Chinese Christianity
February 1, 2015 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Religion in China: Cracks in the atheist edifice - "Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China's Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire."

  • The world's biggest and most important ideological battle - "When individuals engage in a 'portfolio' approach to religion, social evolution can occur much more rapidly. Not everyone has to fully convert to Christianity, or to embrace Confucianism wholeheartedly, for those approaches to suddenly acquire much more influence."
  • In China, a church-state showdown of biblical proportions [CSM] - "Christianity is booming in China, propelling it toward becoming the world's largest Christian nation. But as religion grows, it spurs a government crackdown."
  • The rise of Christianity in China - "The demolition of the Sanjiang church in Wenzhou marked the start of a state campaign to rein in the rise of Christianity. This has included harassment, detentions, removing crosses and destroying churches in Wenzhou and throughout Zhejiang Province."
  • Apart from the speed of growth, the party is very concerned about the type of person being converted... These days, most conversions happen in the burgeoning cities and new believers are increasingly well educated, influential and demanding when it comes to their personal freedom and individual rights. These are the very same middle-class constituents the party has relied on for support in the past three decades, since it abandoned utopian communism and the cult of personality centred on Mao Zedong. In the early 1980s, the party made a wrenching change, from trying to wipe out religion and ancient culture to telling its people “to get rich is glorious”. Today, after decades of rampant consumerism and rapidly rising inequality, even China’s top leaders lament the cynicism, materialism and lack of idealism or ethics in modern Chinese society.

    In its attempts to fill this moral vacuum, the party under Xi Jinping has reached for old methods and symbols, stirring up nationalist hatred against past invaders such as Japan and Britain and recycling familiar propaganda from the 1960s. Ordinary citizens are once again bombarded with images of communist saints such as the tireless oil worker “Iron man” Wang Jinxi or Lei Feng, the model soldier who washed his comrades’ socks in secret. But for an increasingly sophisticated and worldly urban middle class, these efforts to instil “traditional” values only highlight how hollow and bankrupt the official ideology of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” has become. For many, these images draw attention to the contradictions of a nominally communist system struggling to provide even basic social services and dominated at the top by a tiny, autocratic political elite accumulating enormous personal wealth.
  • China Bible publisher prints 125 millionth copy - "The Amity Foundation is China's biggest faith-based NGO [non-governmental organisation] and uses profits from its printing operations and donations to do charity work promoting education, social services, environmental protection, health and rural development."
  • Orthodox Christianity in China - "One Orthodox resident of Beijing told me he knew of about two dozen Chinese converts to Orthodoxy; they were usually people who had switched from evangelical Christianity or Catholicism after a deep study of Christian history. By some estimates the total number of Orthodox Christians in China is between 10,000 and 15,000. In May last year, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow visited China and met President Xi Jinping; but these stratospheric connections didn't immediately change the fact that not a single Chinese Orthodox priest functions in mainland China. The only ray of light comes from the fact that a handful of Chinese students have been allowed to study in Russian seminaries. They may eventually return to their homeland to serve as priests."
  • Christianity with Chinese characteristics - "Christian theology in China should be 'compatible with China's national conditions' and be 'incorporated into Chinese culture.' "
  • Why Is China Nationalizing Christianity? - "The rapid growth in religion is particularly troubling for the CCP given that its own abandonment of Marxism has created an ideological vacuum. In its place, the CCP has increasingly turned to Chinese nationalism as the ideational complement to economic growth and prosperity. The 'Sinicization of Christianity' would be consistent with its drive to push Chinese nationalism."
  • The rise of Christianity in Asia - "The reason for this rise in Asian Christianity is as varied as the region is diverse. However for South Korea, China and other economically vibrant neighbours contributing to the rise of the Asian Century, German sociologist Max Weber got it right. Christianity is like the spiritual backdrop to the market economy."
posted by kliuless (47 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
All rather disappointing really. At a time when many in the "west" are giving up religion to see such large numbers taking up christian biblical religion.

Whats the appeal I wonder? And also what sort of interpretation of the biblical writings is dominant.
posted by mary8nne at 9:23 AM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


They just need to follow the lead of the American Oligarchs and publicly profess to hold Christian values while actually embodying the very opposite of everything Mr. Yeshua bin Yosef stood for.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 9:31 AM on February 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


Well, they've got a lot of practice doing that with Communism, so it'll probably come naturally to China's leadership.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:32 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Increasing income inequality, Christianity, the divine rights of billionaires, etc.

I don't want to bother filling in the tedious details of that argument.

