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Crisis of faith for Catholics in Macao – The article talks about the sharp decline of Catholicism in Macao in the last few years. This is not shocking to me as I have talked about Christianity and China before a few times. Confucianist based societies do not easily mess with Christianity or Abrahamic faiths for that matter.

‘Lust, Caution’ has its way with bourgeois China – I think Mr. French is almost a decade late. Most Chinese people I know buy the bootleg version that is uncensored. He is talking about elites traveling to Hong Kong to see the movie uncensored, meanwhile average people are watching it on their computer and in their home a day after the movie came out in Hong Kong or Taiwan. I think what is new is that people are publicly starting to complain about state censorship. I still have not got a look at Tang Wei this flick!! I am obviously opposed to any government media censorship.

Young population dwindles as birth rate declines – More stats and predictions concerning China’s population demographics. The gist of it is that the Chinese population is aging rapidly, part of this is due to the one-child policy, this trend is likely accelerated by the fact China has a huge gender imbalance which will knock a lot of young men out of the breeding pool. There is more on the gender imbalance issue here. I imagine this will likely put a strain on China’s growth, as the amount of labor will decline fairly fast, while the number of retirees dependent on the state increase. I would assume that China’s challenge is to move into more value added/less labor intensive markets before this occurs.

Class of ’77 has withstood the test of time in China – The greatest generation? They have my vote as I have been privileged enough to meet several people “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution (Wen Ge). Here is an interesting factoid, “The 4.7 percent of test takers who won admission to universities – 273,000 people – became known as the Class of ’77, widely regarded in China as the best and brightest of their time. (By comparison, 58 percent of this year’s 9 million exam takers won university places.)”. My friends mother and a Chinese History professor I had were both part of the class of ’77. After 10 years of oppression at the hands of the state, it must have been an amazing things to be part of; to know that you actually had an opportunity to succeed on merit. The fire in their bellies must have been enormous. It was succeed or go back to hard labor for many; I know it was for the people I know.

Africa: New Cable Promises Faster Internet – If the net spreads the way telephone use has, “Mr. Karuranga is one of an estimated 120 million Africans using phones, up from just 2 million in 1998.” this is positive news indeed. I also like this will be owned and operated by African entities and the fact that coastal nations will serve as nodes for landlocked nations. So far, about half the countries in Africa have signed on (23).

A lot of foreigners will likely not understand China’ position on this, especially Westerns.  China has never had much in the way of organized religion, at least not as a Western would understand it.  Historically, religious affairs; mostly Buddhist, Daoist (Tao), and Confucianism have not only been regulated by the state, but seen as appendages of the state apparatus, especially Confucianism.  Many Confucian philosophers were state officials.  I should emphasize that to call Confucianism and Buddhism “religions” is stretching the Western meaning a bit, due to the fact they are both”god-less”.

Much of China’s philosophical history is firmly grounded in the practical application of virtue and harmony as it relates to man with the family, government, and nature.  Governmental philosophy, at least since the time of Meng Zi (Mencius: 372-289 BCE)  has been a mix of Chinese Legalism and state promoted Confucianism.  A balance of strict, almost Machiavellian, rule of law and ritualistically enforced moral virtue.  The Chinese seemed to believe that if the state is virtuous, the people will also be, which will weaken the need for laws and punishment; creating harmony.  This virtue was achieved by ritual and strong bonds between a person and their family and the family and the state.   If this was achieved,  Kong Fuzi believed there was no need to emphasize the gods, as they will only intervene in daily life when the state lacks virtue, which will lead to disharmony “under heaven” and general “luan” (chaos). 

When the government could no longer maintain this balance, then it lost the “Mandate of Heaven” and would be replaced. This is a cycle in Chinese history, often a bloody one.  So the Chinese government was never “by the people” but it was “for the people”, or supposed to be.  That is a simplified version, but I think that gives an idea, but it is interesting to note that the Chinese came to the conclusion of “just revolution” over 1,500 before Westerns.  Chinese saw it as part of the regular flow of things, seeing the world more cyclic then linear.  They also seemed to be the first to come up with a proto-libertarianism, which is one interpretation of Daoism.  Another interpretation would be that the virtuous end goals of Confucianism are one with Dao, so it is just a subset.

