The Great Rebound

Back in December I was asked to write a short dispatch on Chinese religious belief for the just-released, all-China May issue of National Geographic. This is well-trod territory: even China Daily is willing to acknowledge the significant growth in Chinese religious believers over the last few years. But if the growth is acknowledged, the reasons for that growth are either left unexplored, or ascribed to materialist causes and left at that.

I’ve always felt that the situation is far more complex, and so – despite limited space – I decided to touch on the subject. To do it, I contacted Aloysius Jin Luxian, the 92-year-old Catholic bishop of Shanghai, and indisputably among the most learned religious leaders in China today (see my 2007 profile of Jin, here). Unfortunately, limited space prevented me from printing more than a brief sentence of Jin’s answer to the why question in National Geographic. But now that the dispatch has been published in the magazine (but not online), I can publish Jin’s complete answer on this blog. It is, readers will note, a distinctly Chinese perspective on this very important phenomenon, and one rarely – if ever – heard in the Western media. It is also quite relevant to current events:

Q. In your opinion, what accounts for the stunning growth in Chinese religious belief over the last three decades?

A. What is foremost certain is that, in China, more and more people have religious belief, and those numbers include Communist party members, even though the communist party clearly stipulates that no Communist Party member is allowed religious belief, otherwise he must withdraw from the party.

There are many and varied reasons.

The Chinese people were originally of religious belief, but under the time of Mao were suppressed. So, after reform and liberalization there began a rebound, and the more the suppression, the greater the rebound. Continue reading