China: The Politics of Religion

When the Chinese Government comes out with a policy encouraging religions to adapt a clear Chinese style in religious activities, music, clothing and buildings, it could be viewed as a helpful suggestion. Today the greatest need in Christianity, for example, is to draw more on the Chinese religious heritage to make its message comprehensible and relevant to people.

This is called ‘inculturation’ in Church circles, though it is more talked about than implemented. However, the Chinese government is now using a different word, Sinicisation (Chinese-ising) , with political rather than religious connotations. It is a reaction to the fear that China may be ’modernised’ in an unwanted Western direction, with demands for more personal freedom and democracy. Christian religions, in particular, are seen as a threat in that regard and so ‘steps must be taken to prevent feudal privileges gaining new life and Chinese religions from falling back under the control of a foreign power’. The demand is for adaptation, not to the Chinese spiritual heritage, but to the present Socialist society.

Statements like this might give the impression that there is little religious freedom in China, though that is not exactly true. Religious affiliation is growing and while the government no longer expects to abolish all religion, there is  fear is that it might be having too much influence.

In China it is difficult to get accurate data but in a population of 1.4 billion, officially there is said to be 100 million Taoists, 100 million Buddhists, 28 million Islamists, 90 million Protestants and 9 million Catholics.

There are also 80 million nominally atheistic Party members.

(The above photo was not taken in China but at the recent Lenten Concert in Maynooth College, featuring the music of Verdi, an Italian of the 19th  Century.)

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