Are China’s Rulers Getting Religion?

Discussion in 'China' started by nrj, Nov 2, 2011.

  1. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    With worsening inflation, a slowing economy, and growing concerns about possible social unrest, China’s leaders have a lot on their plates these days. And yet when the Communist Party met at its annual plenum earlier this week, the issue given greatest attention was not economic policy but what it described as “cultural reform.”

    The concern appears quixotic, but China is now in the grips of a moral crisis. In recent months, the Chinese Internet has been full of talk about the lack of morality in society. And the problem is not just associated with the very rich or the political connected—concerns shared in western countries—but with the population at large. This has been precipitated in part by a spate of recent incidents in which people have failed to come to aid of fellow citizens caught in accidents or medical emergencies. A few weeks ago, a two-year-old girl in Guangzhou was hit by a car and left dying in the street while eighteen passers-by did nothing to help her. The case riveted China, causing people to ask what sort of society is being created.

    So, no sooner was the plenum over than the party indicated that it would limit the amount of entertainment shows on television and possibly set limits on popular microblogs. While it is easy to read this move simply as censorship, which it certainly is, it also reflects the new preoccupation with morality: many of the banned shows are pure entertainment—the party now wants more news programs—and Chinese microblogs have long been a forum for anonymous character assassination. Meanwhile, though it has been far less noted, Beijing is giving new support to religion—even the country’s own beleaguered traditional practice, Daoism.

    After decades of destruction, Daoist temples are being rebuilt, often with government support. Shortly after the plenum ended, authorities were convening an International Daoism Forum. The meeting was held near Mt. Heng in Hunan Province, one of Daoism’s five holy mountains, and was attended by 500 participants. It received extensive play in the Chinese media, with a noted British Daoist scholar, Martin Palmer, getting airtime on Chinese television. This is a sharp change for a religion that that was persecuted under Mao and long regarded as suspect. What, exactly, is gong on here?

    Daoism (sometimes spelled Taoism) began as a philosophical tradition in early China. Its most famous work is the Daodejing, attributed to a person known as Laozi, who may have existed in the 6th century BCE. It developed into an organized religion by the 2nd century CE. Although its practices vary widely, it generally advocates self-discipline and good living as a way to attain immortality, as well as elaborate rituals to purge individuals or communities of evil. Its ideas of harmony with nature underlie many aspects of Chinese culture, from calligraphy and painting to architecture and medicine. For generations, its formal teachings were passed down by Daoist priests as well as lay practitioners.

    During the Mao years many of its traditions, such as fortune telling, geomancy, possession by spirits, and popular rituals, were banned as superstitious. But it’s been making a limited comeback. Although still dwarfed by Buddhism, as well as newer religions, like Christianity, the number of Daoist temples has at least tripled over the past fifteen years, according to official figures. Priests and nuns who run the temples provide services to pilgrims and go out into the community to consecrate homes or businesses, and perform funerals. Others spread Daoist ideas through martial arts, such as Tai Chi, or medicine—two disciplines rooted in Daoism.

    One reason authorities are now embracing Daoism as a source of moral guidance is that, in contrast to Christianity—which sometimes runs afoul of authorities—Daoism is widely seen as an unthreatening, indigenous religion. That’s true of Buddhism as well, which was founded in today’s India but took root in China 2,000 years ago. But Buddhism has long had a cadre of devoted, missionizing monks and nuns who try to spread the word, whereas Daoism is sometimes hard to crack—you often have to earn a Daoist master’s trust and respect before he or she will take you on as a disciple. Moreover there’s no Daoist Gideons International, dropping the Daodejing in Chinese hotels. And then, of course, Daoism can be seen as the original tune-in-turn-on-drop-out religion; many Daoist luminaries have preferred a life of contemplation to pursuit of earthly power.

    Still, the Daodejing, says a lot about ruling, and one translation of that work’s title is “The Way and its Power.” Certainly, the text can be read profitably by authoritarians (translations from Lao-tzu’s Taoteching, Copper Canyon Press, 2009):

    the rule of the sage
    empties the mind
    but fills the belly

    Then again there are other verses that might well trouble a government trying to fight a perception that it is corrupt:

    The reason people are hungry
    is that those above levy so many taxes

    or:

    the reason people are hard to rule
    is that those above are so forceful

    Another part of Daoism that isn’t so easy for the government to swallow is that it has become a world religion, one that a government can’t easily control. Four months ago, for example, a very different international conference on Daoism had been held at exactly the same location—a conference that the government was far from excited about. Organized by Chinese and international scholars and practitioners, the conference did not have as much high-level support but it reflects something potentially more powerful: an explosion of popular interest into Daoism and Chinese religion. The authorities not only shunned it but put up roadblocks. It was almost canceled at the last moment and was eventually curtailed from five to three days, with many panels cut or abbreviated.

