The Chinese Communist Party must guarantee religious freedom to save itself
Beijing (AsiaNews) - As an ideology and a 'religion' that was imposed on China, Marxism cannot hold Chinese society together any longer. The crisis is within the party itself with members no longer believing in it. Scholar Liu Peng continues his daring analysis of contemporary China, a country without faith that could see every progress collapse.
In order to reconcile Chinese society with itself, a common understanding must be built based on Chinese culture. The state, for its part, should become a neutral space that does not overlap with the party.
Everyone should be guaranteed religious freedom, which allows people over the generations to acquire an ethical education, overcoming the existing imbalance between the country's huge material progress and its spiritual emptiness.
We can share 90 per cent of Liu Peng's analysis. The rest presupposes something that is not questioned but accepted aprioristically, namely the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
Despite this limitation, Liu Peng's contribution is invaluable because it shows that China without religious freedom is bound to lose its current developmental edge.
Solution: faith innovation
It is a fact that our minds cannot remain in a vacuum. When the official ideology ceases to be the voluntary faith for the majority of the population, the people will seek substitutes according to their own needs. Religion is becoming more and more popular in China. The reasons are complex; however the impotence and weakness of the official belief system, the fact that "Party members do not believe in the Party," and the fact that many Party members (especially Party cadres) have lost their political faith in Marxism are certainly important considerations.
Aside from the growing popularity of traditional religions, newer religions and a wide range of spiritual belief systems are also gaining currency. The reasons for this growing popularity of religion are complex and mostly internal. They cannot be explained away using simple slogans such as "western religious power penetration," or "cultural and educational backwardness," or "the cheater meets the fool."How to treat religion and how to realize faith innovation are currently pressing tasks for the self-preservation of the Chinese Communist Party.
Faced with this harsh reality, we might draw some insights from the understanding of religion by the contemporary Chinese thinker Liang Qichao, who holds that one cannot live without religion. In his opinion, all worship, whether of nature, animals, spiritual beings, philosophies, or a person (Jesus Christ, Sakyamuni, Marx, and Napoleon) falls into the category of religion. In other words, as long as one is absolutely committed to an object, it becomes his religion. Therefore, Marxism is also a religion and those who believe in it are "followers of Marxism."Liang Qichao makes the point that it is not what one believes in but if one believes in something or not.
In order to solve the problem of belief in China today, one should not divorce himself from the current realities and context and only look back to Confucianism and feudal rites or Maoism. It is true that in the past, these belief systems effectively solved the issue of faith; however, they are not suitable for the 21st century, with its globalization and explosion of information. In order to solve the problem today, we must be innovative in matters of faith while drawing on historical traditions.
The so-called traditions (the traditional Chinese culture) are the soft power of China. The time-honoured Chinese culture is the foundation on which China and other Asian countries have built their belief systems. Its power and influence have spread over both time and space and have surpassed any political system or doctrine. Faith innovation is the opening up of a new road with new thoughts and new methods to meet the practical needs of a new-era faith. What is the practical need then? It is finding the belief system for the individuals and the nation. This is a great challenge.
Facing the challenge means facing up to reality. For the past sixty years, Marxism has remained the official belief in China. However, it is highly unrealistic to think that it can remain as the spiritual pillar and core value of society - a belief shared by all. The core social theories of Marxism (surplus value and proletarian dictatorship) do have instructive meaning to the proletarian party seeking to seize power through violent revolution. However, when the time, condition, environment, objective, and goals change, how can Marxism adjust accordingly, so as to provide guidance to the ruling class? This question has posed a great challenge to all the Marxist parties that have gained power in their countries.
In the 160 years, since Marxism was born there have been many Marxist leaders who led their people to make great achievements, but there were few who successfully seized power, and still fewer who were able to maintain their power. This is not an accidental phenomenon, but it is thought-provoking. China's success lies in its repeated reform of classical Marxism - Mao's version of Marxism, Deng's version of Marxism. These adaptations allowed the Chinese Communist Party to take power and remain in power today. Since 1979, what China has adopted is Deng's Marxism. Now, thirty years later, China is in need of a new version of Marxism as the object of faith.