(I guess mrjohnmuller already said it)
posted by fredludd at 9:35 AM on February 1, 2015


I teach international students, mostly from very wealthy families. Many of the Chinese students are Christian. The last link above (The rise of Christianity in Asia) meshes well with my impressions, which is that many Chinese Christians identify Christianity with modernity and material success. And, also, Christianity is something that is neither part of the somewhat distant feudal past (i.e., Buddhism and native religions) nor the more recent tough times of revolution and political upheaval (i.e., atheism). I can definitely empathize with all of those urges. I suppose there might be a third oppositional impulse: Japan, which is very much not Christian, and which both China and Korea spend a lot of effort positioning themselves in contrast to. (This is pure speculation on my part.)

There's a bunch of class stuff going on with Protestant and Catholic (and non-Christian) Koreans, which I don't really understand--and I don't know if the situation in China is similar.

Korean and Chinese Christianity right now seems to be a fairly conservative variety; most of the students go to evangelical and fundamentalist churches while they live in the US. I find this deeply concerning*, but also understandable, because these churches tend to be great at outreach, youth activities, and support. I think that Unitarian, Anglican, and other progressive denominations are missing a chance to reach out to this population. (Not to mention Secular Student Alliances, who are missing the chance to make contact with non-religious international students, many of whom appear to be pretty isolated from their peers.)

* It would be inappropriate to discuss these concerns with my students, and so I don't. I answer honestly if they ask me about my religion, and I try to be factual when we discuss cultural topics like Christmas, but that's it.
posted by wintersweet at 9:39 AM on February 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


Oh, and please note, I don't want my comments to appear as though I'm dismissing any authenticity of Chinese Christians' actual belief in Christianity. Many of them seem just as fervent as my Baptist neighbors in Arkansas (or, you know, my relatives). But of course, there are always other forces at work.
posted by wintersweet at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2015


The Christianization of China is probably one of the most underrated social movements of this century. It'll be very interesting to see how it plays out, particularly given the many and contradictory stresses the PRC is under: it has to deliver massive GDP growth to keep the populace happy and loyal to the regime, but also deal with crippling air pollution and resource depletion, but also cultivate client states to provide it with resources, but also avoid escalating hostility with the US and Japan, but also use nationalist hatred for said countries to distract people from all of China's problems, etc. Throwing an "alien" religion into the mix just heightens all those tensions.

A lot will depend on what kind of Christianity prevails. The Economist article in the FPP says that Protestantism is in the majority today, and that might be easier for the state to co-opt than Catholicism, where you have "official" bishops and bishops that are actually in communion with Rome.

On preview: what ~wintersweet said.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:42 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Christianity has been incredibly versatile in its applicability to various states over the centuries - as a unifying ideology for a fracturing Roman Empire, as a justification for medieval divine kingship, and as a moral framework for European colonialism, American exceptionalism and hyper-capitalism - so I don't suppose there's any reason it couldn't morph into something useful for the CCP.
posted by sobarel at 9:44 AM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


All rather disappointing really. At a time when many in the "west" are giving up religion to see such large numbers taking up christian biblical religion.

Okay, I'll bite. Why?

And as a corollary, does your disappointment extend to the current rise of Islam?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:03 AM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Economist's article, if anything, soft pedals the relationship between the major Christian church hierarchies and the government...
> ...“Three Self” churches, of which there are about 57,000 round the country. These, in the official jargon, are self-supporting, self-governed and self-propagating (therefore closed to foreign influence). They profess loyalty to China, and are registered with the government.

In fact, they are more or less managed at the tolerance and direction of the Chinese government, if not directly by the government itself. The parenthetical "closed to foreign influences" leaves a little implied and a lot unsaid.

For example, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association is the Catholic Church as managed within mainland China. Relationships between the CPCA and The Vatican are fraught. The CPCA educates, ordains and consecrates its own ministry without the participation of the Church -- in fact, in 1958 Pius XII declared that bishops who participate in CPCA consecrations must be excommunicated. In turn, the CPCA does not recognize any edicts from the Holy See issued after 1948. Positions have softened somewhat since the 1980s, but there is still probably two very distinct Catholic churches within China: The state-approved one, and an underground Church that recognizes the sole authority of the Vatican without the intervention of Beijing.
posted by ardgedee at 10:05 AM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


All rather disappointing really. At a time when many in the "west" are giving up religion to see such large numbers taking up christian biblical religion.

I agree with this article's conclusions about religion, although I'm a bit more optimistic that superstition and religion will eventually be less common everywhere over time.
posted by various at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Looking up some of the numbers, this will be 250 million Christians in China (in 2030) out of 1.4 billion people, about 18% and still very much a minority. In terms of influence, that will not be the directing force in China.

Also in 2030, the US should have 360 million total population. Currently 76% claim Christianity, but there is a lot of in-name only. For example, 40% of Americans say they go to church weekly, while 20% do (according to this).

On the other hand, I have a feeling China will have a much lower percentage of in-name only Christians so their 18% might have a larger influence than mere percentage. In-name only are often hand-me down Christians or bloviators and there is less of that in a time of religious expansion.

