China’s Religious Character May Be Deeper Than Thought
The light being cast on China by the coming Summer Games is far brighter than the flickering Olympic flame now wending its way across that vast country. Politics, society, human rights, the status of Tibet and even the environment have been widely discussed.
Now a window has been opened on faith and religion in a country where six decades of Communist philosophy and rule might seem to have pushed those subjects into obscurity.
In a recent report the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has analyzed available surveys, some a few years old, and concluded that 31 percent of the Chinese population considers religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives, with only 11 percent rating it as meaningless. Even the exact starting time of the Summer Olympics is rooted in Confucianism and Chinese folk religions, the report adds, where the numeral 8 is revered for its luck and power. The games will start on the 8th day of the 8th month of ’08 at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seonds past 8 o’clock.
This does not mean that religious affiliation is high in China. Only one in five adults has an active connection, the report says, with one of the country’s five major religions — Buddhism (by far the largest single group), Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam and Taoism. That compares to 8 in every 10 adults in the United States who claim a religious affiliation.
But a recent report from East China Normal University in Shanghai appearing in state-approved media said that about 300 million Chinese over 16 — slghtly less than a third of the population in that age group — are religious, perhaps indicating the government has given recognition to the depth of religious sentiment.
The question is whether China’s modernization brought about by its economic engine will bring religion into society in a bigger way. The report notes that Hu Jintao, general secretary of the country’s Communist Party, earlier this year told the Chinese Politburo the leadedrship should try to “closely unite religious figures and believers … to build an all-around … prosperous society while quickening the pace toward the modernization of socialism.”
Photo credits: Reuters/Bobby Yip/David Gray