The top priority of the Chinese Communist Party is to remain at the helm of state. Preserving Marxism and holding onto power are not necessarily related to leading the Chinese nation to advance. The harsh reality is that Chinese people (including those in Hong Kong and Macau) accept the leadership of the Communist Party, but the majority does not sincerely believe in it and will not voluntarily make it their spiritual pillar. If someone does not admit this, he is not being honest. The lack of faith in society today is not due to a lack of officially advocated belief, but due to the unwillingness of the people to believe it.
As the party holding power, the objective of the Chinese Communist Party should not be to maintain a certain doctrine by taking advantage of its power, but to align the power with any idea that represents the will of the people, since ideology is supposed to serve political power, not the other way around. When one ideology ceases to be effective, it must be replaced with a new substitute. If the old ideology is retained, despite its negative effects, the only result will be superficial loyalty in form. This, however, brings substantial damage to the Party's interests.
Therefore, the Communist Party must propose a brand new and widely acknowledged common understanding for social development. This common understanding must represent the public will and the current circumstances. Only in this way can it become the core value of contemporary China as well as the shared belief system of the Chinese in the next era. This belief system can be neither old-style Marxism nor a particular religion (Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Confucianism or any other religion) because the belief of the Party differs from religion and does not represent any religion. In terms of the relationship between the state and religion, it is impossible for China to adopt a system of Unification of Church and State or to set up a state religion.
In such a context, the Chinese Communist Party needs to separate political faith from religious belief and separate the requirement of the Party members from those of the common public. The objective of the Party should be how to remain at the helm rather than how to guard a philosophical doctrine. Marxism should be treated as the Party ideology, moving from facing the whole society to facing the Party itself. Meanwhile the Party should put forward a common understanding which is rooted in Chinese cultural tradition and accepted by the whole society and nation as the common belief for the Chinese nation. It would be neither Marxism nor a religion; therefore, Marxism should not be required as a compulsory belief for the public. In short, the situation the Party needs to work towards is that of the Party having its own belief, the multi-ethnic nation having a common understanding (faith), and every individual enjoying his own faith. The three kinds of faith differ in level, focus, and scale. They overlap, but do not contradict each other.
The so-called national faith refers to the national psychology and wishes of the current era. It represents the common will and ideal shared by all. In the course of history, every stage of China's development is featured by striking characteristics unique to that stage, and people in every generation have their own historic mission. The recognition and pursuit of the specific historical mission endowed by time is the "national faith" for that period time. At one time, that national faith was "emancipation"(during the 1930's and 1940's, including an "anti-Japanese and nation-saving campaign"), another time it was "class struggle," and another "reform and opening up."Today, what meets the demands of the public is can be summed up in the slogan "harmonious as one," which is an expression of the idea "nature and man in one."This rich and tolerant worldview is rooted in traditional Chinese culture and extends the concept of "harmonious society" beyond the political arena.
Chinese society, which is in a state of transition, is lacking in harmony so it is proper and wise to adopt "harmonious as one" as the slogan for our time. This will help maintain stability in China in the coming years and conforms to the wishes of people from all of Chinese ethnic groups. Since peace and harmony are common themes worldwide, the Communist Party should try to make "harmonious as one" a standard for the whole world. Whether "harmonious as one" is the best slogan is not important. As Liang Qichao said, what counts is not the object of faith, but if it performs the function of a belief.
Without a belief system that is unanimously acknowledged as the standard, the national common good cannot be realized, and the Achilles' heel of China's rise will not be solved. Practically speaking, upholding the slogan of "harmonious as one" will gain overseas support, since whoever opposes it will be opposing the will of the general public. If we truly adopt the slogan of "harmonious as one," and strive for harmony between each other, between man and nature, man and the environment, then both the micro- and macro- situations in China will greatly improve.
