02/06/2017, 10.17
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Richard Madsen: China is a religious country. 85% have some belief - Part Four

People are led to believe by social insecurity and political. Many Communist Party members live their faith in secret, even though they are forbidden. The government emphasizes its stability because instead there is a potential instability and the people are very worried. The considerations of Prof. Madsen, a sociologist of religions at the University of San Diego.


San Diego (AsiaNews) - In China, 85% of the population has some kind of belief in the supernatural. Official statistics speak only of 100 million believers. The urge to believe in a "beyond" comes from tradition, but also economic and social insecurity. Even Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption prompts people to rely on some supernatural power. That is why the Party has put a ban on strict rules for officials to practice any religion, even in retirement. But to no avail. These interesting conclusions are the result of the work of Prof. Richard Madsen, a sociologist of religions at the University of San Diego (California), engaged in a collaboration with Fudan University in Shanghai and with the "China in the 21st Century" Center in San Diego. Last July, prof. Madsen participated in a conference held in the United States in San Diego on the religious situation in China and the prospects of freedom and commitment of religions in the country. Later he had a conversation with the vice-director of the Center, Prof. Samuel Tsoi, which the university published as podcasts (http://china.ucsd.edu/media-center/podcast.html). AsiaNews is publishing the conversation between Prof. Madsen and Samuel Tsoi in installments. This is the fourth part. Editing by AsiaNews.

Prof. Madsen, thank you for painting this broad picture of the various aspects and scenarios of Christianity. The Pentecostals, who emphasize preaching, evangelism, many of these Christians are taking on different roles, with different entities in order to continue to profess their faith. Now I have another question... especially in the urban context many of these Christians are becoming much more sophisticated, and work on the intellectual traditions of Christianity, thinking about how Christian theology is integrated with their Chinese cultural heritage and the problems they see in society, especially in this time of rapid change in the Chinese world. At the same time members of the CCP are officially atheists ... Are there  other examples of how Christians in urban communities are in some way unofficially infiltrating  the Communist Party or some study on how leaders succeed or not to ensure their members do not ‘succumb’ to Christianity or any other religion?

Well, from what I know, there are no studies. Anyway, earlier this year [2016] the Chinese Communist Party issued new regulations for the members of the Party emphasizing that they are not allowed to practice religion so there was a sort of repression. The Party leadership has issued very explicit regulations and this is a phenomenon that has been going on for some time. One thing I have noticed is that often when some party members are retiring, people start to age, to think about the last things, death, and then you see people who come to various forms of faith and begin to practice some religion. I had a friend who was among the elite of the Communist Party, and his father was a famous general of the party, a revolutionary even with his wife. When his father died ten years ago, the mother went to the temple every day to pray for him. This is a human thing, a thing that the party ideology does not provide: when someone dies, you cry and seek consolation. I'm sure this kind of thing happens all over the country, and therefore the Party members may also be atheists, but they feel, in their heart of hearts, an interest in what is "beyond" ... In fact, the interesting phenomenon - and there was no need for this to be Christian - it is that people believe in many mysterious and supernatural aspects. A renowned personality was brought to trial for corruption, Zhou Yongkang. Well one of the accusations against him was his contacts with a famous soothsayer, Xin Jiang, and this in order to understand show how the "spiritual" is a bad thing for the leadership.

In China even the highest elite cares about the faith, and tries to understand and master fate and fortune. The government emphasizes its stability because instead there is a potential instability and the people are very worried. Even Party officials and others are worried about being somehow accused of corruption, removed from  office. Everything seems arbitrary: This  is why people throw themselves on faith, trying to know and ensure their future / destiny. Also in business it is as follows: You win today, lose tomorrow and so  you must find the way to reduce anxiety and insecurity, by looking for some meaning in life.

 A survey by the Pew Research Centre showed that today, in China, at least two-thirds of people are atheists, the highest percentage (by country) of atheists in the world. But another survey of the Yan Fan Gan foundation says that there are religions and people engaged in religious rituals, praying for the sick or dead, who go to fortune tellers, or believe in ghosts, ... in short, all those who have a religious sensitivity, represent  85% of the Chinese population. Of course at this rate there are also the official religions, the official Church, but these are a small part. The 85% is more or less the same percentage of those in America who say they believe in God. Religion is pervasive even if it does not take on institutional forms.

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