This event is part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Symposia Series, which is made possible by the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.
This event is part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Symposia Series, which is made possible by the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: (Gavel sounds.) Good morning. Stacy, is this on? Okay, good morning, everyone. That's what the headmaster of my old school used to do when he wanted us to all be quiet, "Good morning!" he would say, with that headmasterly tone. I'd like to welcome you all to the Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on Religion and the Future of China. I'll make a couple of introductory remarks and then turn it over to Terri Lautz, who will lead our first panel.
A symposium is a relatively new form of meeting that we have at the Council. It involves essentially a half-day experience of panel speakers and food. So, we're - we're glad you're all able to come. This particular symposium series on topics that generally try to bring together religion and foreign policy has been very generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.
We thought it was appropriate for me to thank and acknowledge the Luce Foundation, because Terri is with the Luce Foundation and we thought he probably wouldn't get up there and thank himself for his vision and splendor. But, we do, Terri, thank you very much, and to the board.
This particular effort by the Council to study religion and foreign policy is one of our key intellectual initiatives. We believe, at the Council, that the worlds of religion and foreign policy need to come together more than they have so far. That, in a lot of ways - sometimes not necessarily the obvious ways, religion is shaping the international system. It often shapes the presuppositions that actors bring to the table. It often shapes the political context in which societies, including our own society, take important decisions.
We are trying to investigate this complex world. Our experience is that many of the people who make decisions in foreign policy, and think about foreign policy, are not particularly conscious about the degree to which religion is quietly, and sometimes invisibly, shaping the context in which they act. And, at the same time, we find that people who are knowledgeable about religion sometimes lack a sophisticated grasp of how the foreign policy world works, and the system works.
We think that if these two groups of experts can become more cognizant of each other's worlds and thoughts, we'll have - the world of religion will be able to make a more positive and a more informed contribution to what's going on in foreign policy and people in foreign policy will be better equipped to do their work. So these symposia are part of a broader effort that we are undertaking to try to bring these worlds together.
We are also trying to do work that brings together, and shows how these two forces can work together. If you look at the current issue of Foreign Affairs, I've written an article in that on "Why Americans Support Israel," which looks at some of the ways in which even secular Americans, who don't think religion has anything to do with the way they approach the world, are actually acting out of beliefs, motives, methods of interpreting history that have deep roots in the world of American religion.
We hope that over the future years we'll be producing more work of this nature and better work. But, thank you all for coming. I hope you enjoy this. And as Terri will tell you, this is not only an on-the-record session, it's being webcast, so watch out! (Laughter.) Thank you.
TERRILL E. LAUTZ: Thank you, Walter. And it's a privilege to be moderating this session. It's been a personal joy to work with you, Walter, and with Tim Shaw on this whole series. And, on behalf of the Luce Foundation, it's been a privilege for Michael Gilligan, the president, and our board, including Tom Pulling and Claire Gaudiani who are here this morning, to be working with the Council on this initiative. We believe that it's very important.
I need to alert you, if you haven't already done so, to the need to turn off your electronic devices. They should not even be on "buzz," or "beep," or whatever. They have to be turned off completely because of the electronics. As Walter already mentioned, this session is on the record and it is being webcast live. There are cameras around us, and we welcome our web audience this morning, and we may even have some questions from them.
I'd like to introduce our three panel members this morning. Brian Grim, who is senior fellow - senior research fellow in Religion and World Affairs at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C.; spent a number of years from - dating from early 1980s, living and working in China, and has had experience in a number of other countries in Asia and other parts of the world.
Professor Fenggang Yang, who is Department of Sociology at Purdue University in Indiana and has recently established a new Center for Religion and Chinese Foreign Policy at Purdue.
And Professor Mayfair Yang, who has been for some years, professor of Religious Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, and has recently taken up a new position as director of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia, where she spent a few years as a child - in her youth.
We'd like to start out by trying to outline, just briefly, some historical and contemporary context for this vast subject of religion in China, and talk about the importance of religion in China, particularly today, and then direct some of our attention to the question of policy consequences for religion, both on the domestic side in China and in terms of foreign policy. I'm sure that in the question and answer session, you will - you will want to pursue these issues as well.
I think it's always a good idea to start with history. And I think there's a, kind of a general perception - and a lot of this comes initially, at least, from the Jesuits in the 16th Century, 17th Century, who went to China and thought that they had discovered a society that was based on rational secular values, where religion - at least in terms of leadership in state, wasn't that relevant. And they came back to France, and other parts of Europe, and got very excited about this, and some of our enlightened thinkers were the beneficiaries.
But, Mayfair, if we could ask you, what is - you know, all traditional, or pre-modern societies - or almost all, that I'm aware of at least, you find that political authority and religious authority go hand-in-hand. What was the situation in China? What was the reality?
MAYFAIR YANG: Well, let me just start with talking a little bit about the religious configuration in late imperial China, at about the time when, you know, the Jesuits went to China in the 16th, 17th centuries. You know, the state at that time was itself a quasi-religious entity. It oversaw a very complex system of sacrifices. It had a monopoly on the access to heaven; Tian, who - which was the supreme diety, only the emperor had the right to sacrifice to him. And ritual and sacrifice were - what defined the state, the centralized state.
And the Ministry of Rites was one of the important six imperial ministries of the central imperial government. So, all the way down the levels, from the -- the state to provincial authorities, and county-level officials - all these officials of this vast imperial bureaucracy, one of their important duties was to sacrifice to their equivalent deities. So this was a very ritualized state.
And Confucius himself - and Confucian teachings were what guided the imperial state. Confucius himself was extremely interested into controlling the populations through ritual practice, rather than through force. This was the original Confucius. Of course, later on in the Han Dynasty the states really instituted a system of universal laws and punishments. So, the gentle way of Confucius, and the harsh ways of a legalistic, you know, guided the running of the empire.