All that being said, organized religions; separated from the state, often resulted in violent rebellions in China. The worst of these was the Taiping Rebellion (Great Peace Rebellion) , in the mid-19th century.  Some 20 million people died.  There have been similar (although less costly) rebellions of Muslims in the Western provinces as well.  For this reason Chinese governments have historically been suspicious of cults, secret societies, and organized religions. These types of groups are seen as not promoting harmony, but factionalism, which will lead to instability. 

Western people might feel that in 2007 this is unreasonable, but they also do not live in China and rarely understand Mainland Chinese culture.  I think, as China develops socially and economically there will be less fear of this sort of thing and things will liberalize.  At this point the Chinese government is primarily concerned with national stability and economic development, which are deeply interconnected.  Being that China has thousands of mini-uprising a year I do not believe they will do anything they feel will increase create more instability.  This also explains the Chinese response to Falun Dafa (Falun Gong), which I also believe is a cult.  So in the end, the concept of “separation between church and state” as in the American constitution, is very alien to Chinese culture.  I believe that Taiwan and Singapore show that it does not have to be once a certain standard of development is reached.   Even if there was absolute religious freedom in China, I believe the people have a cultural aversion to Western religions, as I have talked about before.  Out of all the Confucian-based societies in Asia, only S.Korea has a significant amount of Christians, although all the societies have been exposed to Christianity and Islam for some time.  Japan, for example, has a Christian population of less than 1% after 500 years of contact.


President stresses free religious belief policy

Updated: 2007-12-19 20:09

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday reiterated a policy of free religious belief while stressing law-abiding management on religious affairs and support to self-governance of religious groups.

Hu, also the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, made the statement at a meeting of the members of the Political Bureau of the 17th CPC Central Committee in their second study on religious issues at home and abroad.

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Mahbubani: Asians Puzzle Over U.S. Fundamentalism

History and culture have helped the region push religion out of the public sphere, so it can surge toward modernity.

By Kishore Mahbubani

Newsweek International

Nov. 13, 2006 issue – Most Asians are unaware that Christian evangelical movements have gained enormous political power in America. And if they were to learn this, they would be mystified. Their images of America remain the old ones: scenes of Hollywood and sexual permissiveness, secularism, money worship and devotion to modern science and technology. None of these squares with an America under the sway of fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity.

Asian intellectuals would be especially mystified. They have fully absorbed the Western narrative that

modernization should be the fundamental goal of contemporary societies. Deng Xiaoping chose his words carefully when he launched his economic reforms—dubbed the Four Modernizations—in 1977. “It does not matter whether a cat is white or black,” Deng said famously. “If it catches mice, it is a good cat.” With modernization was meant to come a pragmatic and secular state that focused on economic and social development. Both China and India—each in its own way—decided that they needed to shed their ideological straitjackets and work pragmatically to lift up their societies.

The big lesson that Asians thought they’d learned from the West was that reason and faith should be kept in separate boxes. Many Asians believed that religion and superstition had held their countries back while the West leaped ahead, even if few would have been as outspoken as Kemal Ataturk when he said: “The fez sat upon our heads as a sign of ignorance, fanaticism, obstacle to progress and attaining a contemporary level of civilization. It is necessary to … adopt in its place the hat, the headgear used by the whole civilized world.”

As East Asians moved decisively toward secularism, they were helped by the cultural fabric of their societies. Neither Confucianism nor Taoism inspires deep religiosity. The Confucian culture is attached to the world of today, not tomorrow. By contrast, West Asians (despite Ataturk’s lead) have found it harder to emulate the West. Islam penetrates more deeply into the souls of its adherents. In recent centuries, many of its followers have moved away from the spirit of skeptical inquiry that inspired the scientific revolution (even though the Islamic caliphates nurtured this spirit). Hence, the spread of fundamentalist movements in the Islamic world is not surprising.

