Sunday, March 04, 2007

Religious Belief on the Rise in China

Religious Surge in Once-Atheist China Surprises Leaders
Official attitudes toward religion have gradually loosened in China in recent years, enabling the resurgence of popular belief. Places of worship for the five officially recognized faiths — Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam — have been restored or built anew, and public worship allowed again amid signs that the government sees limited religiosity as a useful component of its drive to build what it calls a “harmonious society.”

Chinese experts say the growing popularity of religious belief has been driven by social crises involving corruption and the expanding gap between rich and poor.

“People feel troubled as they ponder these issues and wonder how they’ll be resolved,” said Liu Zhongyu, a professor of philosophy at East China Normal University and the principal author of the new religion survey. “People think, I don’t care what others do or what their results are, but I want something to rely upon.”


Strict limitations on religion remain, however. Beijing handpicks senior clergy for each of the authorized faiths and frequently persecutes believers in unauthorized religions, from Falun Gong to underground Protestant churches that meet in homes. The government also severely restricts religious education and prohibits proselytizing.

Membership in the Communist Party, meanwhile, remains a major avenue for individual advancement, but the party does not permit members to practice religion. Many employers and even universities also look askance at believers.


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