudice and misconception of your own making and what you blindly allow yourself to be fed.
@ S. K. Cheung
Whether a society is inherently unstable or not is largely irrelevant for it is the function and purpose of any government of any nations to prevent any potential instability while regulating and accommodating changes. Consequently, all governments are arguably by definition and by its very nature inherently conservative.
Note: Please leave any further comments on the thread titled On China and Religion.