For different reasons, China and India today have a vested interest in restricting the political space for religious movements. The sudden emergence of the Falun Gong surprised the Communist Party of China. It reminded its leaders of the Taiping rebellion—a civil war (1851-1864) inspired by fundamentalist Christian beliefs. It also provided an early warning that the biggest threat to the Communist Party’s political control and legitimacy could come from a religious movement.

Beijing is thus naturally wary of U.S. evangelicals, some of whom have been at the forefront of urging Congress to act against China. In 2005, after the West learned about the China National Offshore Oil Co.’s plan to raise $10 billion from Wall Street, much of it for oil investment in Sudan, articles blossomed in evangelical publications about the threat posed by this massive infusion of capital. Letters went out to large investors, and sympathetic political leaders blasted the stock offering as “blood money” that would aid Sudan’s attempt to eradicate the population of Darfur. As a consequence, the Chinese company could raise only $3 billion of its goal—a demonstration of the power of American evangelical movements.

India faces a different challenge. Traditionally, religion has occupied a larger part of the Indian soul than of the Chinese. Indeed, India is a veritable spiritual rain forest. The early Indian modernizers therefore saw the removal of religious superstition as critical for India’s development. Nehru said: “The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organized religion, in India and elsewhere has filled me with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.”

Gandhi shared the Western view that the church and state should be kept separate. He said: “Religion is a personal matter which should have no place in politics.” He even went further and told a missionary: “If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it.”

India has also seen a revival of fundamentalist Hindu movements. But they are balanced by deep traditions of religious tolerance, going back millennia. Indeed, India may have planted the seeds of secularism even before the West. As Amartya Sen argues in “The Argumen-tative Indian,” “It is worth recalling that in Akbar’s pronouncements of four hundred years ago on the need for religious neutrality on the part of the state, we can identify the foundations of a non-denominational, secular state which was yet to be born in India, or for that matter anywhere else.”

With China, India and other non-Islamic Asian societies moving deeper into secularism, future historians will be puzzled why two contrasting societal poles—America and the Islamic world—have allowed religious movements to influence their political and even scientific agendas. U.S. evangelicals have launched a passionate campaign against stem-cell research and persuaded the Bush administration to oppose it. Over time, many Asians will begin wondering whether America is still moving toward modernity.

By contrast, Asian businesses today are passionately committed to scientific research. According to the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Asian share of global high-tech exports rose from 7 percent in 1980 to 25 percent in 2001, while the U.S. share declined from 31 percent to 18 percent. The late Nobel laureate Richard Smalley predicted that by 2010, 90 percent of all scientists and engineers holding Ph.D.s would be living in Asia. Could this be partly because Asian schoolchildren have no difficulty learning Darwin’s theory of evolution, while American educators battle over whether creationism should also be taught in American classrooms?

It would be a mistake to assume that religion is a spent force in Asia. In addition to growing Christian evangelism, there are strong revivals of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim movements. Last year, when I attended the commissioning ceremony of my son as a second lieutenant in the Singaporean Army, I was astonished to find the occasion blessed by clergy from 10 faiths: Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Taoist and Zoroastrian. In virtually no other country would one see such religious diversity. But this diversity is managed by keeping religion out of the political space, not inside. Perhaps it’s time for America to study Asia’s best practices.

Mahbubani is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and author of “Can Asians Think?”

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Found an interesting article on the Gene Expression ( Confucianism & China), by Razib. Not normally a big fan, but he is spot on here.

He did leave out Japan though, much of their “early modern” culture was in part a fusion of traditional Shintoism and Chan (Zen) Buddhism from China and a Chinese government structure (based on Confucianism). Although Confucianism is not as strong an element in Japan it is a critical thread to modern Japanese cultural tradition. Japan like its East Asian neighbors (Chinese and Koreans) has a small Christian population, in fact the smallest, probably less than 1% of the population, despite Europeans proselytising in Japan as early as the 1500’s. I would go a little further and say that there is something intrinsic in East Asian cultures (not SEAsian) that make them very resistant to monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judiaism, Christianity, and Islam).