Now, Buddhism and Daoism each had their separate areas, but they never, in imperial China, had any kind of centralized organization. So, the history of Buddhism and Daoism were less strong as a religious institution, compared with the history of the Christian church. They had localized lineages of masters.
Then, also at the grassroots level, you had a popular religion. These were deity cults, territorial deities, tutelary deities who protected the local community who worshipped them. And they were also icons for local community identity - villages and towns. You also had ghosts, shamans, spirit mediums and ancestor worship. And you also sectarian religious movements that would spread like wildfire in times of crisis. These were harshly persecuted by the state if the state deemed them to be dangerous to its own legitimacy.
So a lot changed in since the Opium War of the 1840s, when the Western imperialism came in. And what Chinese educated elite, who were to lead the nationalist - various nationalist movements that sought to counter the Western incursion, what they absorbed were three crucial attitudes, I think, from Western teachings that were extremely influential in determining the course of religions in the 20th century of China.
So, I think it's very important, when we deal with and think about the religious situation in China today, not to just go off on this freedom-of-religion issue, but to think historically about how the Chinese government came to be the way it is. What the Chinese educated elite absorbed from the West was:
One, in the 19th century, a lot of Protestant missionaries went to China, and they had a more narrow-minded attitude towards other religions than the Jesuits of earlier times. They were very judgmental and very convinced of their rightness. They had a contempt for what they called "idolatry" - these Chinese are superstitious; they ketou all the time; they're ignorant and backward. So, there was a lot of feeling of Western superiority by Westerners in the 19th century.
The other thing that Chinese - so, Chinese intellectuals of the May Fourth generation, 1920s, absorbed this. The other thing that they absorbed was the scientism coming from the West that thought that science would answer everything - this notion of absolute truth. And, of course, the Chinese educated elite at that time was in a very nationalistic mode of wanting to become independent from the West and throw off that kind of yoke of Western colonialism, and they believed that only science and technology would save the nation.
The other - the third thing that they absorbed was this unilinear evolutionism. This, you know, Herbert Spencer, Henry Lewis Morgan, all these important 19th century - and Karl Marx, of course, thinking in this evolutionary mode of human progress, very optimistic, and stages of development that all societies must follow, and the West had gone the furthest through all these previous stages.
So this is -- sets the scene. So, I think that the Chinese Communist Party and its rather past destructive policies towards religious life in China is just at that endpoint of a development that has taken almost a century. And this is not the first one to think this way; its path was laid by previous intellectual, educated elite attitudes. So --
LAUTZ: Mayfair, I - is it fair to say then that this pattern of state regulation of religion in China is really nothing new at all?
MAYFAIR YANG: Well, it's nothing new since the 19th century, of this radical state secularization and state persecution of religion. The Guo Ming Dang did it, but not as systematically. But also before the Guo Ming Dang, the intellectual elite went out on raids of the countryside smashing false idols and so on in order to bring the ignorant masses to progress and modernization.
LAUTZ: Well, thank you for setting the scene. And let's come back to history.
But Brian, if we could ask you to say something about how religious China is today. Again, there's this perception, I think, that modern China, Communist China is atheistic, that religion is, indeed, very tightly controlled. You've done a lot of work on -- recent surveys on the subject of religion in China. What have you found?
BRIAN GRIM: Right. Well, if I can start with some ancient history - 1982 (Scattered laughter.) That's a year when the Westerners started being able to back into China. And in that year, that's the first year I went to China and lived and worked there. When I went, people assumed religion had died. You know, thinking now -- it's surprising, but people didn't know whether or not religion survived at that time.
And that year when I went I found churches that were open. I found churches that were operating that weren't open. I found - interestingly, I walked on the streets, as in Fuchen (ph) -- the city of Quincho (ph) -- walk down the streets you would see Buddhist -- various Buddhist idols for sale.
We were on a funeral route where Buddhist funerals went past our house every day - this was 1982. And one day, I was walking down the street and I saw some women with veils on, and a very interesting hat. This is the city that Marco Polo left from to go back to Italy. And I said, well, who are they - you know, because there's so many different groups in China. And they - oh, they're Muslims.
And, you know, in 1982, just seeing this religious diversity was a shock. I came back and shared this with some various groups and people said, "Shhh, don't tell people, that'll get them - get them in trouble." Well, the surprise - you know, the cat's out of the bag. Religion is a big thing in China.
Looking at surveys, one of the most - I have some amazing findings and some surprising findings. Amazingly, in our surveys, we found that three out of 10 people in China consider religion to be "important" to "very important" in their lives, compared with only 11 percent of those surveyed who said religion is not important at all -- amazing, for a Communist country.
In the same survey, we found that six out of 10 people hold some belief that is, in one way or another, tied to some of the folk traditions that were just discussed. And this is a country where, when I - back in '82 I would teach some songs -- I was teaching English -- taught "Row, row, row your boats," and got it going in a round, and I had large classrooms. And I was censured for that.
That was an off-limits song - (sings) "merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream." Well, (laughs) you know, this - life is not a dream, you know, life is evolving. This is reality." And, you know, just to have -- the thought that they tried to stamp out even that level of sort of superstitious belief, and it's flourishing in China today.
Another amazing thing about religion in China today is the diversity of religion. China is one of the most diverse religious countries in the world, in terms of having representation of major -- significant representation of major world religions - Buddhism, of course, but then diversity within Buddhism. You have Tibetan Buddhism and all kinds of folk manifestations of Buddhism, and then related to that Daoism.
You have significant Christian populations, and great diversity within Christianity. And you have Islam, which may number more than 20 million people, which is larger than the number of Muslims that live in the European Union combined. So these - you know, it's just a phenomenally rich religious economy in China.