I didn't like the Economist article. Titled "Cracks in the Atheist's Edifice" they say that only the Communist Party is officially atheist while the country officially has freedom of religion. According to this, 40% of the country has a religious affiliation (5% Christians). That sounds like the other religions are the ones defining the "crack" and have been around with a larger presence for much longer.

My overall point is that the article focuses on Christianity as though it were bigger news than it is in China, at the expense of the total picture. The total picture seems more nuanced and interesting.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:12 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


wintersweet: And, also, Christianity is something that is neither part of the somewhat distant feudal past (i.e., Buddhism and native religions) nor the more recent tough times of revolution and political upheaval (i.e., atheism).

Asking out of curiosity: they don't link Christianity with the Taipings or the Chinese Christians that the Boxers massacred?
posted by sukeban at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Christianity can be attractive to the poor or oppressed, and extra attractive to the poor or oppressed of a nation that seems like it might be be scared of it's message to them.

As a middle class reaction to rampant consumerism and greed? That sounds odd to American ears, but if you read what Jesus was saying instead of living in a culture where greed and Christianity have somehow merged it's pretty in line with his message.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:41 AM on February 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


(And then I got to the last link and realize, wait, maybe they are just doing it the American way.)

"Christian business people in China ‘think that the Protestant work ethic is particularly suitable for this market economy,’ claims Professor Fenggang Yang, sociologist at Purdue University in Indiana.")

And yeah, there does seem to be some confusion around the word "Christian Nation" in some of these articles. What they seem to mean is, "Nation with the most Christians," but "Christian Nation" usually means majority or officially Christian to my ears. The Chinese Christian population could be the largest in the world and China will still not be a "Christian Nation."
posted by Drinky Die at 10:47 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I shouldn't have singled out the christian aspect I suppose. I think its disappointing that any biblical religion is growing today whether it is islam, judaism, christianity. Disappointing that all attempts at a secular, rational basis for society continue to flounder and instead we end up with this mysticism.

I guess though it is proof that the communist regime has failed to bring about the true equality of man - that is the common core to both Jesus's teachings and Marx's original conception of communism. Perhaps mysticism, and platonic "noble lies" like christianity are the only way to secure societies.
posted by mary8nne at 10:47 AM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's not all mysticism, it's also philosophy, and there are some areas where religious philosophies are better than Marxist philosophies.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:51 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


sukeban: Asking out of curiosity: they don't link Christianity with the Taipings or the Chinese Christians that the Boxers massacred?

You would have to ask some Chinese Christians. :) My impression is that my students have only very dim awareness of that history, and I don't think they really connect it with modern churches.

dances with sneetches: If the percentage includes the wealthiest* folks, as in Korea, it'll have an undue influence.

*Our parking lot is full of luxury cars. Yesterday I parked next to a student's car--a bright yellow Maserati.
posted by wintersweet at 10:54 AM on February 1, 2015


China has always been deeply religious in the department of mercy. Jesus would be welcome reinforcement in a risk-based economy. So many persistent Asian beliefs are agrarian and natural, like primitive Christianity, thus open to import modification by popular demand (unlike artificially instituted cults and their theocracies). Also, Christianity was founded on communism, but is poor-communal, where people survive by banding together and surrendering their wealth for the sake of poverty, so they can avoid the world. It can revere poverty by rejecting state communist solutions at the same time. Buddhism denounced the world in much stronger terms than Christianity (and Buddhists likely influenced Christian beliefs through the Essenes) so this will simply be a matter of re-branding.
posted by Brian B. at 10:58 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Less projection of American Christianity (which is sort of weird, globally, historically) onto everything and less conflation of "religion" with "ignorant savage superstitions" (and less usage of "mysticism" as a pejorative; like anarchism, it actually means something, and something that should probably be appealing to progressives) in threads about any aspect of world religions here would be nice. I apologize for contributing to the/a derail, and ask others to please not engage in back-and-forths about this. The rise of Christianity in China is a fascinating topic all by itself without any facepalmy, ignorant generalizing about "Religion" or false dichotomies between "Religion" and "Science." What is at play here is almost certainly more to do with complex socioeconomic dynamics and re-adapting rediscovered narratives to fit new realities than people embracing dumb literalist superstitions en masse because they're idiots or something.

I am an atheist, with an interest in world religions. There are higher and better standards of discussion than that of petulant fourteen year olds, and more nuanced positions to take than the absolutist pro/con framing that always seems to come up here and in most generally Western, atheist spaces. It is embarrassing.

