China project of the day

by on August 8, 2014 at 2:19 am in Current Affairs, Political Science, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

China will construct a “Chinese Christian theology” suitable for the country, state media reported on Thursday, as both the number of believers and tensions with the authorities are on the rise.

China has between 23 million and 40 million Protestants, accounting for 1.7 to 2.9 per cent of the total population, the state-run China Daily said, citing figures given at a seminar in Shanghai.

About 500,000 people are baptised as Protestants every year, it added.

There is more here, via the excellent Mark Thorson.  It should be noted that this story can be given a number of different interpretations.  Here is a related article.

Ryan W August 8, 2014 at 2:40 am

My interpretation: the Party wants to make it clear to their Christian population who the ultimate authority is.

Engineer August 8, 2014 at 3:25 am

> My interpretation: the Party wants to make it clear to their Christian population who the ultimate authority is.

It sounds more like the Party recognizes both the appeal and social utilities of religion (especially universalist and passivist religion) and it trying to co-opt it.

ThomasH August 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Constantine more or less engineered the Council of Nicaea and that didn’t turn out too bad.

Muffy Pemberwell August 8, 2014 at 4:05 am

Bravo. Despite incessant rhetoric at Marginal Revolution, it is clear that a government can and will meet the needs of it’s people, no so-called “invisible hand” necessary.

anon August 8, 2014 at 6:00 am

“incessant rhetoric”

How…twee

david August 8, 2014 at 4:23 am

this is an odd translation of a rather prosaic statement/observation that the fast-growing Protestant churches should/will integrate with local culture and national policy, in a speech nominally congratulating the already-existing-and-sanctioned official church on their fast growth

David Zetland August 8, 2014 at 4:59 am

It’s been done before (most recently with Scientology), so why not again? Maybe Chinese Jesus will say no to ivory and rhino horn?

prior_approval August 8, 2014 at 5:07 am

It isn’t as if the Chinese party/government haven’t been doing for more than a half century –

‘Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 by the Communist Party of China, Catholicism, like all religions, has been permitted to operate only under the supervision of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. All worship must legally be conducted through state-approved churches belonging to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), which does not accept the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. In addition to overseeing the practice of the Catholic faith, the CPA espouses politically oriented objectives as well. Liu Bainian, chairman of the CPA and the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, stated in a 2011 interview that the church needed individuals who “love the country and love religion: politically, they should respect the Constitution, respect the law, and fervently love the socialist motherland.’’[17]

Clergy who resisted this development were subject to oppression, including long imprisonments as in the case of Cardinal Kung, and torture and martyrdom as in the case of Fr. Beda Chang, S.J. Catholic clergy experienced increased supervision. Bishops and priests were forced to engage in degrading menial jobs to earn their living. Foreign missionaries were accused of being foreign agents, ready to turn the country over to imperialist forces.[18] The Holy See reacted with several encyclicals and apostolic letters, including Cupimus Imprimis, Ad Apostolorum Principis, and Ad Sinarum Gentem.

China is home to an estimated 12 million Catholics, the majority of whom worship outside the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA). The State Administration for Religious Affairs states that there are 5.3 million Catholics belonging to the official Catholic Patriotic Association, which oversees 70 bishops, and approximately 6,000 churches nationwide.[19] In addition, there are roughly 40 bishops unordained by the CPA who operate unofficially, and recognize the authority of the Vatican.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholicism_in_China#People.27s_Republic_of_China

Roy August 8, 2014 at 6:31 am

I have been hearing this since the early nineties when I first studied Chinese, it wasn’t working then, subsequent events show it hasn’t worked in the intervening years, and the failure of state churches throughout the world in the last 350 years in every country, and every religion, shows it will not work in the future. That it is implemented as cynically and openly as the CCP just shows that this is Gallicism with Chinese characteristics. A plan to guide religion by materialist physiocrats has never worked anywhere.

China has an especially bad track record with state religion. The imposition of Buddhism over religious Daoism in the Tang, led to the Song neo Confucian campaign against Buddhism, the mystery cults of the Yuan and Ming, and the spread of Christianity under Qing.