LAUTZ: And what do you think explains this remarkable resurgence and the dynamism which we do see today in so many parts of China?
GRIM: Well, you know, for -- I think many people point to the fact that, you know, Communism itself provided an ideology, it provided - it was very religious in nature, you'd go to your Wednesday afternoon - what do they call it -- religious education - not religious -- party education -- political education sessions. And this was like a Bible study. You know, we would - I went to some of them, you would read, you know, writings from Chairman Mao, you would - you know, this filled - this is the sense of purpose. And I think that in that, in that collapse of that ideology, religion naturally would fill that vacuum.
LAUTZ: Yeah. Thank you.
Fenggang, what is your sense of the most important themes or trends? And how do you approach this question of explaining both the dynamism and the diversity today? I know you've spent a lot of time on the ground in China looking at these issues.
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah. Actually I think - talking about religion in China, in the People's Republic of -- period - this period. And one thing needs to be remembered that the Chinese constitution has been allowing the freedom of religious beliefs, even though there may be difficult periods. But, overall, the constitution has that written. Only that during the Cultural Revolution, the constitution was shelved. It's not --
LAUTZ: Is -- there are five official religions?
FENGGANG YANG: Right. Well, that's - yeah, the five official religions have been allowed to exist most of the time, except during the Cultural Revolution period.
LAUTZ: Could you name them?
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah. Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.
LAUTZ: And why only five?
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah, that's - if we go back to the history in the 1950s, they find that - the new government find that these religions, world religions, they have world connections. And it's basically - even though the ideology is atheist, what you find it's not possible to eliminate. So the secular - no, the traditional cults were suppressed, like Yi Guan Dao and other traditional sects, but these world religions all have international connections. So - well, not Daoism, but the other four: Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Islam. And also -
LAUTZ: You mentioned -- Confucianism didn't make the cut.
FENGGANG YANG: Right. (Laughs.) Yeah, because since the May Fourth movement in 1999, Confucianism has been really on the defense, and the secularism really became dominant. Confucianism was considered a backward ideology type. But the interesting thing is - as you mentioned, is actually there has been a revival of Confucianism today.
It's a strong revival. I think many people haven't paid attention to this. This revival of Confucianism comes from scholars who study Confucianism, comes from the grassroots people. There are people movements to re-learn Confucian scriptures, let children to memorize those Confucian scriptures, because facing these moral problems in China today, they find that Confucianism perhaps could help
But there are also support coming from the top leadership. There is a revival of Confucius' birthday celebration. And also this year, there are so many so-called public ceremonies called (quonchi ?) of the ancient legendary emperors, like the Yellow Emperor, and other ancient emperors. And this is a package of revival of Confucianism.
And some people making the argument that Confucianism should be recognized as the sixth religion in China, in addition to the five. Actually, some even advocate to make Confucianism a state religion - or "the" state religion.
LAUTZ: And it's very interesting that many countries of the world historically, traditionally had one religion as the official state religion. But, as you were saying, Mayfair, you see this diversity in China.
MAYFAIR YANG: Yeah, well the state really exuded Confucianism, and the state used that as a means of keeping a order - social order in the whole imperial realm. But the imperial state was not that penetrating, down deep into society, it basically had a kind of hands-off policy, unless there was some kidney religious peasant rebellion. Then it would strike hard in the past.
It's really in the 20th century that the state had adopted this attitude from intellectuals of, kind of, hostility towards religions of all different forms. But now, it's very encouraging, I think, because the latest development is that in 2005, the State Council's Bureau of Religious Affairs passed a big watershed kind of law, or regulation. It's called Regulations on Religious Affairs. And this allows -- some of the things that it allows now: religious schools, religious publications, going abroad for religious study, large-scale religious activities outside of religious sites. Before, you could only conduct activities in the temple or church or mosque.
Religious organizations can keep the proceeds of their various sort of money-making activities for religious expenditures. They can accept donations both domestic as well as foreign. And they are entitled to tax exemptions. And it also forbids, explicitly, other parties from encroaching on religious property or confiscating religious property - although, of course, that's not clearly stated whether the state is exempt from that regulation. (Laughs.)
But, nevertheless, the situation has greatly improved. I think that the recent earthquake in Sichuan Province, where it was so much devastation, and I think all religions are tied into the crucial issue that all of us face in our lives, and that is death. And I think that can only - that stupendous earthquake event can only serve to enhance people's value of religious pursuits because what they saw -- I think, in some of the Chinese media you can see discussions of why is it that so much charitable activity came from Taiwan and Hong Kong?
And they - because, for example, like Citi -- Merrick Foundation in Taiwan, which is a very large international, transnational Buddhist organization, they were one of the first to arrive. They are very well organized and highly - well-financed by the middle class in Taiwan, to come. And they may have made a big impact. And there is other Taiwanese and Hong Kong and overseas Chinese religiously-inspired charitable organizations.
So the state also -- as you know, the government has moved back a great deal from social welfare obligations that it had in the Maoist socialist period. And it is looking for a more voluntary social welfare organization. So, it feeds into states' ideas about, you know, letting society handle these things.
LAUTZ: But there nonetheless seems to be this ambivalence, thinking of religion both as a source of potential support for social welfare, indeed, social stability, "harmonious society," as President Hu Jintao puts it, but also as a, as a potential threat.
And, Brian, I guess I'm wondering how you compare the situation in China today, in terms of public space, with other countries around the world - and particularly Communist states?
GRIM: Yeah. Well the interesting - I've done a lot of work comparing the level of government restrictions on religion across the countries of the world, and something people don't frequently look at is the levels of social restrictions on religious choice within a society.