Sorry again for scratching the itch. Let's please leave it alone and make room for a different, better, conversation.
posted by byanyothername at 11:09 AM on February 1, 2015 [31 favorites]


Disappointing that all attempts at a secular, rational basis for society continue to flounder and instead we end up with this mysticism. I guess though it is proof that the communist regime has failed to bring about the true equality of man

Flounder? Airing out your "disappointments" in public about the rise of Christianity in China is not the same thing as proving that secular, rational societies are by definition static and equitable. Perhaps there are problems with the theory. And I'm not sure where you draw your pessimism about religion from, but the majority of the world does not agree with you.
posted by phaedon at 11:12 AM on February 1, 2015


For example, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association is the Catholic Church as managed within mainland China.

This is a pretty fascinating wiki all the way through on a subject I was pretty much totally unaware of. Thanks for the link.

There have been a number of efforts to reconcile the PRC Government with the Vatican. A New York Times article estimated that the status of Taiwan is not a major obstacle, and appointment of bishops can be handled with the Vatican picking from a list pre-screened by the government. Most reports, it said, indicate that the main obstacle is the PRC Government's fear of being undermined by the Catholic Church, especially since Pope John Paul II was widely seen as having influenced the fall of Communist governments in Poland and other Eastern European countries.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:12 AM on February 1, 2015


Render unto Mao is just as easy as render unto Ceasar....
posted by humanfont at 11:22 AM on February 1, 2015


The question is what does the rise of Christianity in one of the last supposedly communist (~Marxist) countries say about Marx's theory that the existence of religion and doctrines of otherworldly salvation is a symptom of worldly inequality and hardship. That religious sentiment would wither with advent of true equality and material prosperity.

Either that Marx was wrong or China has not managed to solve the worldly problems of the majority of the people.

as proving that secular, rational societies are static and equitable.

I was suggesting the opposite conclusion actually, that the persistence of religion is proof that secular, rational societies have NOT been able to achieve these things.
posted by mary8nne at 11:28 AM on February 1, 2015


wintersweet,
My experience has been that right-wing evangelical churches in the Chinese community combine the very worst characteristics of Chinese culture with the very worst characteristics of the American Christian right.
posted by wuwei at 11:32 AM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Thesis > Antithesis > Government Crackdown
posted by jabah at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not mentioned in the article was that Christianity did arrive in China quite a while ago under the mission work of the Syriac church or Nestorian Christians back in the 600s. Likewise, it was there when Marco Polo showed up centuries later. While disrupted, the roots of Christianity in China are pretty deep.
posted by Atreides at 11:39 AM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


So, more Christians and English speakers than any other country, hmm? Culture really is a virus!
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2015


Render unto Mao is just as easy as render unto Ceasar...

Mao was decidedly more murderous than Caesar, and of his own people, no less; moreover, Rome generally didn't care a whole lot about its citizens' religious beliefs.

...a culture where greed and Christianity have somehow merged....


We clearly know some very different Christians.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:18 PM on February 1, 2015


Either that Marx was wrong or China has not managed to solve the worldly problems of the majority of the people.

I believe Marx was wrong and as a result, China never managed to solve their main problems. Putting supply/production before demand/prices is what got them into trouble, because even when enough food was available, it often had to be loaded onto trucks and cross bridges that didn't exist as a result of blind central planning. The persistence of religion is trickier, because it isn't based on temporal claims. It promises much more in the next life, for eternity, and exploits what we can't know. We can assume a correlation between contentedness and not needing religion as a salve, but generally, what we often call religion is expected to stop people from being worldly-selfish by appealing to their eternal self-interests (the latter which most only perceive because religion aggressively supplied it, especially the damnation parts). In general, all misery flows from these supply-side methods of social organization and it is thus good to restrict religion to not having a temporal or government authority (to prevent justifying itself by perpetuating misery) but this decision will always be at war with artificial/theocratic religions.
posted by Brian B. at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2015


Drinky Die: "This is a pretty fascinating wiki all the way through on a subject I was pretty much totally unaware of. "

Yeah, pretty much Chinese Catholics who belong to CPCA aren't sanctioned or excommunicated or anything; the Vatican views them as trying their best to practice their faith in very hostile circumstances. But the bishops in CPCA are a real hot-button topic. Conversely, the Chinese government goes back and forth between tolerating reasonably open practice by the (Vatican-official) Catholic Church, and repressing it.

One of the things that's pretty interesting about it, from a historical standpoint, is the similarities between China's attitude towards the Catholic Church and 17th- and 18th-century Protestant countries' attitudes towards the Catholic Church -- that it was dangerous because Catholics would be more loyal to the Pope and the Pope could interfere in national politics (which, of course, he could and did in Europe, like, a lot). And then you see the same pattern again in US attitudes towards immigration from Catholic countries like Italy and Ireland in the 1860s through 1920s or so -- Catholics are dangerous and may undermine the republic because they're loyal to Rome, not the U.S. "Who appoints the bishops, Beijing/London or the Vatican?" is exactly the same question that led Henry VIII to split with Rome 400 years ago. It's kind-of fascinating how upsetting the idea of an external-to-the-state religious authority figure, such as the Pope (or the Dalai Lama), is to so many countries throughout history.

