Religious Issues Remain Sociopolitically Sensitive And Fluid

In case what has been said above appears too rosy, an important article in the February 2000 issue of the Hong Kong-based monthly Cheng Ming may serve as a reminder that religious issues remain socio-politically sensitive and fluid in modern China. According to the Cheng Ming article 'Zhong Gong Zhong Jiao Zheng Ce Xin Wen Jian' ['A New Document of the Chinese Communist Party on Religious Policy'], a clear directive

3 See Choong Chee Pang's paper, 'An Inquiry into the Possibility of the Han [Chinese] Language Becoming a Lingua Franca of East Asia', presented at an international conference organized by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (23—25 June 2004).

was given to the directors of all religious affairs bureaux in their meeting in Beijing on 10 January 2000. The directive is contained in a document which was issued by the central committee of the Party together with the state department called 'Guan Yi Tang Qian Zhong Jiao Gong Zuo Ruo Gan Zheng Ce Wen Ti' ['Some Policy Matters Regarding the Present Work on Religions']. Its three main aims are: (1) to strengthen the work of the 'united front' among top leaders of the various religions by inculcating in them a strong sense of patriotism, national unity, security, stability and national pride; (2) to deepen political infiltration into the various religions by increasing the percentage of 'progressive and active' non-party members from the present three per cent up to nine per cent (in the case of Protestantism and Catholicism) and to upgrade the quality of the political thinking of cadres in the religious affairs bureaux and to instil in their minds a stronger sense of duty; and (3) to be constantly on guard against hostile religious activities, especially those with foreign connections, which seek to infiltrate Chinese religious circles in order to control them.33

The document also refers to some religious leaders' involvement in 'anti-social and anti-party' activities under the guise of religion. Some of them are allegedly 'agents' of foreign political powers who engage in sectarian and subversive activities. It holds that both history and the present situation can testify to the fact that the west is used to interfering in the internal affairs of China under the pretext of religion. This view is shared by Jiang Ze Min, who sternly warns against the 'politicization' of religion and the 'westernization' of China's value system. In the Party document Jiang gives clear instructions that cadres who participate in religious activities must either leave the Communist Party voluntarily or face expulsion. The participation of cadres in Christian activities is believed to be particularly widespread, especially in developing cities. In the January 2000 Beijing meeting, the figures for the major religions in China were officially released for the first time: Buddhists, more than 150 million; Protestants, more than 25 million; Catholics, 3.2 million; Muslims, more than 11 million; and Taoists, more than 5.5 million. But the figures given by the Public Security Department are much bigger: Protestants, 35 million; Catholics, more than 8.5 million. Moreover, the Christians are thought to be more educated than the followers of all other major religions and they are also proportionally more numerous in the knowledge-based sectors and in educational institutions.

33 Communist Party, 'Guan Yi Tang Qian Zhong Jiao Gong Zuo Ruo Gan Zheng Ce Wen Ti' ['Some Policy Matters Regarding Present Work on Religions'] (2000), pp. 19—20.


In a conference on ' Religion and the Rule of Law', which was held in Shanghai in the summer of 2004, there was a great deal of discussion on the old and complicated issue of religion and state', or what is more commonly referred to in the west as church and state'. While practically all participants upheld the separation between religion and state as a good and broad principle, some academics had also asked for a critical re-examination of the traditional Marxist view on religion, and a review of the Chinese Constitution on religion and the government's religious policy as well as its implementation. There is concern that while the religious communities in China are constantly asked not to meddle with politics, the state seems to be interfering too much in religious affairs. However, the Chinese simply have to accept the reality that religion will continue to be a major concern of the government in the foreseeable future, so that religious studies, especially Christian studies, will have to operate within this purview and parameter.

A ' Bible Show' was held in Hong Kong in early August 2004 and reported by a local Singapore daily, The Straits Times (7 August 2004), under the title, China Opens HK Bible Show' with the sub-title, ' Exhibition is seen as an attempt to polish Beijing's image before next month's [Hong Kong] legislative elections'. The news in Hong Kong states:

Mixing religion and politics, China's state-sanctioned churches have opened a Bible exhibition here [Hong Kong] that appeared to be aimed at helping Beijing's allies in upcoming legislative elections. In a rare sight, dignitaries from the officially atheist government bowed their heads during a prayer — part of the ceremony that analysts say was intended to polish Beijing's image in a heated political season ... Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee Hwa and Beijing's top representative here, Mr Gao Siren, attended the opening ceremony on Thursday, along with the director of China's State Bureau of Religious Affairs, Mr Ye Xiaowen.


