The New China: A Changing Religious & Economic Landscape

Today’s China is, contrary to popular imagination, not the China of Chairman Mao. In the last thirty years, China has experienced the largest poverty reduction in world history:

China’s sustained growth fueled historically unprecedented poverty reduction. The World Bank uses a poverty line based on household real consumption (including consumption of own-produced crops and other goods), set at $1 per day measured at Purchasing Power Parity. In most low-income countries this amount is sufficient to guarantee each person about 1000 calories of nutrition per day, plus other basic necessities. In 2007, this line corresponds to about 2,836 RMB per year. Based on household surveys, the poverty rate in China in 1981 was 63% of the population. This rate declined to 10% in 2004, indicating that about 500 million people have climbed out of poverty during this period.[17]

Traditional Chinese religions like Buddhism are experiencing a resurgence as well, now being promoted by the same government that once suppressed them:

Why would an officially atheist government promote any religion, even a religion with long and traditional roots in Chinese society? Well, according to our in-country reporter, Ruth Morris, Chinese officials are very concerned about the morals and ethics of their people in the wake of unprecedented economic growth, the rise of a middle class interested in material wealth, and a focus on all things material.

The Chinese government also sponsors the World Buddhist Forum, which brings together Buddhist leaders from around the world to promote unity and peace:

While I’m no apologist for the Communist Party, I nonetheless respect China’s right to self-determination. Both Hitler and Trump were democratically elected, so Western democracy isn’t a perfect system either.

This documentary attempts to help alleviate the West’s Sinophobia:

Judging today’s China on the legacy of Mao is like judging today’s Germany on the legacy of Hitler. It doesn’t reflect the current reality. The current success of groups like Fo Guang Shan in China today is remarkable:

Many want to change their country — to make it more compassionate, more civil and more just. But unlike political dissidents or other activists suppressed by the Communist Party, they hope to change Chinese society through personal piety and by working with the government instead of against it. And for the most part, the authorities have left them alone.

Fo Guang Shan is perhaps the most successful of these groups. Since coming to China more than a decade ago, it has set up cultural centers and libraries in major Chinese cities and printed and distributed millions of volumes of its books through state-controlled publishers.

While the government has tightened controls on most other foreign religious organizations, Fo Guang Shan has flourished, spreading a powerful message that individual acts of charity can reshape China…

Under President Xi, who started a campaign to promote traditional Chinese faiths, especially Buddhism, as part of his program for “the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the government’s support has grown. He has met with Master Hsing Yun four times since 2012, telling him in one meeting: “I’ve read all the books that master sent me.”

While the Chinese-approved Panchen Lama might not have the Dalai Lama’s support, the Dalai Lama is not the pope of Tibetan Buddhism. The Panchen Lama, as it seems, does his best to provide for the spiritual needs of Tibetans who haven’t fled Tibet after the end of feudal serfdom:

China’s abhorrent treatment of “political subversives” has rightly spurned a global Free Tibet movement, diminishing the benefits that it did bring to society. After 1959, it abolished slavery, serfdom and unfair taxes. Creating thousands of jobs through new infrastructure projects, it built Tibet’s first hospitals and opened schools in every major village, bringing education to the masses. Clean water was pumped into the main towns and villages and the average life expectancy has almost doubled since 1950, to 60.