One other bit of trivia, it is possible for Popes to appoint cardinals "in petto" (in the heart), which is to say secretly. (The official Latin is "in pectore" but the pidgin Latalian "in petto" is more commonly used.) This has been typically done to protect an individual who would otherwise be targeted, most typically by countries where Catholicism is illegal. In the 20th century it was used primarily behind the Iron Curtain and in China, and usually the appointment is revealed when relations warm up or the bishop leaves the country. But it has other potential consequences! Wikipedia explains:
Cardinals appointed in pectore are not necessarily informed of their status, and their cardinalate is calculated from the time of appointment rather than the announcement of that fact. Such an appointee cannot function as cardinal until his appointment is publicly announced, which once done, affords him enjoyment of seniority in the College. This includes eligibility to participate in papal conclaves, which is only permissible if they are publicly named by the Pope before his death.
Thrillers that revolve around Vatican-shenanigans, especially Pope-election-shenanigans, looooooove to use the "cardinal in petto" device to spring surprise cardinals of dubious credentials on the pope-electing conclave, who all now get to vote on who the Pope is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:46 PM on February 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


mary8nne The question is what does the rise of Christianity in one of the last supposedly communist (~Marxist) countries say about Marx's theory that the existence of religion and doctrines of otherworldly salvation is a symptom of worldly inequality and hardship. That religious sentiment would wither with advent of true equality and material prosperity.

Either that Marx was wrong or China has not managed to solve the worldly problems of the majority of the people.


Very perceptive comment. And, as I think you implied, one could replace "China" by "America" in that conclusion.

wuwei My experience has been that right-wing evangelical churches in the Chinese community combine the very worst characteristics of Chinese culture with the very worst characteristics of the American Christian right.

When I was a graduate student, evangelical churches had a reputation for preying on -- and I choose that word very intentionally -- the young, lonely, Chinese students who were having a rough time and needed support that their families and friends back home could no longer provide. Their method was to invite the Chinese students to dinner, then have a religious session afterward where everyone shared their experiences about feeling God. If some student hadn't yet felt God, they would "help" him or her by making a ring around her, waving hands, chanting, whatever, until -- presumably out of social anxiety -- the student would faint. When the student came to, they would ask, "did you feel God?" and they would have a convert.

Jackals.

That said, and despite being an atheist myself, I am cautiously optimistic about the rise of Christianity in China and elsewhere. One of the articles mentions "even China’s top leaders lament the cynicism, materialism and lack of idealism or ethics in modern Chinese society" and this very much resonates with what I've experienced when traveling, and what I experience regularly when teaching university classes. It is sad to see students so lacking of a moral compass, integrity, or appreciation of higher values. Personally, I find these things, as well as a certain natural spirituality, can be quite rich within a secular framework, but when traveling I realize how much my value system really does derive from the teachings of Christianity (in addition to the teachings of great secular writers).

And I must recognize that secular culture has largely failed to develop the means to effectively communicate and spread appreciation for these higher values -- whereas religions such as Christianity has (along with some crap baggage).
posted by brambleboy at 12:48 PM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Related thread: Tibetan Buddhism in China
posted by homunculus at 1:09 PM on February 1, 2015


> And then you see the same pattern again in US attitudes towards immigration from Catholic countries like Italy and Ireland in the 1860s through 1920s or so -- Catholics are dangerous and may undermine the republic because they're loyal to Rome, not the U.S.

John F. Kennedy's campaign for president in 1960 had to face questions of whether he was more faithful to the U.S. or to The Vatican. There was a similar public suspicion in 2012 regarding Mitt Romney and whether he would believe himself answerable more to the American public or the Mormon Church. Old beliefs die hard.
posted by ardgedee at 3:03 PM on February 1, 2015


http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/01/images-child-abuse-found-vatican

Rome becomes "Catholic" religious persecutions become state sanctioned and the West [Europe and the north shore of the Mediterranean] enters a thousand years of Dark Ages quite a prospectus. Old beliefs don't merely die hard they make unbelievers die hard also. hence the problem. I've spoken with a few Chinese who think they are Christians none of the ones I have spoken with I would judge as anything other than people desperately wanting to not [really!] die when they die and it is that fear drives them to their faith. It is merely the new fashionable way to not have to accept mortality for many of them.
posted by SteveLaudig at 3:37 PM on February 1, 2015


In its attempts to fill this moral vacuum, the party under Xi Jinping has reached for old methods and symbols, stirring up nationalist hatred against past invaders such as Japan and Britain and recycling familiar propaganda from the 1960s.