    I attended that conference, which focused on the role of women in Daoism, commercialism of its temples and other issues facing the religion, and observed the discomfort of Chinese officials as the organizers announced that next year’s conference was going to be held at a German lakeside resort. One official later said to me that it should be up to the Chinese government, not a non-government organization of scholars, to determine when an important Daoist conference should be held. He was also skeptical of many of those who came, some of whom were practicing Daoists or martial artists—who were these people? Many weren’t even Chinese!

    Tellingly, none of the participants from June—and very few foreign scholars save Mr. Palmer—took part in the recent government-sponsored conference. It wasn’t posted on scholarly websites and was treated by Beijing as something that didn’t really concern the outside world.

    But the more China’s leaders try to use religion for their own purposes, the more difficult it may be to have an actual effect on perceived problems like society’s moral decline. Despite the rebuilding of temples, religious life is still tightly limited. Many practitioners do find a deeper moral answer in the teachings of Daoism and other religions. I have seen volunteers at Daoist temples provide food for the poor or engage in disaster relief. The teachings of compassion and unity with nature also make sense in a country that has pursued economic gain at the expense of charity and concern for the environment.

    But religion is still fighting an uphill battle. The recent conference gave Daoism an unprecedented amount of media attention, but most of the time religious life is completely absent from Chinese television or other media outlets. Then again, as the Daodejing makes clear, human endeavors often miss the point:

    Thirty spokes converge on a hub
    but it’s the emptiness
    that makes a wheel work

    http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblo...=Feed:+nybooks+(The+New+York+Review+of+Books)

    Sent from my GT-I9100
     
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  3. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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  4. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    PRC probably doesn't go deeper into history to the times of Galileo.

    There is also economic prosperity where there is more oil and a West-friendly regime - i.e. the predominantly Muslim Middle East.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011
  5. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    Looking at Islam, one cannot equate that religion with prosperity.
     
  6. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    I wouldn't say so about Kazakhstan. They are doing decently well.

    I guess most of the trouble is in the Middle East which happens to have Muslim majority countries. Most conflicts there can always be traced back to oil, isn't it? Why blame Islam?
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011
  7. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    China projects hard power, but except 'martial arts', it is weak in projecting soft power.
    Chinese have pursued money to the exception of everything else. Now, there is a vaccum that can be filled with religion.

    A clever Indian regime would make most of this scenario. India should strive to revive Buddhism in China, also export Hinduism. Print large copies of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata, and Buddha-charitra in chinese languages and distribute freely. India is rich in godmen and gurus, send some of them to hold seminars in China. In short, do everything to cultivate indic religion and culture in China. That is the long-term solution to India's China problem. That is the way it has been for millenias.
    A buddhist/hindu China would not be a threat to India unlike a commie China.
     
  8. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Yes, I think the first part of your post is a nice idea.

    The latter part, however, is way off mark. Tell me, how friendly is Buddhist Sri Lanka to India? They have been hobnobbing with PRC and Pakistan for quite a while, ain't it?
     
  9. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    West's development started when christianity's hold on the state and people's mind weakened. The development would, perhaps, end when christianity revives. History shows that christianity, like islam, suppressed science by persecuting scientists and destroying libraries.
     
  10. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    You are right, we need to cultivate the buddhist angle of Sri Lanka more to our advantage.
    I am sure you would agree that a buddhist Sri Lanka is better for India than a christian/islamic/commie Lanka.
     
  11. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Yes, we could. I agree with the possibility but not with certainty.

    Make no mistake, Nepal being Hindu majority has not been very friendly at times. Afghanistan being Muslim majority has often been very friendly; during the times of Najibullah and now under Karzai. During Taliban rule, it was different, but those Talibs were anyways Pakistani agents.

    Communist USSR was great benefactor, friend and protector of India while communist PRC is a supporter of India's enemies and a potential threat. So, I do not know whether a Hindu/Muslim/Buddhist/Communist/Capitalist or whatever Sri Lanka or any country so to speak will be better for India or not.
     
  12. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    Affinity in culture, values, and religion ensure long-term and long-lasting peace and conversely conflicting culture, religion and values lead to animosity. There is always a possibility of short-term temporary exceptions to the above general rule.
     
  13. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    You got that backwards...

    You are too late, Christianity is already sweeping the landscape.
     
  14. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    True to a large extent.

    I also think that the prosperity of any civilisation (nation in today's parlance) will attract others. It is easy for the US to attract immigrants than Mexico. There is reason. It is not really religion, but prosperity. I do agree on the cultural angle though.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011
  15. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    So be it. India can still try. I believe, in long term, indic religion(along with Taoism) in China is benefitial for China, India & Asia.