So if you think of - you know, give one extreme example, Iran, where there's a society that is very devoted to a certain perspective on Islam, and they support, you know, in general, support restrictions. So Bahais are, more or less, outlawed. So in that society there's not a lot of freedom even in the society, regardless of the government.
In China, the situation is very different. In my experience and what I've observed, that there's not so much tension between religions. There tends to be openness within society to let people make choices to practice what they want - that's their business -- and not an overarching dominant religious philosophy in China among the society.
Now, that sets up an interesting situation where you have government regulations in China being stricter than society itself is comfortable with. So there's -- where I think one way to look at that is that there's some room for movement on the government's side. And I think, you know, some people take the optimistic view and think, well, maybe it's going to ease up as China feels religion can contribute, but, maybe one of the complicating factors is the Chinese mentality of regulating religion.
LAUTZ: And regulating a lot of things.
GRIM: Regulating a lot of things. But they've learned that they can let the economy, you know, sort of let the reins out a bit. The question is, whether or not they're going to say, okay, we can let the reins out a bit on religion as well.
LAUTZ: Fenggang, what do you - what do you think? I mean, what are the implications of religion for human rights, religious freedom, democracy? This is the hot-button issue in your - or one of the hot-button issues in U.S.-China relations.
FENGGANG YANG: Yes, it is a hot-button issue. But actually I was thinking about what both Dr. Yang and Brian just said. I think -- got to distinguish these regulations and the social space. I think there is enlargement of social space for the practice of religion. But in terms of regulations, or start of those special sets of religious regulations, I do not see there is any relaxing. I think, actually, it's tightening up. Only that those tightening up religious regulations are not enforceable, because the whole economy has changed - not as a market economy, but the whole idea of religious regulations is based on the central planning economy model. So they want to control and only allow five religions, only allow those registered through those patriotic associations of religions.
And that's just a - those regulations cannot be enforced. So that we see all kinds of religions are growing so fast. So I think we need to make that distinction -
FENGGANG YANG: -- in terms of this -- the international implications, but actually I think I will leave that to Brian or others to talk about that.
But domestically, I see that there's - the people now who advocate for constitutionalism, advocate for electoral democracy, tend to be somewhat related to Western secular liberalism, plus Christianity. There has been a rise of Christian lawyers in the last few years.
They have been making - really making some progress, challenging the malpractice of local government authorities in treating those marginal groups of people. They try to see the contradictions between the constitution and some specific regulations. So, I think if there's an increase - continuous increase of Christians, there is that tendency, a growing sense of constitutionalism, electoral democracy and individual freedom.
But then the government -- I see that they tend to favor traditional religions - Confucianism, Buddhism and now also Daoism. I see this as a package of traditionalist religions that the government seems to be nourishing, helping. So if you see there is religious regulations - if you ask a Buddhist monk, he may totally disagree because he sees there's no restriction, he can do anything he wants. But that's a Buddhist monk. The same thing may not apply to a Catholic priest. So there are differences.
So there's a traditionalist package of - there's Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoist revivals. I think that also the Confucian advocates even say that democracy is not something we desire because it's not useful in Chinese society. So they advocate for some benign autocracy, benign authoritarianism. That seems to, you know, best.
So there's alternative ideological ideals, or political ideals. I think the revival - if that continues, the revival of Confucianism plus Buddhism and Daoism, that would pull China in one direction, and the continuous increase of Catholics, Protestants and secular liberalism, or classic liberalism, would pull China to another direction.
And also, how does the Communist Party play? Because the Party in form is for democracy, but at the same time the reality of - you know, it's not the Western understanding of electoral democracy yet, so does the party shift to the traditionalists? Or does that shift to the more constitutionalist direction? It's really uncertain at this time. Really, all forces are fighting out.
LAUTZ: And on this issue of enforcement, it sounds very similar to the problem of enforcing environmental regulations, environmental laws in China, where the state regulations are actually comprehensive and very strong, but the implementation at the local level is the problem.
GRIM: Yeah. I -
LAUTZ: At this point - Brian, I'm sorry, do you want to say something?
GRIM: I was just going to make one comment on U.S. perspectives on China and the foreign policy relations. You know, there's a number of connections that policymakers have, or constituencies that they feel loyal to. For example, Nancy Pelosi's, you know, advocacy on behalf of - behalf of the Dalai Lama - these, sort of, connections that people have, on a religious level even, influence foreign policy.
Another is, there's a - in the United States, you know, we have mainline churches and we have evangelical churches. Mainline churches tend to side with the Three-Self churches in China. And that's where the Chinese government is trying to fit all the Protestant Christians, or all the Catholic Christians in that organization. And that would be sort of like trying to get the Southern Baptists and the Episcopals to come together and say we're - we're all one. You know, that's -- that's the problem.
So when you have some folks looking at China, they're saying, well, China does have freedom - you know, look at the Amity Foundation, look at what the Three-Self is doing, they're printing Bibles. But then you have other folks saying, well, look at - look at these others that are in churches that don't affiliate and being persecuted. So --
LAUTZ: These are the so-called "house churches" or --
GRIM: House churches --
LAUTZ: -- underground churches?
GRIM: Right, or - yes, house churches. And many independent churches they -- you know, they proliferate.
So, you know, as the U.S. community, including the foreign policy community, looks at China, you may see - people may see very different things. And, for example, Xinjiang and Tibet are the two hot-spots - Xinjiang, with the large Muslim population; Tibet, with the Tibetan Buddhist population. And, you know, there's a lot of sympathy - Tibet is right below, south of Xinjiang. Well, you don't hear too much about Xinjiang because they don't have a Dalai Lama. So, you know, these personalities, and connections that people have, influence how we're viewing what's going on in China. So I think that's part of the mix.