I feel this is a bit of an oversimplication of what Jinping is doing - which is super fascinating and not getting the attention I think it deserves, maybe because he's not such a big personality as his predecessor. The CCP is doing a lot more than this in an effort to (re)establish centralised control. I think framing it as attempting to plug a "moral vacuum" is the issue here; it presupposes that there was ever a legitimate pre-vacuum state, which is somewhat doubtful, and also that Deng XiaoPing's u-turn that kicked it all off was any more or less illogical than the outright fucking nonsense that preceded it.

Another thing worth noting is the popularity of Christianity in the Chinese diaspora, both in terms of numbers and terms of fervency. It's a similar case with Korea - expats are far more likely to be Christian than their in-country counterparts.

I feel like this discussion is missing a lot of Chinese cultural context and what "Chinese" Christianity looks like and is practiced. I would submit that in my experience it plays quite adroitly into many Confucian mores; I don't think it's necessarily such a big jump as some are positing here. And I would be extremely, extremely reluctant to portray it as a "westernisation" of Chinese people or beliefs. Chinese culture is quite adaptable.
posted by smoke at 3:48 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rome becomes "Catholic" religious persecutions become state sanctioned and the West [Europe and the north shore of the Mediterranean] enters a thousand years of Dark Ages quite a prospectus.

This is nonsence, states have had sanctioned religious persecutions for millenia. The Romans were killing Christians in the thousands, for goodness sake.
posted by smoke at 3:50 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


the party made a wrenching change, from trying to wipe out religion and ancient culture to telling its people “to get rich is glorious”

Take it from us in the West, China—you can totally get rich and wipe out religions and ancient cultures at the same time.
posted by XMLicious at 3:53 PM on February 1, 2015


From my perspective, Christianity is an improvement upon the superstitions that are already here. In addition to cures that are likely effective because of thousands of years of trial and error, there's a lot of junk mixed in. Some is harmless, like say always having shoes face the house door, and all the temples everywhere. There's strange ones where the color of food has medical significance regardless of ingredients. Astrology is fairly popular. And of course, there's the belief that ingesting rare animal parts grants one great powers, which results in extermination of species. Of course, nothing is preventing people from combining the worst of both worlds.

As for the deplorable morals, I'm pretty sure that's the government's own fault. It's a side-effect of information suppression, poverty, and not teaching critical thinking. I also feel that a cultural difference in societal relationships could be at play here.
posted by halifix at 11:59 PM on February 1, 2015


halifax, I'm trying not to read your comment as fairly insulting/patronizing/othering, but I'm having trouble with that, and so I'm going to go ahead and respond. Folk religion and native religions are not the same thing as superstition, for one thing, unless you want to assert that all spiritual beliefs are superstitious. There's an implication that Christianity can remove superstitions and that temples are junk (are churches, too? because if not...). I mean, I could rewrite the paragraph pretty easily: In addition to cures that are likely effective because of thousands of years of trial and error, there's a lot of junk mixed in. Some is harmless, like say not using their deity's name, and all the crosses everywhere. There's strange ones where you can't eat certain foods on certain days, regardless of nutritional value. Astrology is fairly popular. (I was going to change that to prayer, but then realized I didn't need to, since all the biggest astrology fans I know are also Christians.)

From growing up Christian in the South, I know that Christianity officially opposes/contrasts itself to "superstition", but in practice, I don't think it works that way. (It looks like there are quite a few studies supporting a link between religiosity and superstitious beliefs, actually.)

Okay, the animal thing is a big issue, but lots of Chinese people are worried about it, too. (And it's not exactly a unique practice; we just dress our destructiveness in capitalist terms.)
posted by wintersweet at 8:24 AM on February 2, 2015


I'm... really not sure how to reply to your comment. I was mostly amused by the viewpoint early on from the thread that Christianity is the barbaric religion, contaminating pure Eastern culture. Christianity does not remove superstitions; that just has to do with study and critical thinking. There are many issues with Christian organizations that I haven't seen replicated with my experience with Chinese Christian youth groups, although others stood out when I attended sessions for a while. I guess you're older than me and have likely spent a lot of time in China, but I don't know how to feel about othering myself.
posted by halifix at 3:59 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Q. and A.: Roderick MacFarquhar on Xi Jinping’s High-Risk Campaign to Save the Communist Party
Q. You said in your speech that Mikhail S. Gorbachev was also a strong leader. What’s the difference between him and Mr. Xi?

A.
Let me stress the similarities. They both wanted to save the Communist Party because they both believed in Communism. I think probably Gorbachev really believed in Marxism-Leninism. I don’t think Xi Jinping probably believes in Marxism, only in Leninism. I think that the Cultural Revolution was a disillusioning experience for people from Deng Xiaoping downwards. The similarities are that both Gorbachev in his attack in perestroika on the bureaucracy and Xi Jinping in his attack on the bureaucracy in anticorruption were trying to improve the party, purify the party, get it moving in a different direction.

