The Chinese government has promoted a revival of Confucianism, along with traditional religious practices, as part of its nationalist agenda. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

There is a non secular revival occurring in China — beneath the fixed watch of the Communist Social gathering

Post by

(The Dialog) — The Chinese language Communist Social gathering is celebrating the one centesimal anniversary of its founding in 1921. For many of these a long time, the social gathering sought to limit or obliterate conventional non secular practices, which it thought of a part of China’s “feudal” previous.

However for the reason that late Nineteen Seventies, the social gathering has slowly permitted a multifaceted and far-reaching revival of faith in China to happen. Extra not too long ago, present Chinese language president and Communist Social gathering chief Xi Jinping has endorsed continued social gathering tolerance for faith as filling an ethical void that has developed amid China’s fast-paced financial development.

This assist does include caveats and restrictions, nonetheless, together with the demand that non secular leaders assist the Communist Social gathering.

As a scholar of Chinese language religions, these appreciable modifications are of particular curiosity to me.

A revival of faith

Atheism stays the official social gathering ideology, with members banned from professing non secular religion. The social gathering’s aggressive efforts to obliterate all non secular beliefs and practices reached a excessive level in the course of the tumultuous decade of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976. All temples and church buildings have been shut down or destroyed. Any type of non secular exercise was prohibited, at the same time as there was forceful promotion of the cult of Mao (Zedong), which assumed the function of an formally sanctioned faith.

As a part of main reforms and a loosening of social controls, initiated within the late Nineteen Seventies, the social gathering has slowly accepted a variety of behaviors and traditions that fulfill non secular wants or present religious retailers. Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Islam and Protestantism – the 5 formally acknowledged religions – have staged comebacks, albeit with various success.

There are rising numbers of native temples, associations, pilgrimages and festivals, and rising numbers of Buddhist, Christian and Taoist clergy. Many non secular websites are open for personal worship and communal service and frequented by individuals from all walks of life.

Native governments are sometimes eager to revive and promote non secular institutions, largely to stimulate tourism and native financial improvement.

Consequently, a significant metropolis reminiscent of Shanghai has develop into house to spiritual institutions massive and small, official and underground. They vary from native shrines to Buddhist and Taoist temples, church buildings and mosques. There are additionally new entrants to the non secular scene, exemplified by the yoga facilities which have sprung up in lots of Chinese language cities.

Evidently individuals have welcomed these coverage shifts. A 2020 research by the Pew Analysis Middle discovered that 48.2% of China’s inhabitants had some type of non secular affiliation.

The precise information is debatable, and it’s tough to conduct dependable analysis in China. However these outcomes recommend that many Chinese language take part in numerous actions that may be labeled non secular.

A mixture of non secular practices


That encompasses elements of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, in addition to many practices termed “well-liked faith.” These vary from visiting temples, attending pilgrimages and festivals, praying and providing incense, ancestor worship, and veneration of assorted celestial divinities. There are additionally the favored practices of geomancy or feng shui, an historical artwork of harmonizing people with their environment, and divination or fortunetelling.

These wealthy traditions usually have regional variations, such because the veneration of Mazu, a sea goddess, which is very prevalent in southeast China and Taiwan. Initially a patron goddess of seafarers, Mazu is extensively worshiped by individuals from all walks of life and promoted as an necessary image of native tradition.

Confucian rapprochement

The Communist Social gathering has additionally stopped criticizing the teachings of Confucius, the well-known thinker and educator of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. For a lot of the twentieth century, Confucian teachings have been rejected as discredited relics of an imperial previous. However that modified over latest a long time, because the social gathering sought to reposition itself because the guardian of Chinese language traditions.

This contributed to a major revival of Confucianism.

Confucianism’s time-honored moral framework affords guideposts to navigating the often-harsh realities of life in a extremely aggressive society. However the social gathering has additionally discovered it helpful to harness elements of Confucianism that resonate with its core pursuits, reminiscent of obedience to authority and respect for the chief.

Accordingly, the federal government has supported reestablishment of Confucian temples and institutes. It has additionally sponsored conferences on Confucianism and even organized lectures on Confucian teachings for social gathering officers.

Management and curation of faith

Adopting attitudes and strategies with long-established precedents within the dynastic historical past of imperial China, the communist authorities positions itself as the final word arbiter of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, or correct and improper non secular practices. Spiritual leaders should assist the social gathering and observe its directives.

Authorities hold agency administrative management over all types of non secular expressions and organizations, by no matter means they deem prudent or needed. As we all know from the experiences of Western students and journalists, that management ranges from delicate types of domination and co-option of spiritual teams to outright bans or repressions.

In 2015, the federal government eliminated 1,200 crosses from church buildings throughout Zhejiang province. In 2016, a Zhejiang court docket sentenced a Protestant pastor to 14 years in jail for resisting a authorities order to take down his church’s cross. In 2018, the federal government demolished the Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi province.

In response, most non secular teams tread fastidiously and interact in self-censorship, as I and others have noticed throughout analysis journeys in China.

Muslim Uighur communities in Turkey and different nations have protested the Chinese language authorities’s oppression of Uighurs in far-western Xinjiang province.
Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

China tends to deal with religions perceived as probably threatening to the established order harshly, particularly if suspected of international ties or secessionist tendencies. As an illustration, for many years China has strictly regulated Buddhism in Tibet, because it has pursued insurance policies aimed toward suppressing the cultural and nationwide identities of the Tibetans. That contrasts with extra relaxed attitudes in direction of the type of Buddhism practiced by the Han majority.

The social gathering has defined its latest, ruthless marketing campaign to repress the Uighurs, a Muslim minority in Xinjiang – a nominally autonomous area in Northwest China – as supposed to counteract terrorism and separatism. In line with leaked paperwork, since 2014 as much as one million Uighurs have been interned in “re-education camps.” It’s a part of a hardline coverage of secularization and “Sinicization,” which means assimilating the Uighurs into the bulk Han tradition, at a lack of their non secular and ethnic identities.

Balancing act

Because it celebrates its one centesimal anniversary, the Chinese language Communist Social gathering seeks to venture the picture of a unified nation returning to international political and financial dominance.

However at house it faces manifold issues and is engaged in a balancing act: affirming its twin function as a guardian and curator of conventional Chinese language tradition and faith, however in a fashion that enhances slightly than undermines its energy and authority.


(Mario Poceski, Professor of Buddhist Research and Chinese language Religions, College of Florida. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)

The Conversation

Leave a comment