MAYFAIR YANG: On the question of house churches, I think that attitudes in China may be starting to shift, because recently there was a important interview in this e-journal - academic, kind of, e-journal called (Tyen Yi ?), an interview by a very influential person, -- (inaudible) - who's with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Institute.
And he interviewed two leaders of house churches in Anhui Province and in Qindiao. And the fact that it wasn't closed down, and the fact that these house church representatives were allowed to speak out on the e-journal, I think is very significant because right now the estimate is 100 million Christians in China, 70 percent of which are house church members. And I think for the state not to recognize this huge population would be a mistake. And there might be some new thinking afoot. We don't know how it will play out.
But I think that, for the West, you know, when it deals with China I think it's good not to have such a harsh, judgmental attitude because one must understand the history that China really came to have a very hostile attitude to religion because it learned it at the hands of the West, of the 19th century West - it's a little out of date. But the West was very - there wasn't very much notion of freedom of religion in the 19th century because the West, you know - Christianity was the name of the game in the 19th century, was the West that China encountered.
And the intellectuals thought that this was the secret recipe to modernization and success. So one has to keep this history in mind, that it's ironic that China today - now changing, of course, but the Communist Party is the recipient of this harsh attitude that the - judgmental attitude that the West itself had before.
LAUTZ: Back to the future. (Laughter.)
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah, I want to echo this. Actually in China now many people are in the academia and also in the government trying to change, make changes, make it possible to opening up. Only that I see there is a paradigm that the current regulation is based on that's so outdated. Actually, I could even say it's really based on the 1950s ideology, putting religion under the control of ideology. And the currently policy like it's still not allowed denominations exist within any religion; that was the 1958 policy, when all the religions are united -- Protestant, Baptist and Episcopals have to meet in one congregation, and now still not allowed. And so that's the 1958 policy, and that still continues.
That's the mentality or the paradigm. But the other people -- the scholars and also government officials who have learned about the new things or the new thinking -- they try to change this. But it's just so hard to change it because the people tend to stay with the current course. They even do not dare to say there are more than 100 million religious believers because that was a number given in the 1950s by Premier Zhou Enlai. And no one dared to say there are more than 100 million believers, but even though in the reality or under the table or behind the scenes they say, "Oh yeah, there are many more."
So this is a paradigm. There is a mentality. That's hard to change.
LAUTZ: Paradigm and paradox.
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah.
LAUTZ: At this point, I'd like to open up for -- and invite our members and guests to join in this conversation and make brief comments or questions. And if you could wait for the microphone that will be coming around and speak into the mike directly, and if you could stand and let us know who you are and what your affiliation is before you ask the question.
QUESTIONER: Good morning. Chymon Sargent (ph) from the John Templeton Foundation.
I want to ask a question for all the panelists, but especially Fenggang, about -- Fenggang, you were talking a little bit about there's a possible zero-sum relation, almost, as I took it, between kind of the government favoritism of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism versus kind of the other approved religions. And I'm just wondering -- this is dangerous now; I start thinking in my American categories about how we think about civil religion here, sort of non-established, kind of culturally persuasive, it has influence of -- historically had a lot associations with Protestantism, but there's a lot of kind of patriotic and national elements to it that I think has benefited other religious traditions in this country.
Is there a possibility that as the Chinese leadership embraces kind of Confucianism more as kind of a -- I don't know the right category is kind of a national religion, a cultural system -- that it could also be of benefit to other religious traditions?
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah, certainly. I don't see this as, you know, two contradicting categories. I do see, actually, the things being played out.
Yeah, there are people who desire to make Confucianism a state religion, but the counter-forces are strong enough to make it difficult to achieve that. So overall I think it's going to be some kind of combination.
Actually, I think -- Confucianism is not really -- scholarly speaking, it is not like the other religions. Yeah, it's a "cultural religion," quote/unquote, that could be inclusive, could accommodate the other religions like what it used to do to Buddhism and Taoism. It allowed the others; only to provide a cultural identity for the Chinese.
So, yeah, eventually it's really -- you know, in China now there are people talking about three intellectual forces: the new left, the new right and the new Confucians. (Laughter.) And the three forces, I see them playing out -- it's not going to be one overwhelmingly dominant over the others, but some balances of evolvement.
MAYFAIR YANG: I had thought about Dr. Yang's -- Fenggang Yang's discussion about how Christianity is more tied up with notions of democracy, and the traditional Chinese religions are more with a kind of benign authoritarianism. And I guess I want to complicate the picture a bit more because there is a lot of democratic spirit, especially in a religion like Taoism, whose tradition started as a form of popular kind of rebellion against the centralized state in its early history.
And Taoism, in terms of its organization, is very much rooted in grassroots, local communities. And in the philosophy of Taoism, one would say, there are a lot escapist elements. There is a lot anarchistic elements in Taoism. And Buddhism tries to diminish the importance we place on human desires in this temporal world.
And so all those things I think would contribute to a more democratic society. But we mustn't impose a Western definition of democracy because if you adhere too strictly to a Western notion of democracy, you're going to get into a lot of trouble because these other societies of the world, they don't -- they're not economically in the same place as the West because -- so, for example, if you introduce a multiparty system into Africa, as we've seen in Africa and what's going on now, this kind of multiparty, it creates civil war. In Africa at certain moments it may not be a good idea to introduce this kind of agonistic struggle/opposition kind of thing because these societies were carved out by the imperial nations and they have multiethnic divisions. And it could be quite harmful to impose a strict.
But what I see about popular Chinese religions -- Taoism and deity cultists -- is that they really contribute to a bit-by-bit development of local civil society. They are responsible for maintaining -- they are conducive to maintaining local economy from the centralized state because they promote self-organization and self-initiation of social activities for community improvement; they promote social welfare and charity. And also they are a means for strengthening local identity because they have their tutelary deities who protect the local area and represent local society.