Or you might just look at the awesome success of the CCP in crushing Sufism in China, which involved the importation of Wahabbi imans from Saudi, that really solved the Uighur problem.

Michael August 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Or you might just look at the awesome success of the CCP in crushing Sufism in China, which involved the importation of Wahabbi imans from Saudi, that really solved the Uighur problem.

That’s interesting, I hadn’t heard that story before. Do you have a link to any good background on it?

anon August 8, 2014 at 6:33 am

About 500,000 people are baptised as Protestants every year, it added.

As reliable as the rest of China’s official stats.

Jørgen August 8, 2014 at 7:13 am

This does not appear to be particularly radical, or even ambitious. State control of Protestant Christian theology was the norm in Europe for a long time. I know my country (Norway) banned non-state-sanctioned religious meetings that in the nineteenth century (http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konventikkelplakaten), to better keep the people in line with “official” theology.

From the English wikipedia article on Conventicle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conventicle)
“The Conventicles Act 1670 imposed a fine on any person who attended a conventicle (any religious assembly other than the Church of England) of five shillings for the first offence and ten shillings for a second offence. Any preacher or person who allowed their house to be used as a meeting house for such an assembly could be fined 20 shillings and 40 shillings for a second offence”

Roy August 8, 2014 at 7:30 am

Yes, but this was a state direction of a religion in which the rulers don’t believe or even proclaim. In Scandinavia the ruling classes participated just as much, if not more, than the people in religious observances. It is often argued with considerable evidence that the Church in Norway, outside Bergen and the Oslofjord, was not completely Lutheran in theology or even personel until after the Swedish takeover, when the centralizing Bernadottes began to centralize control of Norway. I don’t know enough about Norway, but in Sweden the nobility and Royal family were generally more pious than much of the lower orders.

Jørgen August 8, 2014 at 8:01 am

You probably have a point, but note that the Scandinavian Conventicles Acts to a large extent was a response to grassroots pietism, and that several priests in the Norwegian church had a reputation of preaching more eagerly about technological / societal development (poteto cultivation, vaccines) than about God or Jesus (“Harmonious Society”, perhaps?).

You are of course right that an important difference is that the Chinese control attempts do come from a government that does not pretend to believe in the teachings themselves, and in that regard it is very different from European experiences.

Jørgen August 8, 2014 at 8:01 am

(this in response to “Roy”‘s response to me)

RoyM August 8, 2014 at 9:10 am

I think you are right about the grassroots pietism being the motivator of the conventicles, but their bourgouise character makes me wonder if their enactment wasn’t related to the development of the absolutist state, which leaned heavily on this same class to serve as royal functionaries. I don’t really know enough or understand how this process worked in the Danish monarchy, but it was surely a factor in Sweden. In the rural districts away from the mine and royal workshops, Lutheran practice was very weak until the end of the 18th century. While royal industries were under much greater discipline and had plenty of officials and functionaries of recent German extraction, such as part of my own family who became pietists in the late 18th century. I wonder if the struggle against the crypto-Calvinists would have gone differently if it had occurred a century later.

I think that the not being of the same religion is however the real issue when it comes to China.

ThomasH August 8, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Having no (uneaten) dog in the fight, maybe the authorities will introducing heterodoxy. Render unto Xi that which is Xi’s and unto God that which is God’s

Wolf August 8, 2014 at 10:13 am

Why are christians obsessed with spreading religion.They should leave china and india alone.

BenK August 8, 2014 at 11:07 am

Nobody is obsessed with spreading religion. Atheists and secularists of all stripes and traditions have a religion. Nobody lives without one. Some depend on personal belief, others require communal compliance with or without belief. The Christian religion requires public testimony and states that if you care about someone, you should tell them information for their own benefit – and also requires that you try to care about everyone (probably quixotic). However, other groups, particularly notably the New Atheists, are intent on spreading their version of religion so that other people believe.

RoyM August 8, 2014 at 6:04 pm

That sometimes works even better, cf. Yi Seung-hun and Andrew Kim Taegun

Peter August 8, 2014 at 12:18 pm

They want to make sure there’s never another Hong Xiuquan

TallDave August 10, 2014 at 3:52 pm

And Jesus gave the five year plan to the people, and the people were pleased.

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