Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

attempts to control them have led to extraordinary coercion and to extraordinary manipulations of religious institutions.


CONCLUSIONS

In China attempts by the state over several thousand years to control religion and bend it to state interests have led to complicated entanglements between religion and regime, each leaving its stamp on the other. Chinese gods appointed and patronized by state officials naturally reflected the imagery and politics of the imperial system and enhanced its legitimacy. However, not all gods were successfully co-opted, especially in regions such as Tibet, which developed a strong native religion in pre-imperial times.

Twentieth-century revolutionary regimes have dealt harshly with religions, seeing them as rivals with incompatible agendas. Religious organizations are no match for a hostile state in the short run, but repression is hard to sustain while the country is undergoing rapid development. Meanwhile, the loss of faith in Communism, dismay at widespread corruption, and pressing personal needs provide fertile ground for old and new religions. Ironically, because China has long repressed religious organizations, well-developed external religions such as Christianity face less competition in China from weakened native religions when state repression declines.

Chinese Buddhism and Christianity have begun to compete again at the grassroots level, offering salvation, ethical doctrines, and divine help for people with problems. But Christian house-churches and rural congregations provide a much stronger sense of community ( Hunter and Chan 1993), while Christian miracles and millenarianism attract adherents in impoverished areas.

The state in the late 1990s has been preoccupied with economic development because officials know that the regime's security and legitimacy depend mainly on the material well-being of the population. Unlike previous regimes, the Party declines to claim support from the gods. As the regime's utopian visions fade, however, religious organizations offer what the state cannot provide ( Stark and Bainbridge 1987) and grow cautiously stronger. The regime may not soon give up its regulation of the religious marketplace, but its right to do so will be increasingly challenged.


REFERENCES

Bohr Richard. 1985. "The Heavenly Kingdom in China: Religion and the Taiping Revolution, 1837-1853." Fides et Historia 17:38-52.

Brown Deborah. 1996. "The Role of Religion in Promoting Democracy in the People's Republic of China and Hong Kong." Pp.79-141 in Beatrice Leung (ed.), Church and State Relations in 21st Century Asia. Hong Kong: Center of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong.

Crothall Geoffrey. 1992. "Peasants Lift Mao to God Status." South China Morning Post, February 2.

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