So all these things I think bring local communities together. And to establish a truly democratic society you mustn't start at the top with a, you know, artificial political apparatus introduced from another -- a foreign land. It just won't hold. You have to build it up gradually from the ground up at its very social fabric and social foundations through promoting civil society first.
I just want to plug my new book for anyone who's interested -- (laughter) -- because several of the people at this symposium are contributors. It's an edited book called "Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation." Coming later this year; University of California Press.
LAUTZ: Great. Thank you for complicating the picture. (Laughter.)
Did you want to add some more, or?
QUESTIONER: Yeah, just one comment.
I wonder how much mainland China might learn from the example of Taiwan in this issue, and that, you know, Taiwan has increasingly become more religiously free and yet religion hasn't complicated Taiwan's picture. So you know, as these discussions are happening today go forth, I wonder what impact Taiwan might have on the mainland.
LAUTZ: Right. And Mayfair Yang earlier mentioned that Dick Madsen -- Richard Madsen, who is speaking on a panel later today has recently author a book on the Tzu Chi called "Democracy's Dharma" and he'll be able to speak to this issue in particular.
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah. I was going to point out Professor Madsen's new book is really looking at that religious organization -- traditional religious organizations -- Tzu Chi, Fo Guang Shan and Fa Gu Shan (ph) -- could contribute to this rising democracy.
But whether that can be applied to mainland China now, that's a question. It may not be directly can burrow into China because over the 50 years of this -- the system that the religious organizations in mainland China is very different from that in Taiwan, even if the same. The Catholic Church in mainland and in Taiwan, the Buddhist groups in mainland and in Taiwan, they are different. And those groups need to modernize themselves first in order to play some positive roles in the rising -- or in the emerging democracy.
The Buddhist groups in mainland China, those that I studied, I got familiar with, how civil as a civil society organization, that's a question.
LAUTZ: And another example along these lines is Li Quan Yu's efforts to implement Confucianism as the bedrock for a benign authoritarian state, and by the way this might or might not apply to the mainland of China.
But let's get another question on -- yes, back here please.
QUESTIONER: Tim Ferguson with Forbes Magazine.
Could one of you place the state repression of Falun Gong in this context?
MAYFAIR YANG: Yeah, I think that the state is a, you know, kind of long line of continuity with the imperial state on this because Falun Gong is kind of -- I think the state kind of overreacted because, you know, the late imperial state always had trouble dealing with sectarian religious movements.
So this is kind of -- it brought back this category of -- the Chinese Communist Party brought back this imperial Chinese category of hejiao (ph), "evil cult" -- it's translated "evil cult" today, but it could also be translated "heterodox cult," which means "unacceptable cult." Which -- so -- (laughs) --
LAUTZ: This is a distinction between religion and superstition? Is that right?
MAYFAIR YANG: It's a distinction between acceptable orthodox religion and heterodox cult. And it was kind of interesting to see a, you know, late 20th century secular state bring back this category from the imperial government of before.
GRIM: And one other thing with Falun Gong was that it was -- came, you know, as a complete shock and surprise. And many of these groups from the past were secretive societies, had special codes, and so it may have triggered that reaction that, you know, here's another one of these, we don't know what they're doing, where they've come from.
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah, I want to put this in a bigger perspective.
In the 1980s and 1990s in China, there were hundreds of chigong groups. Falun Gong was one of them and may not be the largest one. There were --
LAUTZ: How would you define chigong?
FENGGANG YANG: Oh, chigong, well, it could be simply physical exercise, slow-motion exercise, but it adds a spiritual element into it. So there were cheungun (ph) that if you do some simple gesture, it could generate a fragrance. So attracted many people. Then there was junegun (ph). That's also a national, very well organized chigong system.
So, Falun Gong was the latest that came onto the scene. It was founded in 1992. But in the 1980s, many groups spread out in China. You go to China in the 1980s, 1990s, go to parks, you'd see all of them, all kinds of them practicing. Some of them became so well organized, that became a threat to the people in the position.
Since 1999, all those chigong groups were banned -- have been banned -- they're not allowed. But chigong is allowed, but it's only branch -- well, not branch, one branch; it's called health chigong. If you do chigong for physical health, that's fine but don't make it a spiritual organization.
MAYFAIR YANG: I wanted to add to that that, again there is this irony in that China -- Chinese government is again importing something from the west. This notion of cult; it comes from -- there is a lot of borrowing. As David Palmer, who has an article tracing the history of Chinese state attitudes towards sectarian religious movements all the way down to the Falun Gong in my book.
He shows how recently since the banning of Falun Gong, the state has supported a lot of academic research into western social science notions of cult and the deprogramming of cult members. And they've sent people to the United States and Japan to study new religions and how to deal with and thwart these weird new cults and religions.
So, again, they're borrowing western social science to do something that the west may not support, but it's coming from the west too.
MEAD: Walter Mead, Council on Foreign Relations.
As I listen to this difference between the regulation, which is rather strict, and then the practice, which becomes a little bit more lax given the rising diversity of Chinese society, it strikes me that the relationship of the Catholic Church to the state is a very interesting one because if we think of Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism -- in a sense, the three religions which aren't part of your favored group -- Islam and Protestantism tend to be somewhat decentralized and so may benefit from the relaxation in practice. But for the Catholic Church to really flourish, it needs some kind of change in the official relationship between the Communist state and the Vatican.
What do you think are the prospects for getting a concordat or some kind of arrangement between the Catholic Church and the state? And -- I know there's been some appearance of movement lately, can we be hopeful about that future? (Laughter.)