The difference between them is that Xi Jinping knows what Gorbachev did. Xi Jinping has obsessed about Gorbachev. Very early in his leadership, he was talking to his colleagues about Gorbachev, saying, “No one stood up to defend the party.” So, clearly, Xi feels he is going to be tough, stand up to defend the party, eradicate corruption and recover the legitimacy of the party in the eyes of the people.

Q. Are there any examples in history where a Communist Party without ideology can sustain itself?

A.
There is no example because Leninist parties have only been around basically since the 1917 revolution in Russia. So there is no experience of this. The party in Cuba survived, I suppose, really because the opposition of the United States gave a certain national pride to the Cubans, especially when they were able to rely on the Soviet Union for economic support. The North Koreans, of course, survived because the Chinese are not prepared to cut them off, even though they hate the way they conduct themselves, because they don’t want another Communist regime to go down the tubes.

I don’t think there is any other experience, and my own feeling is that this party cannot reform itself. The choices for Xi Jinping are, one, ease off the corruption campaign in order to allow the economic reform program, which he’s talked about but which hasn’t got going, to proceed, because the economic reform may help to save the party in power. But if he is going to attack corruption root and branch, tigers and fleas as he would call it, then there is real danger. Danger for the party collapsing as it did in Russia, or danger of a leadership coalition against him.

[...]

Q. Is the real danger to the party Western values, a free press and a civil society? How seriously does Mr. Xi take that threat? How does it compare to corruption as a threat?

A.
There is an internal threat: corruption. There is an external threat: bad ideas from the West. He takes both seriously. His problem is that, with the internal threat, he can take the Discipline Inspection Commission, a very powerful weapon, backed by the whole apparatus of the Central Committee, the Secretariat, and he can home in on what he wants to home in on.

The problem for the external threat of foreign ideas is that, as part of the whole process of opening up and reform, Deng Xiaoping and his successors have allowed hundreds of thousands of students to go abroad, and once China began to be rich, they all started to come back instead of staying wherever they went to study. And so you’ve got now tens of thousands of former students from America, Europe, Japan, who are back in their own country, and they’ve seen a different future. If they’re comfortably off, if they work for the party, that may be enough. They can say, “OK, free press, it was fine when I was in New York, but doesn’t matter here, I’m all right.”

But I think the danger is that if people feel that the corruption campaign is going to undermine the party and chaos could result — that’s what happened in the Cultural Revolution — then people are going to start thinking, how can we change this system? Some will emigrate. Some have already emigrated. Certainly billions of dollars have emigrated. Children have been left abroad as a safety belt to hang on to. And it’s just a case of will people start thinking about alternative methods?

Of course, it being a Leninist party and leadership friendly, someone at the very top has got to have those ideas, that there’s got to be change. And that’s, frankly, a very difficult thing to envisage. Deng Xiaoping could do it, though he was at the very top, simply because the Cultural Revolution was such chaos, that you had to have something new. We don’t know at what stage of the campaign against corruption, the campaign on closing in of ideas from abroad, which could harm the economy, of course, at what stage someone inside China will say: “This is not going to work. We’ve got to change.”

Q. A successful campaign against corruption and closing off to Western ideas are related then?

A.
You say a successful campaign against corruption. But the point about a successful campaign against corruption is that it’s all very well to get a few tigers, have cheers from the multitude because you’ve brought these people down. But it’s the fleas who are the real danger. The peasants and the workers are afflicted by local cadres. Petty corruption. Some of which results in ecological damage to the neighborhood and therefore health problems for themselves and their kids. Those are the people that are really the threat to the population at large, and if he goes after them, who’s going to work for the party? Who’s going to be the new cadres?

Q. A party without ideology: Is that a sustainable model?

A.
Without an ideology, you lack the glue that the Confucian empire had, you lack the glue that the Maoist period had. And so you have nothing in common between party and people, between state and country. And that’s a very difficult thing to proceed with in China when you have a Leninist party that by its very definition, when it was first formed in the late 19th century, relies upon ideology to convince people that we understand the history, we understand the present and we know where to go in the future.

That’s a very powerful doctrine, if you believe in it. Without any such doctrine, he has coursed to this very negative policy of trying to keep-out-the-enemy doctrine. It’s much better if you’re closed in the armor of your own doctrine than if you just have the old apparatus of the Great Firewall in order to keep out the enemy doctrine.

