A spiffy corporate campus in China isn't exactly where you'd
expect to find a four-foot-tall wooden cross, let alone a church
filled with Chinese singing hymns.
But that's what's happening on the Beijing and other campuses of
Semiconductor Manufacturing International Company (SMIC), whose
founding CEO is an enthusiastic evangelical Christian.
A leader in what Beijing considers a highly strategic industry,
the chipmaking company has secured unusual leeway for free worship
from a government that's extremely cautious about organized
But despite their often hard line on religion, in practice,
Chinese authorities use a sliding scale of religious control -
influenced in part by how much a group contributes to a prosperous
and "harmonious" society.
Overseas Chinese investors score very high on helping China reach
this goal. "As long as we're considered China's semiconductor
company, as long as we're good for China," they work with us," says
company spokesman Matthew Szymanski.
Chinese authorities have adapted their stance on religion as its
popularity has grown in recent years. The number of Christians alone
rose 50 percent between 1997 and 2006, according to official
figures. Today they make up 4 to 8 percent of China's 1.3 billion
people, says Brian Grim, a senior research fellow at the Pew Forum
on Religion and Public Life in Washington.
China's Constitution, adopted in 1982, recognizes "freedom of
religious belief" and "protects normal religious activities." But
legal worship is restricted to state-sanctioned facilities. The
government keeps a close eye on religious activity, periodically
cracking down when it sees something it doesn't like.
At the same time, it has hinted that it sees religion's potential
as a positive social force. In a widely discussed comment at last
October's National Congress, where top officials of the ruling
Communist Party meet once every five years, President Hu Jintao said
they should "bring into play the positive role of religious
personages and believers in promoting economic and social
Indeed, the state's tolerance of religious activities seems to
depend on how much they're perceived as contributing to such
Groups that are seen as "promoting harmonious society" are
"higher on the good scale," says Mr. Grim. Buddhist organizations
that do good works and state-sanctioned churches would get a
positive rating, for example. "House" churches - independent groups
that refuse to register with the government - and the spiritual
group Falun Gong, which the government sees as subversive - do not.
Still, many unregistered church groups, where as many as 70
million Chinese people worship, gather openly and undisturbed
because they're not considered a threat.
The authorities "don't want to let the crackdown on religious
groups get in the way of economic development and social stability,"
says Fenggang Yang, an expert on religion in China at Purdue
University in West Lafayette, Ind. "As long as they're not
distracting from economic development [or] making political
statements, then they will tend to leave those groups alone.
"There's practical space for religious freedom," he adds.
That's been the experience of overseas Chinese businessman and
SMIC founder Richard Chang.
Raised in Taiwan and educated in the United States, he worked for
20 years at Texas Instruments and then ran a leading semiconductor
firm in Taiwan. …