FENGGANG YANG: This is a difficult question because it has been hopeful for quite a number of years. And here are people working behind the scenes very hard. Sometimes they're making one step and then maybe two steps backward. It's just so complicated. There are so many other factors playing into this.
And in terms of priority, you know, think about the current government authorities, there are interesting economic evolvements; that has been the central task. Anything that is beneficial to that, they will have a more positive attitude toward it. Anything that's not in favor of economic development they will put aside as not a priority.
So I think the relationship with the Vatican is really -- is not -- just simply not a priority in their agenda. I don't see huge obstacles. You know, it's not -- it's -- I think the two sides are getting quite close. It's simply it's there are other priorities for the government to work on.
LAUTZ: And of course, there is still the problem of Taiwan and the fact that the Vatican recognizes and has diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
FENGGANG YANG: I believe that's not a real issue anymore.
FENGGANG YANG: This issue is the control of who appoints the bishops, because that's really -- is that internal affairs or is that religious affairs? So that's a definition.
But, you know, that still -- that can work out just like, you know, Vietnam model or some models people are talking about. All plans are on the table, you can discuss. Simply, the Chinese government has more urgent things to take care of. That's my view.
LAUTZ: There's expertise in the audience on this, I expect. Is there a follow-up comment or question? And if not, I think there was a question over here -- yes.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Josh Walker, Princeton University.
The title of the panel that we were talking about is The New Dynamic Change in Landscape, right? And it's interesting, when I was listening to the way that everybody was describing it, we had the landscape in China domestically, we had the international landscape. And we also -- it sounded like we had challenges and opportunities that religion represents. And it seemed like we were focusing mostly on the challenges, you know, for the state, for the republic -- and perhaps this question might be directed towards the next panel as well, but I wanted to get your sense here.
As the landscape for religion has changed globally and internationally, and when you laid out the five religions and the importance because they were connected internationally, how does that impact the Chinese government and the Chinese people as the landscape for religion globally changes specifically from an American context post-9/11? When you talk about China as having 20 million Muslims, that puts it in a very different context as it reaches out to other Muslim nations and tries to develop relations.
How does that impact China?
LAUTZ: Brian, do you want to take a crack at that?
GRIM: Well, you know, the world in China is -- many Chinese people are coming and going from China today. So the commerce, the dialogue between Chinese today is much different than it was 20, 30 years ago where you might only find, you know, one in a million Chinese outside the country. Today, you go places and you see more Chinese in international venues than you might see other nationalities.
So, I think that, you know, for sure, as China integrates and -- you know, and the Chinese population itself has more ties, the policy behind the three self -- these five -- well, the Protestant three self-church, which is self-propagating, self-supporting and self-administrating, and that's what they're aiming for is that these churches don't have any outside influence, it becomes more difficult to maintain that.
So where that's going in the future I'm not sure, but the reality will be that, you know, they are in a globalized world and the connections are almost impossible to control.
FENGGANG YANG: On that, I think actually works playing out in China could have implications for the whole world.
Just take -- one example is Chinese Islam. I'm not talking about chingjong (ph), but the Hui Muslims in China have -- they have been there for thousands of years and they have accommodated to the Chinese system of -- (inaudible) -- Confucianism. And that's -- I think the west does not know much about the Chinese Islam.
Chinese Islam could have something really interesting if we learn more about them. How do they live as a minority in a large country? Instead of becoming confrontational, conflicting all the time -- but live in peace. And I guess -- I wonder whether it has anything to do with their integration with Confucianism.
And if earlier I sounded more suspicious of Confucianism, I do want to put some positive light on that. Actually, personally, I also feel so. I think Confucianism and Islam accommodates to each other and then there's some kind of peace -- peaceful existence. The same could be true if Confucianism and Christianity get more accommodated to each other, adapt and integrate. There may not be that perceived conflict between the Confucian world and the Christian world.
In fact, in my own study, I have a book on display, "The Chinese Christians in America," I find most Chinese Christians -- both in the U.S. or those in Hong Kong or in mainland China -- most of them we could even label them as Confucian Christians. It's no conflict. They're incorporated -- Confucian ideas and Christian beliefs. And that may be hopeful if we do more research and make that evolve.
QUESTIONER: One more thing. There is a -- from an American point of view we think of if someone's a Christian they would be opposed to communism and therefore opposed to what's going on in China.
For most Chinese believers -- thinking of Christians and all believers -- they love their country; you know the vast majority do. So I think that that's a dynamic that this nationalism, which we saw with the Torch Race going around the world where Chinese who are in, you know, San Francisco outnumbered the protestors, not just because the consulate organized them, but because they really love their country and want to support it.
So I think that's another dynamic involved with religion that even though China wants to make sure they are self-propagating and self-supporting, the churches really do also love their country, or many, many do.
LAUTZ: Yes. Please, yes. Sorry.
QUESTIONER: Hi, my name's Betsy Daman and I worked in China for 10 years. And I hear you talking about several things, but what I experienced is that there's what Beijing says and there's then what -- which sometimes -- and that's what we hear about in the press. And then there's this whole other dynamic happening around the country, which occasionally uses what Beijing says as an excuse to say to me, "You can't do that." But, generally functions independently.
I was taken by a rogue monk around to all kinds of self-started Buddhist things in Dahlian. I was completely shocked. I mean, he offered to take me on a holiday for other reasons, but this is what my holiday was. And, you know, like abandoned wonderful places were tuned into Buddhist -- something that hadn't succeeded economically was turned into a Buddhist meeting center. A reclaiming of a cave; now that the government suddenly interfered and wouldn't let them open them. But they'll keep going and they will open it.