Q. Does China rely more on nationalism then? Doesn’t that risk fascism?

A.
I’m not sure about fascism. But I am sure that nationalism is one of the reasons why the foreign policy of Xi Jinping has been somewhat provocative perhaps in the East China Sea, South China Sea, vis-à-vis America, as a device to get people behind him in his campaigns, particularly the corruption campaign. But I think that in the long run that’s a very dangerous path to pursue because as Chinese governments in the past have found, if you unleash nationalism and then you are unwilling or unable to follow through with the right actions, then the people get fed up with you, they think that you are being unpatriotic yourself, that the government is failing. And so nationalism is a very dangerous thing to unleash. I don’t think it is fascism so much. I just think it is just a weapon for Xi Jinping.

Q. If you don’t have Confucianism or Marxism, and you aren’t focusing on nationalism, what do you have?

A.
Nothing. That’s why Xi Jinping is so worried. What is interesting about what he is trying to do is he has had a campaign, which I didn’t quite understand at first, to say that the whole of the Communist regime is one united period of history. And he’s argued against what apparently happens in China, that you divide it into two periods: the Maoist period, which basically had those great tragedies, the famine and the Cultural Revolution, and the reform period, which basically has been a move towards a better, brighter, more prosperous future.

Because he realizes, he says in his attacks on Gorbachev and what happened in the Soviet Union, one of the problems was that they attacked Lenin and Stalin, and that led to an undermining of the whole system. And he realizes that, if you start allowing the first 20 years, 25 years or so, of Mao’s rule to be denigrated for all the mistakes that happened, then you are going to delegitimize Mao.

And as the picture of Mao’s face on the Tiananmen Gate shows, Mao is still the great legitimator of this regime. That’s all they’ve got left. They’ve got no Marxism-Leninism, they’ve got no party that’s got respect and authority any longer. People are revolting against local cadres 500 times every day, apparently, in China.

They have Mao. How long that will last? How much he means to the young people today? I don’t know.
also btw...
-China's Great Firewall Gets Taller--it just got harder to use VPNs or access Google & Facebook.
-Marxism as religion: a personal recollection
-The Upper Middle Class Is Ruining America
posted by kliuless at 5:14 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Please, please, please don't let this happen. I wish I had someone to pray to about this but I don't, but really, our world needs less Christians, not new ones.
posted by GoblinHoney at 5:52 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the history of the Hui, Chinese Muslims, would give some insight into how Christianity and Chinese culture might mix.
posted by XMLicious at 8:09 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


halifax, I should have said "I can read your comments a couple of different ways, and one way makes me uncomfortable, so I'm going to respond to it even though it may not be what you meant." I get what you mean. And thanks for replying calmly!
posted by wintersweet at 8:33 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Please, please, please don't let this happen. I wish I had someone to pray to about this but I don't, but really, our world needs less Christians, not new ones.

It needs less Christians who thrive on hate.
posted by Atreides at 6:40 AM on February 3, 2015


China's contradictory war on corruption: "Country needs to put the law above the needs of the Communist party"
In focusing on corruption, Mr Xi has undoubtedly chosen an issue that is crucial to the health of the Chinese economy and wider society. China’s extraordinary decades-long economic boom has greatly widened prosperity and opportunity for hundreds of millions of people. But the corruption that has accompanied this long boom has also created cynicism and anger among many ordinary Chinese.

Unfortunately, China’s war on corruption is hobbled by a central contradiction that President Xi has yet to acknowledge. Mr Xi clearly believes that, unless corruption is tackled, the legitimacy of Communist party rule could be fatally undermined. And yet, paradoxically, the main impediment to an effective anti-corruption campaign is, precisely the dominant role of the Communist party in Chinese society. A campaign against corruption can only truly succeed if it is administered impartially by prosecutors and courts that are independent of government.

When the legal system is subject to political control, every arrest and trial is inevitably tainted by the suspicion that it is the product of a political vendetta, rather than an impartial weighing of the evidence. That, in turn, makes the public cynical and business jittery and uncertain... At present, the court system has a 99.9 per cent conviction rate, further strengthening the impression that the legal system has much more to do with the desire for political and social control than the search for justice.
also btw...
  • Sobering News Out of China, Part 4 Million - "Chronicles of a country walling itself off"[*]
  • All-seeing, all-knowing - "Since imperial times Chinese governments have yearned for a perfect surveillance state. Will big data now deliver it?"
  • Ideology Matters: Parsing Recent Changes in China's Intellectual Landscape
  • What if Xi succeeds creating a model of non-democratic statecraft that is able to generate political stability, administrative efficiency and material well-being. To many, this is unimaginable. Yet prudence dictates that we imagine it. A political crisis in China would reverberate around the world because of its magnitude. But a successful China might, in the end, provide a more profound challenge to the outside world. At least, China watchers should attempt to take Xi's ideological claims seriously, rather than dismiss them as mere political rhetoric. They may be around longer than many China watchers might hope or think.
  • The shuttering of China? - "It's the idea that China will — as more and more capital threatens to flow out of the country — start to shut its doors and look inwards once again."
posted by kliuless at 9:55 AM on February 25, 2015


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