Coalition and Hegemony: Religion's Role in the Progress of Modernization in Reformed China

By Chuanhui, Zeng | Brigham Young University Law Review, May 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Coalition and Hegemony: Religion's Role in the Progress of Modernization in Reformed China


Chuanhui, Zeng, Brigham Young University Law Review


(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

I. INTRODUCTION

In the past thirty-two years, mainland China has risen from one of the poorest countries to the second largest economic power in the world.1 The sweeping but stable progress of modernization in China may be listed among the most important events in human history.2 What are the proper cultural factors contributing to this marvel? What is the role of religion in this progress?

According to Max Weber, the Protestant ethic was coincident with the rise of capitalism in Europe. Protestantism is obviously irrelevant to the situation in China because Protestants are still a very small minority to this day,4 and Calvinistic ethic has little influence there.

During the 1970s and 80s when "the four little dragons in East Asia" - Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea - took the lead in modernization in Asia, many Neo- Confucian scholars ascribed the great success to Confucian morality, which still somewhat influences the cultural mores of these countries. China was the cradle of Confucianism and, of course, has been traditionally regarded as the major enclave of Confucian culture. Nevertheless, Confucianism has been criticized and rejected by mainstream intellectuals as an opponent to modernity since the May Fourth Movement in 1919.5 After the Chinese Communist Party ("CCP") came into power in 1949, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism was treated as one of the "putrescent" cultures that should be thrown away "into the trash pile of history."6 In the past several years, conditions have changed only slightly, but the government and some intellectuals are trying to make use of Confucian morality to help rebuild social order. The voices of neo- Confucianism are just beginning to echo from the studies of scholars.

Are the above observations sufficient for us to conclude that religion has been basically absent from the modernization of reformed China? How can we properly evaluate the role of religion in that country? This Article briefly examines these questions. Part II discusses China's system of elite governance and how it has become more open to religion. Part III examines religion's influence on China's developing culture. Finally, Part IV discusses sources of domestic and foreign resistance to China's changing hegemony.

II. RELIGION PLAYS A PART IN THE ELITE COALITION

A. The Elitist Governance

The Chinese government claims that China is a socialist country, but its version of socialism is fundamentally different from the traditional sense in that (1) it totally embraces the market economy, which was purported to be one of the ledial factors of capitalism; (2) most of the state-owned enterprises have been privatized; and (3) the disparity in the distribution of wealth in China today is among the greatest in the world.7 According to traditional Marxism, public ownership and distribution of goods in proportion to work are two basic standards of socialism.8 In today's China, state ownership and collective ownership have been transformed in favor of joint-stock ownership.9 Social wealth has become more and more concentrated in the holdings of a small percentage of the population. In 2008, the Gini coefficient was around .469, 10 approaching an alarming level.

Thus China no longer has a socialist system, at least in the traditional sense. Nor does it have a capitalist system. The major difference between the system of China and that of other Western capitalist countries is the system of governance. The Chinese people have not voted to select their president directly. This does not mean that there is no democracy at all, or that the Chinese government lacks legitimacy. China's special way of governance and the government's high efficiency have supported its legitimacy.

Some scholars of politics named this system of governance "neoauthoritarianism," which was quite popular in the 1980s through the early 1990s. …

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