God and Money in the People’s Republic

When we discuss a rising China, we think primarily in economic, political and military terms.  But often overlooked are the internal cultural changes that are taking place within the country as it industrializes and becomes ever richer.  Take, for example, the rise of Christianity within the ostensibly atheist state.  Membership in Christian religious organizations, both official and unofficial, is booming.

Western cultural influence has left an indelible religious impression in Asia.  A plurality of Koreans now consider themselves Christian and the French left a substantial Catholic legacy in Vietnam.  Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Republic of China and its first President, was also a Christian, and Christianity had quite a following up until the Communist takeover in 1949.  During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, Mao Zedong tried to uproot the traditional structures of anything that was not associated with communism, and Christianity was no exception to this.  In the official communist order, the state regulates religions, in the hope that they’ll soon disappear, but despite the efforts of the state to regulate and strangle religion into insignificance, the ranks of believers seem only to be growing.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that even though China is an ostensibly Marxist country, it’s relied on capitalist economic measures to grow the country’s fortunes.  I further think that it’s also not a coincidence that as China relies ever more on capitalist economic models that the country seems to be moving ever closer, at least behind closed doors, of a model of society wherein the state is not the only actor.  As the economy there diversifies and develops, so to is its civil society, though the state still trumps all there.

And think about this: according to the article, more Chinese are in the pews in church on Sundays than in the whole of Europe (60 million).  When you consider who in the world are the ‘faithful,’ I don’t necessarily think of China.  But, I suppose in the future, we might want to start.

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