FaithWorld

Taiwan Buddhist charity Tzu Chi sets up shop in atheist China

charity 1China’s ruling Communist Party has a testy and often bitter relationship with religion.  During the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, temples and churches were shut, statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life, often after receiving a good beating or even jail. (Photo: Suzhou, June 10, 2005/Thierry Roge)

While the officially atheist Communist Party hardly pushes religion these days, its attitude has softened considerably, though rights groups frequently complain of sometimes harsh restrictions on Christians and Muslims especially.

On Friday, the Taiwanese Buddhist charity the Tzu Chi Foundation opened its Chinese chapter, in the historic eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, perhaps better known in the outside world for its stunning gardens. Officials say Tzu Chi is the first overseas non-governmental organisation to receive the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ blessing to operate in China. Normally they have to register with the Commerce Ministry as businesses.

It is another sign of China’s Communist rulers’ growing but still limited religious tolerance and part of a drive to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese. The Chinese government is generally less fearful of Buddhism

with its home-grown roots, but maintains tight control especially in Tibet where monks have been jailed for supporting their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Buddhist charity turns bottles into blankets for disaster victims

bottles (Photo: Crushed plastic bottles at the Tzu Chi Foundation recycling factory in Taipei, 4 Nov 2009/Nicky Loh)

A plastic bottle thrown into a Taipei recycling bin could be reincarnated as a blanket to warm disaster victims in any of 20 countries, thanks to a unique project by the world’s largest Buddhist charity.

The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has been taking plastic bottles from the waste stream of Taipei, a city of 2.6 million, for three years to convert them into about 244,000 polyester blankets intended for disaster zones. It has sent volunteers with relief supplies to some of the world’s biggest disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and last year’s devastating Sichuan earthquake in China.

This week, Tzu Chi expanded its one-of-a-kind recycling effort to begin making shirts, scarves and cloth shopping bags.  It sends the plastic bottles to a factory that breaks them down into a polyester fabric, which is then sent to crew of volunteers who fashion it into blankets or garments.

from Changing China:

Dalai Lama’s laugh lines

Before the Dalai Lama spoke on the sober subjects of religion and the environment in Taiwan during a speech this week, he opened with a quip about his English.

"First thing, no grammar, no proper grammar," the 73-year-old said with a low-pitched staccato laugh while addressing a full auditorium of residents in the southern city of Kaohsiung. "There is a danger to get misunderstandings, so I always tell you, be careful Dalai Lama's broken English."

His mischievous chuckle and self-depricating humour sent waves of laughter through the audience.

Recession-hit Asians pray for jobs, luck, recovery

ASIA-RELIGION/ As companies shed jobs and governments inject funds to stimulate economies, recession-hit believers in once-booming Southeast Asia are flocking to temples, churches and mosques to seek solace in religion — and pray for a quick economic recovery.

Meditation centres have also seen an upswing in attendance and people seek peace and calm amid the economic downturn. (Photo: Hindus pray in a Singapore temple, 24 May 2009/Vivek Prakash)

Reuters correspondent Nopporn Wong-Anan has a feature here looking at how people seek spiritual solace at a time of material loss in Asia, home to all the major religions and any number of minor ones.