Though the essence of such a faith is a typical belief for the benefit of the ruling party, formally it is endowed with important national characteristics, timeless features, and accessibility. This belief system is obviously superior to Marxism, which was characterized by class struggle.
Once a common understanding and national faith have been achieved, the Chinese Communist Party needs to transform ideologically from a revolutionary party to a ruling party. Its key missions need to be improving government administration, cadre management, and executive capacity. With regards to the matter of individual faith, the Party should acknowledge the fact that it is harmful that the majority are not bound by religious faith or a moral standard.
During the early years of the People's Republic of China, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party denied traditional Chinese beliefs and adopted Marxism as the official belief. When China set aside "class struggle" and began its transformation, belief in Marxism declined sharply so that now it no longer serves as the guiding ideology of the nation. Both the nation and individuals are confronted with a severe deficit of spiritual and belief products. Yet, the unavailability of an op, en religious market and the lack of religious freedom have resulted in fake faith, adulterated faith, and society being inundated by many different beliefs.
The reason why graft and official corruption has become the serious problem that it is today is because fake beliefs have drowned out pious faiths, party loyalty has transmuted into dependence on those in power and the naked pursuit of power and profits. This situation is a challenge that all parties in power have to face sooner or later.
If the Chinese Communist Party were to loosen its control over the area of personal belief and treat religion as a personal matter, then the Party would be able to reconcile the various religions ideologically and gain their cooperation and assistance with the Party in developing a harmonious society.
Accordingly, the Party would gain the approval and appreciation from domestic and international religious followers. Supported by a faith pillar, especially a religious one, a person can improve his moral character.
When diverse religions develop at the same time, the competition among them will effectively prevent any one religion from becoming dominant. Even if the followers o, f one or some religions outnumber those of others, they will not exist in isolation from the culture, nor will they become the national religion taking the place of Chinese culture. Throughout China's history, none of the established religions has ever been elevated to the status of national religion, since the consensus in China was that religion must be pluralistic and diverse. It is in the best interests of the country to allow multiple religions to coexist and not to adopt a system of unification of state and church, and not to establish any religion as the national religion. As the coordinator and vindicator of public interests, the state should transform its religious management model from a system of administrative management to the rule of law, strengthen religious legislation, regulate and adjust all problems pertaining to religion according to the law, allow religions to compete and develop within the scope of the law, and protect the public's freedom of choosing their spiritual products.
In addition, the Party should once again give religion the responsibility for attending to personal matters, such as providing ethical education and supplying spiritual products (as it was in ancient China and is in most countries of the world today). Ethical education of individuals should be under the scope of religion, but their behaviours be bound by law.
The purpose of the above discussion is not to encourage the establishment of new religions, but to bring innovation to the matter of belief at different levels. For the state, belief means the national common understanding, plus Chinese culture; for the Party, it is Marxism plus Chinese culture; for the individual, it is freedom of belief plus Chinese culture. The state, party, and the individual all have their beliefs, each with a different emphasis but all rooted in Chinese culture. (Chinese culture here refers to the traditional Chinese culture, including philosophy, literature, music, dramas, art, architecture, medicine, martial arts, cooking, tea, china, and furniture).
If the above goals can be achieved, then the general quality and power of the Party will definitely increase. In addition, the common understanding of a national faith will be established, individuals will have the freedom to choose their spiritual faith products, and the imbalance between the spiritual development and material development will be greatly eased.
The Chinese nation is a great nation. As long as the Chinese do not bury their heads in the sand, and as long as Chinese society has a common understanding shared by the majority, and the Chinese have valid faiths and spiritual pillars freely chosen, the problems of belief will be solved and the dream for China's "rise" to "power" will come true.
For previous articles, go to:
After the "failed religions" of Mao and Deng, China seeks God, 6 September 2012
Liu Peng: Chinese have "lost faith" in Party ideals, 31 July 2012
The Achilles' Heel of China's Rise: Belief, 25 July 2012