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Is China truly a secular state? André Laliberté puts this widely held perception to the test, arguing that we must first broaden our definitions if we are to comprehend fully the religious nature of the Chinese state. From there, Laliberté presents the long tradition of Chinese statecraft, which has involved different forms of intermingling between religion and state, and describes how the Communist Party perpetuates this institutional intertwinement despite its materialist philosophy. He then explores the variety of forms in which societies with a Chinese heritage outside of the People’s Republic of China are moving beyond this mutual entanglement between religion and state.

This paper looks at the Compassion Relief Foundation, a charity organisation originating from Taiwan, and tries to understand how it has managed to provide relief to victims of natural disasters for more than ten years in nineteen provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities of the People’s Republic of China, despite the vicissitudes of cross-Straits relations and amidst recent bouts of religious persecution. The essay starts with an introduction to Compassion Relief: it presents its history as a charity organization, and then situates its activities in the PRC within the context of tense relations between China and Taiwan, as well as economic reforms in the PRC. The paper then questions three hypotheses advanced to explain the acceptance of Compassion Relief ’s activities by the Chinese government. It discusses the view that such approval results from political calculations directed at Taiwanese; the argument that it heralds change in the Chinese state’s approach towards the social role of religion; and the claim that it signals the emergence of an autonomous civil society free of government interference. The essay expresses reservations about these views and concludes that the activities of Compassion Relief in the PRC rather suggests the existence of a symbiotic relationship between society and state officials at the local level.

In: European Journal of East Asian Studies

In this essay, I present the concepts of religious resistance and contentious politics, in which religions represent a source of inspiration, before moving to the issue of how these concepts apply to China. I note that there is little literature on this particular subject, which is always politically sensitive. As the Communist Party of China has increasingly recognized the relevance of religion in contemporary society, it has tried to keep it in check and thereby ensure that independent associations with a religious background will not become involved in contentious politics. This article then briefly introduces the four case studies in this special issue on the theme of religion and contentious politics in China: two cases of persecution of Christians and Catholics during the period of Mao, and two articles about Buddhism, which has a more complex relationship with the state.

本文首先阐述了宗教抵抗与抗争政治的概念—其中宗教发挥了启发鼓舞的作用而后将之用于分析中国经验。由于政治敏感性,有关此议题的文献很少。因为逐渐意识到宗教在当代社会中的重要性,中国共产党试图管控宗教防止具有宗教背景的独立团体参与抗争政治。本文最后介绍本期中有关中国宗教与抗争政治的四篇个案研究:两篇文章讨论毛泽东时期对基督徒和天主教徒的压迫,另外两篇是关于佛教及其与国家的复杂关系。

In: Review of Religion and Chinese Society

Throughout the two years of this pandemic, Taiwanese public authorities have obtained cooperation from religious organisations in limiting and mitigating the contagion, and the population was largely spared the influence of conspiracy theories about the virus’ origins. I have found no trace of any significant doomsday theologies among the major religions practiced in Taiwan emerging in the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. What explains this largely cooperative relationship? From the perspective of public policy, why has the government obtained the compliance of most religious actors to its directive and faced little or no opposition coming from them? I use a historical institutionalist approach to argue that decades of toleration from political leaders of all trends towards religions have generated a path dependency of mutual trust and that legacy predates the period of democratisation. The article explores the extent to which this outcome results from three factors: Taiwan’s religious diversity, or the absence of a religious hegemony opposed to the state; pragmatic and flexible theologies; and/or convergence between successive Taiwanese governments’ social policies and the social teachings of religions.

Open Access
In: Vienna Journal of East Asian Studies
In: Modern Chinese Religion II: 1850 - 2015 (2 vols.)
In: Modern Chinese Religion II: 1850 - 2015 (2 vols.)

Abstract

This short work discusses the ambiguities of China as a secular state. An exceptionally long tradition of statecraft evolving through a series of important religious changes, and the encounter of China with other empires and their civilizations, have shaped the present situation of intermingling between religion and state in a society where belief takes a wide variety of forms. The first part of the essay presents the concepts that help make sense of Chinese religions, paying attention to comparative approaches but also decentering the analysis by presenting the concepts Chinese use to explain their situation to outsiders. The second part offers a portrait of the nexus between state and religion before 1949, from ancient times, when the monarchy was deified, to late modernity, when the concepts of the secular, after travelling from Europe to Japan, shaped Chinese thinking about culture and power. The third part will offer a description of the intermingling between a state committed to a hard version of secularism and different religious establishments, as well as a portrait of social forces in the liminal space between the political and religious sphere. Finally, the fourth part will describe the realities of other societies with a Chinese heritage to show that a plurality of forms of secularity co-exist in the sinosphere.

In: Brill Research Perspectives in Religion and Politics

Abstract

This short work discusses the ambiguities of China as a secular state. An exceptionally long tradition of statecraft evolving through a series of important religious changes, and the encounter of China with other empires and their civilizations, have shaped the present situation of intermingling between religion and state in a society where belief takes a wide variety of forms. The first part of the essay presents the concepts that help make sense of Chinese religions, paying attention to comparative approaches but also decentering the analysis by presenting the concepts Chinese use to explain their situation to outsiders. The second part offers a portrait of the nexus between state and religion before 1949, from ancient times, when the monarchy was deified, to late modernity, when the concepts of the secular, after travelling from Europe to Japan, shaped Chinese thinking about culture and power. The third part will offer a description of the intermingling between a state committed to a hard version of secularism and different religious establishments, as well as a portrait of social forces in the liminal space between the political and religious sphere. Finally, the fourth part will describe the realities of other societies with a Chinese heritage to show that a plurality of forms of secularity co-exist in the sinosphere.

In: China in a Secular Age

This essay argues that differences in religious ecologies, between China and the polities of Taiwan and Hong Kong are necessary but insufficient explanations for their different approaches to the reliance on religious actors for the delivery of social services. I discuss briefly two other explanations for the differences in policy outcomes: the legacies of colonial and semi-colonial rule, and the influence of ruling party ideologies, before I shift to an historical neo-institutional approach, which contrasts the path dependency of past policies of usurpation directed by the CCP at religious institutions between 1949 and 1978, and the policies of cooptation adopted in Taiwan and Hong Kong during the same period. I argue that although the Chinese government has affirmed with increasing clarity in recent years its interest in an approach that encourages the cooptation of religious institutions, the previous approach of usurpation has undermined the resources of religious institutions, left many religious actors distrustful of authorities, and continues to influence many constituencies that could oppose the approach of cooptation. To substantiate this argument, the essay proceeds as follows: it first discusses the different strategies available to states as they accumulate symbolic power, underlining the role of religious institutions in that process; then it contrasts the results achieved by religious philanthropy in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the provision of a wide array of services, on the one hand, with the difficulties faced by their counterparts in the delivery of social services in China, on the other; and finally it reviews some of the explanations for the discrepancies observed.

In: Asian Journal of Social Science