Religion in China

Fascinating subject. Wikipedia has a good intro…. starts off: “Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history.”

Animism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, even Atheism… China’s history is remarkable for how these various systems of belief tended to just get along. If you ever get the chance to enjoy Journey To The West, I’d highly recommend it… the Waley abridged translation particularly show how belief systems need not be intolerant of another.

There were, however, exceptions….

In the year 845, after a bankrupting war, Emperor Wuzhong launched the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution:

“According to the report prepared by the Board of Worship, there were 4,600 monasteries, 40,000 hermitages, 260,500 monks and nuns. The emperor issued edicts that Buddhist temples and shrines be destroyed, that all monks be defrocked, that the property of the monasteries be confiscated, and that Buddhist paraphernalia be destroyed. An edict providing that foreign monks be defrocked and returned to their homelands resulted in Ennin’s expulsion from China. By the edict of AD 845 all the monasteries were abolished with very few exceptions. When the monasteries were broken up the images of bronze, silver or gold were to be handed over to the government. In 846, the Emperor Wuzong died… Shortly thereafter, his successor proclaimed a general amnesty.”

This repression was only one chapter in the long history of Buddhism in China. Today Buddhism is said to be the largest organized faith in China.

Islam in China… well, again, the intro paragraph at Wikipedia summarizes it:

“Islam in China has a rich heritage. China has some of the oldest Muslim history, dating back to as early as 650, when the uncle of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas, was sent as an official envoy to Emperor Gaozong during Caliph Uthman’s era. Throughout the history of Islam in China, Chinese Muslims have influenced the course of Chinese history.”

Some more on the continuing influence:

“By the time of the Song Dynasty, Muslims had come to play a major role in the import/export industry. The office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period… During the Mongol-founded Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), large numbers of Muslims settled in China. The Mongols, a minority in China, gave Muslim immigrants an elevated status over the native Han Chinese as part of their governing strategy, thus giving Muslims a heavy influence. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims immigrants were recruited and forcibly relocated from Western and Central Asia by the Mongols to help them administer their rapidly expanding empire… During the following Ming Dynasty, Muslims continued to be influential around government circles. Six of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang’s most trusted generals were Muslim….”

And yet, during the fading years of the Qing Dynasty, the Panthay Rebellion was a very sorrowful event. Periods of synergism, punctuated by expedient intolerance.

Judaism in China goes back even further, from Silk Road traders up through pre-war tycoon families of Sassoon, Kadoorie, Hardoon. And during World War II, the Shanghai Ghetto was exceptionally moving, one of the few places in the world where tolerance could be found.

And, of course, all religions were ransacked during the 20th century’s Cultural Revolution, along with many of the nation’s cultural and historical relics… an exceptionally sad time.

Yet today Taoism, Islam, Buddhism and more are flourishing, while the Gang of Four, like Wuzhong and the Qing, quickly became toast.

Intolerance doesn’t seem to have a very good track record.

We humans have been around a long time, seen a lot of sorrow. The trend is pretty clear towards cooperation, tolerance. It’s quite miraculous we have ownership of a piece of consciousness during this moment. How are you willing to spend it?

2 Responses to Religion in China

  1. Calvin says:

    On a related Chinese note:
    Steve Jobs’ response to running unsigned apps:
    “You know, there’s a porn store for Android. Anyone can download them. You can, your kids can. That’s just not a place we want to go.”
    This is the same excuse the Chinese government uses to defend their use of the Great Firewall. I guess we need Steve to shield us from pornography and other “harmful” material.

  2. 8888 says:

    It’s a very nice post. Thank you for the summary. However I would like to add one important thing about modern China: our religion today is the YUAN, the Renminbi. We worship at the alter of capitalism, and pray to the gods of commerce. Temples and stuff are just eye candy to us now.