The Hong Kong-based Institute of Sino-Christian Studies (ISCS) has established a very broad network in the last ten years, not only with the Chinese academia involved in Christian studies, but also with many respectable institutions internationally. As a Hong Kong-based institute it obviously enjoys much greater freedom than its mainland counterpart to monitor and critically assess the development of Christian studies in the

Chinese academia. Certain points which have been raised in the latest issue (2004) of the Institute's Newsletter are very insightful and revealing. In the lead article, 'Sino Theology in the Academia of Mainland China: Present and Future', He Guang Hu of Beijing's Ren Min University and a research fellow of the ISCS, gives a candid survey of Sino theology in the last decade and makes the following points succinctly.

First, the emphasis on 'Sino theology' in the last ten years has been largely justified. Sino theology has now become part of the 'academic language' system of the humanities in China. However, a certain amount of polarization still exists between those who are basically satisfied with just the introduction of western theology to China and those who believe in full commitment to China's own contextualized/indigenized theology (literally, 'theology with local [Chinese] colours'). These two extremes must obviously be avoided and there have been some encouraging signs in recent years that there is a working towards a healthy balance between the two positions. Secondly, while some Chinese scholars continue to translate western theological works into Chinese, a great deal more are producing Chinese works in more creative ways. Practically every scholar who is seriously involved in Christian studies is actively writing, so that just within the last five months more than thirty serious works (both original and translation) as well as over fifty scholarly papers have been published. Thirdly, there are still some basic problems facing Chinese scholars in Christian studies: how to catch up with the rapid cultural and academic developments in a fast-changing modern China; how to meet the needs of the growing Christian population in China; and the fact that the gigantic society in mainland China has practically all the basic features of pre-modernism, modernism and post-modernism co-existing at the same time, but the gaps between them are widening. Economic development and the market economy continue to create problems in the areas of social injustice, inequality, exploitation, abuse of powers, civil rights and the ecological crisis. All these must be addressed theologically. Fourthly, most crucial of all is perhaps the need for the academics who are engaged in Christian studies to constantly keep in touch with the harsh realities of people's life and existence. For Sino theology to be relevant and credible it must be contextual and existential. Fifthly, there is the problem of 'aging' among those who are engaged in Christian studies or Sino theology in the Chinese academia.

I have no difficulty endorsing the above points of He Guang Hu, except the last one about 'aging'. In my opinion Professor He's concern is quite unnecessary at the present time because the average age of those who are leading in the field is in their fifties. Moreover, much larger in number are those who are between thirty and fifty, and a high percentage of them are even better educated than their seniors, at least in terms of paper qualifications.

Besides the lead article of He Guang Hu, the editorial of Daniel Yeung, Director of the Institute of Sino-Christian Studies, is equally insightful. 'Is the movement of Sino-Christian studies a mere slogan, and has it constructed anything and achieved something that is substantial?' asks Director Yeung rhetorically. First, he responds, as part of religious studies in the Chinese academia Christian studies has continued to prosper in recent years, particularly in the contacts and exchanges between scholars in mainland China, Hong Kong and abroad. The same period has also witnessed the emergence of younger scholars in the field. Secondly, as the work of translation is not just a matter of language, it is also a necessary process through which knowledge is transmitted, received and spreads; it will continue to be needed as part of the foundation-building exercise. The ultimate aim is naturally to think, write, and read creative works in the Chinese language, so that Sino-Christian theology can become an integral part of the life-experience and cultural tradition of modern China. Thirdly, the original agenda of Sino-Christian studies was proposed by those who first conceived of the need to conduct and promote Sino-Christian studies in the Chinese language back in the 1990s. Over the years Sino-Christian studies have gradually been incorporated into other disciplines and have become increasingly multifaceted and pluralistic. Sino-Christian studies are now being recognized as a component of the whole academic system of modern China. In the last 1400 years since Christianity first came to China this is the first time that Chinese scholars have taken the initiative to study Christianity with a positive and objective attitude. Fourthly, as Chinese scholars who are deeply involved in Christian studies, we have in fact taken the awful responsibility of providing the resources for Christian thought of the different ages from Jewish Christianity, through Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, right down to Protestantism. We are doing this not in isolation but in close contact and cordial relation with other disciplines both at home and abroad, with the sincere hope of making this a truly open, multifaceted and global project.

The current state of Sino-Christian studies, as portrayed in the latest Newsletter of the ISCS, looks encouraging and promising, thus offering hope that the laudable and noble goals above can eventually be realized.

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