And with the Shinjian people there, it's actually a lot of rebellion with the Ouiger and the Hui. There's a certain amount of discontent in Kashgar and places like that and there have been -- they have gotten along, but the recent - - they used -- the Chinese government used 9/11 to crack down. So it's a very complicated dance there that -- I don't know if you could talk to a little more, but I experienced as a foreigner working there --
LAUTZ: Specifically on Shinjian --
QUESTIONER: The question isn't that clear. It's just like all these things --
MAYFAIR YANG: Yeah, I think you do point to an important reality in China, and that is that there is a system of laws and regulations of the central government, but down below, people basically do whatever they can get away with.
And that is the situation because China as a culture is not a legalistic culture like the United States is an extremely legalistic culture. We're highly regulated here in the United States. And it's hard because we have also this ideology of freedom, but, actually, one could say that in many places around the world where things don't operate according to laws and laws are not enforced systematically, that there is more freedom.
So, in China it's a very personalistic society. It's based on the importance of social relations. So if you have extremely good social relations that you cultivated with your local officials, that local official can look the other way. And so down at the grassroots, a lot of that happens, which doesn't get into the media. It's exactly true.
LAUTZ: We have time for one last question.
Back here please.
QUESTIONER: My name's Tony Carnes. I'm with Christianity Today.
I have a question. There was this very fast growth of Christianity in modern China, now there's sort of a palls particularly in the countryside. There's some growth in the urban areas. Social movements tend to go really fast and then they either sort of go in quiescence or disintegrate or they find a new way to go -- even another plateau of growth.
I was wondering, what kind of prognostications do you have about particularly the Protestants in China. Are they in a palls or in a downward movement or are they doing things that we can expect something -- another spurt of growth in the next couple of years?
FENGGANG YANG: About the Christian growth, my personal observation based on field work -- I traveled a lot in China -- I think currently Christianity still grows fast and strong, and -- especially in the cities, in urban areas in the last few years.
There are migrant workers, there are churches among them, there are also those for intellectuals; college students and college graduates. Those unregistered churches, they have grown. Some of them become so big they meet in office buildings with several hundred people. Some, even more than 1,000 people attending service.
I didn't see this even five years ago. This is really new in the last three or four years. I see this as a continuing trend. But at the same time, if we think about history, in the 19 -- you know, after the Boxer Rebellion in the 1900s, that was a downturn of Christian growth, but then in the next two decades, Christianity grew very fast.
By the 1920s, there was a strong anti-Christian movement among intellectuals; the anti-Christian movement in the 1920s. So then it slowed down Christian growth but then during the war and after the war, there was another rapid growth of Christianity.
Many similar -- social conditions seems to be similar to the 1920s or late 1910s and early 1920s now. It's the revival of this traditionalist package of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism; it became political. Then that could mean a slow down of Christian growth. But if that -- if not, the revival of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism -- if that revival is not dominant by the fundamentalist type -- you know, fundamentalist Confucianist, fundamentalist Buddhist, fundamentalist Daoist -- then it could be helpful to create greater social space for the growth of all religions, Christianity included.
LAUTZ: If I may borrow just a few more minutes since we got started just a wee bit late, I'd like to ask each of you in conclusion if you could just in a few words say what you believe is the single biggest misconception about religion in China -- the religious landscape in China.
Brian, could you start?
GRIM: I think the biggest misconception is that religious interest is low and that religion is probably something confined to older people, to people in the countryside.
All those things are false. You know, the greatest interest, as Mayfair Yang said, is in the cities; I mean, there's interest in the rural areas but cities are interested. There's interest across all age groups, there's interest across all income groups and there's interest -- men and women have equal interest.
So, even speaking to the last question, all of that interest is there, and yet, more than 70 percent of the Chinese population don't register affiliation with a religion, which means that there's a lot of room -- there's a lot of un-churched people out there, so to speak, for whatever religion you're talking about. So it has the potential to be a very competitive religious marketplace yet down the road. (Laughter.)
LAUTZ: Mayfair, what would you say is the biggest misconception we have?
MAYFAIR YANG: The biggest misconception in the west or United States?
LAUTZ: Outside of China. U.S., if you want to make it particular to one country.
MAYFAIR YANG: (Laughs.) I guess there is a notion that you have this -- the misconception is that you have this traditional, despotic state that crushes down on religious life. And, you know, what I've been saying, pretty much today is that it's really only since the 20th century that you have this state -- embarked on radical state secularization. And this idea actually came from the west -- from the enlightenment west and it's kind of various ideologies of scientism and progress and modernization and evolutionism. These all came from the west itself.
FENGGANG YANG: Yeah. One thing I think I would like point out is when people in the west talk about religious freedom in China, they make it sound like the authority is in one voice, one position. It's not.
I think there are people in the leadership who wants greater opening up -- open greater -- more, and there are those who try to hold the outdated ideological positions. Got to the more sophisticated to understand the complexity. It's not mono -- you know, one unified position in the top leadership. It's not.
And one example in the central quadrant school, someone led a team to plan out for further reforms. That team suggested that the Communist Party membership should not have the condition of atheist belief. The Communist Party should open to religious believers to become members. I think that's quite significant, and also that's more up to date with market economy and also as what they call the -- (inaudible) -- rather than a revolutionary party, the party now is the ruling party, not revolutionary party.
The ruling party -- we need to welcome all those progressive forces including religious believers. I think that's -- we need to know about this and -- so actually in fact, there are Communist Party members who are religious believers. And the number is increasing. So I think it's only a matter of time when the party constitution would revise.
GRIM: On that, we analyzed a survey across China, and of all the occupational groups across China the group that expressed the most interest in learning about religion was government employees and party members; far and above all other occupational groups in China.
LAUTZ: Brian Grim, Mayfair Yang, Fenggang Yang, thank you so much. (Applause.)
We now have a 15-minute break, and we'll reconvene at 10:00. Or else. (Laughter.)
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