    Pmaitra,
    agree with your points. Perception of prosperity & power can make the importing religion/ideology attractive to natives. My attempt was to emphasise the role of religion/culture in geo-politics.
     
  16. Tianshan

    Tianshan Regular Member

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    china is the country with the largest population of buddhists in the whole world.

    that does not stop the indians from hating us, and calling us their enemy. so why should it work the other way around?
     
  17. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Perhaps non-practicing Buddhists?

    Most of the Chinese I know don't even know when Buddha's birthday is! :jaw:
     
  18. SPIEZ

    SPIEZ Senior Member Senior Member

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    Hope it starts working the other way around!
     
  19. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    [h=1]
    China promoting Taoism's influence abroad
    [/h]NANYUE, Hunan, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- China hosted a high-profile International Taoism Forum here on Sunday in an effort to spread the religion's influence on the world stage.


    In a message to the forum, China's senior leader Jia Qinglin urged the 500 participants from more than 20 countries, including China, the United States, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Japan, to explore the essence of Taoism and make Chinese culture more attractive in the world.


    Jia, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said that the event represented a blessing to the pursuit of prolonged world peace and common prosperity.


    "Taoism is important part of Chinese traditional culture as well as valuable properties of human civilization," said Jia.
    Du Qinglin, head of the United Front Work Department of Central Committee of CPC, also attended the ceremony and delivered a speech, saying that Taoism will enrich human being's intelligence.


    Prince Philip of the United Kingdom sent a congratulatory message to the forum.


    This is the first time China staged an international Taoism forum. Vice Premier Hui Liangyu said prior to the opening ceremony that the forum should become a key platform for worldwide Taoist exchanges.


    Taoism was a 1,800-year-old religion originated from Lao Tze's philosophy. Lao Tze (BC 571-471) was the author of the book Tao De Ching, in which he pointed out that everything in the universe was born from vaccum or nothing and the balance and harmony should be achieved between human beings and nature. His thoughts even stimulated the creativity of some renowned modern physicists.
    Taoism is also a source of artistic creation, inspired the Oscar winning film "Crouching tigers and hidden dragons."
    Taoism was wiped out during the chaotic Culture Revolution (1966-76) and resumed after China's reform and opening up to the outside world in the late 1970s. Latest statistics show that there are nearly 100,000 Taoist priests and over 5,000 religious sites in the Chinese mainland.


    "There are many Taoist believers in western countries and a lot of foreign universities and academies have been doing extensive research into Taoism," said Lin Zhou, deputy president of Chinese Taoist Association.
    He said that Taoism is vital to solving modern dilemmas as it suggest people stop wars, live peacefully with nature, avoid extravagant consumption and give up fierce competition.


    "Lao Tze said that 'big country should keep itself in a humble position,' but in the modern world, a number of powerful countries prefer to use violence to bully weak countries -- that is not in accordance with the 'Way'," said Ren Farong, president of Chinese Taoist Association.


    He added that China has mapped out a strategy this month to reform and develop its culture, and Taoism should be seen as a kind of soft power of the country.


    Topics of the forum will cover environmental protection, sustainable development, cross-religious harmony, world peace and the role Taoism could play on solving those issues.


    Bawa Jain, Secretary General of World Council of Religious Leaders,is expected to give a speech at the forum.
    Xu Jialu, former vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, or China's legislature, will discuss cross-culture issues with Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).
    A special seminar will be launched for Taoist societies from Europe and America and other continents to discuss the religion's development in their territories.


    The forum is held at the foot of Mt. Hengshan in the Nanyue District of Hunan's Hengyang City, one of the five sacred religions Mountains in China and a scenic site renowned for hundreds of Taoist and Buddhist temples.
    The three-day event is co-sponsored by the Chinese Taoist Association and the China Religious Culture Communication Association.


    A grand artistic performance featuring Taoist culture and directed by famous musician Tan Dun was held after the opening ceremony.

    China promoting Taoism's influence abroad
     
  20. no smoking

    no smoking Senior Member Senior Member

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    Who ever says this, he or she has no single idea of Chinese culture and political tradition.

    Anyone who is trying bring religion into political circle will end up as a looser. Why? Because chinese public won't buy it. God has no say in Chinese life. If you know chinese myth story good enough, you will know what is the first rule set for any god respected by Chinese public: stay away from their life.

    Actually, in China, you can say no god at all. For chinese, gods are just another group of residents being more powerful comparing to human. But they are also subject to the same world rules.
     
  21. RedDragon

    RedDragon Regular Member

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    "敬鬼神而远之", "Respect ghosts and gods, but keep a distance from it". That is what Confucius said, and I'm total agreed.
     

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