Religion in the new China
Explore the role that religions play in society by examining the following excerpt from The Economist. How religion fits in the Evolutionary Psychology arguments about conformity, happiness, self-control, social control? Do different religions suit different situations better?
More recently the [Chinese Communist] party itself has begun to put a more positive spin on the role of religion. Last April China organised a meeting of Buddhist leaders from around the world in the coastal province of Zhejiang (it did not, however, invite the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader). The event was given considerable prominence in the official media. The theme, “A harmonious world begins in the mind”, echoed the party's recent propaganda drive concerning the need for a “harmonious society”. It implied just what Mr Pan had suggested— that the opium Marx was talking about should be seen as a benign spiritual salve. In October the party's Central Committee issued a document on how to build a harmonious society, arguing that religion could play a “positive role”.
The party's change of tone coincides with its recent efforts to revive traditional culture as a way of giving China, in its state of rapid economic and social flux, a bit more cohesion. The term “harmonious society”, which in recent months has become a party mantra, sounds in Chinese (hexie shehui) like an allusion to classical notions of social order in which people do not challenge their role in life and treat each other kindly. It is, in effect, a rejection of the Marxist notion of class struggle.
Officials are now encouraging a revival of the study of Confucianism, a philosophy condemned by Mao as “feudal” and which can be quasi-religious. Since 2004 China has sponsored dozens of “Confucius Institutes” around the world, including America and Europe, to promote the study of Chinese language and culture.
In the countryside the revival of traditional values has needed little encouragement. Clan shrines, where ancestors are worshipped, have sprung up in many rural areas, particularly in prosperous coastal and southern regions. The revival of clan identity (in many villages a substantial minority, if not a majority, of inhabitants have the same surname, which they trace back to a common ancestor) has had a profound impact on village politics. Those elected as village leader often owe much of their authority to a senior position in the clan hierarchy. Control of the ancestral shrine confers enormous power. It is often clan chiefs, rather than party officials, who mediate disputes. The shrine will lend money for business ventures—so long as the recipient has the right name.
Where Christianity is a feminist issue
Ironically, the growth of clan power has helped to fuel the growth of Christianity in some parts of the countryside. In a village in the eastern province of Shandong, the wife of a former party secretary was a Protestant who attended prayer meetings with her female friends. Their religious enthusiasm was apparently fuelled by the subordinate role of women in the clan. A married woman is expected to revere only her husband's ancestors but is excluded from his clan hierarchy. The fast growing house-church communities often disapprove of ancestor worship, thus attracting women who feel fettered by clan strictures.
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