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The Economist has an article up about the revival of Confucianism in China. There has been a lot of talk about Christianity & Christianesque cults in China over the past 15 years (see Jesus in Beijing). It seems plausible that ~5% of the citizens of the People’s Republic of China are now Christian or Christianesque, and this number is likely to go somewhat higher. But, it is important to remember that the number of Christians in Taiwan has long been stabilized at 5%, and in the 5-10% range in Hong Kong, both jurisdictions where Christianity was somewhat favored by the powers that be for decades. Meanwhile, South Korean Christianity seems to have plateaued at about 25% of the population after decades of rapid growth. The point is that one would probably bet against China becoming a Christian nation anytime soon, and without that Christianity being able to assume center stage as a unifying ideology seems unlikely.1

So Confucianism is an interesting alternative. Below I talked about the fact that even in a post-Christian continent the basic raw material of Christian belief is still abundant amongst the population which remains as a reservoir of older practices and outlooks. Is the same true of China? Though State Confucianism fell in the first decades of the 20th century as the organizing principle of the Chinese polity, the the idea of Confucianism as central to the Han Chinese identity did not really suffer major body blows until the Communist take over of the mid-20th century. While most Europeans remember a time when Christianity was ascendant as the central motivating belief structure of their culture, and some European nations still have Christianity embedded in their organizing political documents, the same is not true of Confucianism. Rather, Confucian ideas floated outside of the power structure and passed from generation to generation informally. Outside of China (e.g., Taiwan) Confucianism did not go through the gauntlet of the Cultural Revolution, so even if there was not within China some memory of this ideology it could conceivably be re-planted from without.

But what exactly is “Confucianism”? The “original” Confucianism, as elaborated by Confucius himself and preserved in The Analects, was basically an elaboration of the ideals of Zhou Dynasty China. Its core, family values and traditionalism, are not particular controversial. Later on thinkers such as Mencius and Xun Zi added layers of philosophy on top of the original system, and the rise of Buddhism, and the counter reaction religious Daoism, gave birth to synthetic ideas of Neo-Confucianism, exposited effectively by intellectuals such as Zhu Xi. Some have also asserted that State Confucianism, as promulgated first by the Han Dynasty, had more in common substantively with Legalism (though Legalism was strongly influenced by one of the three fathers of Confucianism, Xun Xi), the bete noire of early Confucianism, with only stylistic flourishes being carried over from the original ideas of Confucius. Whatever the exact truth is, I think the critical overall point is that it is less important what Confucianism is, then that it served as a common anchor for the Chinese bureaucratic elite. Until recently the common anchor for the modern Chinese mandarinate were the texts of Marx & Engels, the policies of Lenin and later the thoughts of Mao (the Little Red Book was actually modeled on the Christian pocket pamphlets ubiquitous in the China of Mao’s youth). For obvious reasons that is now less appealing, and attempting to reconstruct them to be congenial to nationalist capitalism is a difficult project. Confucianism is also in some ways an odd fit, especially with its historical contempt for the merchant classes and non-primary producers in general, but at least most Chinese can accede to the fundamental value of Confucian ideas and perhaps make them relevant to the modern age.2 Just as the Constitution of the United States serves as a unifying document for the American nation, so a reconstructed Confucianism might serve as the hub around which the various spokes of Han Chinese culture revolve.

1 – I use the word “Christianesque” because many of the new Christian inspired “cults” are really pretty strange, and mix a lot of folk beliefs within Christian orthodoxy. Since so much of the growth is outside conventional channels and uncoordinated from above it tends to span a lot of “idea space.”

2 – One could observe that the synthesis of Christianity and capitalism which is the norm in much of modern Western culture is also rather unexpected.