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Chinese Religions and the Construction of a Community of Common Destiny for All Mankind: Ideas and Practice
July 06,2017   By:CSHRS

Chinese Religions and the Construction of a Community of Common Destiny for All Mankind: Ideas and Practice

ZHANG Nu*

Abstract: Freedom of religious belief is a clear civil right enshrined in the Chinese Constitution. The Chinese government’s effective protection of the freedom of religious belief and the legitimate rights and interests of the religious community in China has created conditions and provided opportunities for the religious community to play a more active role in social affairs. The fivemajor religionsin China are participating in the building of a community of common destiny for all mankind.

Keywords: freedom of religious belief♦ a community of common destiny for all mankind ♦ ideas ♦practice

China is a country where various religions peacefully coexist. The Chinese government adheres to the principle of the separation of religion and politics, advocates equal treatment of all religions and refuses to use administrative power to restrict certain religions or promote one. At present, China has five nationally recognized religions—Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism,which have a long history and have an extensive influence in China. It is estimated that nearly 200 million Chinese citizens have religious beliefs.1  The above mentioned fivemajor religions in China have a total of more than 5,500 religious groups and 140,000 places of worship across China.2

The Chinese government has always advocated and effectively protected the freedom of religious belief. The country’s Constitution and laws provide a powerful guarantee for the freedom of religious belief. Article 36 of the Constitution of China guarantees Chinese citizens the freedom of religious belief. The relevant laws and regulations, with regards to religious issues, strictly follow the principle of freedom of religious belief established in the Constitution and there are specific provisions, such as Article 251of the Criminal Law, which makes it clear that “any functionary of a state organ who unlawfully deprives a citizen of his or her freedom of religious belief or infringes upon the customs and habits of an ethnic group, if the circumstances are serious, shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than two years or criminal detention”. This has provided a legal basis for handling relevant cases according to the law. The Religious Affairs Ordinance provides detailed confirmation and protection of the rights and interests of religious communities.

Over the years, the Chinese government has committed to providing public services to religious communities. Over the past decade, nearly 1 billion yuan from the central finances have been used to improve the working conditions of national religious groups, and renovate and repair six religious institutes. And in recent years, the central funding for the maintenance of places of worship has accumulated to more than 200 million yuan. This funding has increased 30 million yuan per year since 2011. The relevant departments, when planning the construction of infrastructure such as highways, water and electricity supply, etc., have paid more attention to places of worship, helping them to improve their infrastructure and the redevelopment of old and dilapidated buildings. In terms of social security for religious personnel, by the end of 2013, Chinese religious personnel medical insurance rate on a voluntary basis had reached 96.5 percent. The pension insurance rate had reached 89.6 percent. All eligible personnel have been incorporated in subsistence security, making full coverage of the social security system possible.3  Chinese religious communities generally believe that the years since reform and opening-up have been a “golden age” in China’s religious history.

The central government’s effortsto provide a solid guarantee for the freedom of religious belief and the effective protection of the legitimate rights and interests of religious communities has created conditions and provided opportunities for religious communities to play a more active role in society. They fully agree with the General Secretary Xi Jinping’s concept of a community of common destiny for all mankind and actively participate in its construction.

Chinese culture is characterized by its tolerance and openness, emphasizing “harmony in diversity”and “greatness lying in the capacity”. The traditional ideological belief in China isConfucianism complemented by Buddhism and Taoism with the coexistence of philosophers of various schools. Islam, Christianity and various folk beliefs have normal living space and sustainable development premised on the primacy of patriotism and observance of the law. Among the fivemajor religions, only Taoism is native to China, while the others are all foreign, although in China they now harbour distinctive Chinese characters and features, and have become integrated in Chinese society. The Chinese scholar Mu Zhongjian summarized a series of important wisdoms in Chinese historical experience and realistic achievements contributing to the construction of a community of common destiny for all mankind from the following three aspects, the universal feeling of “unity of heaven and man”, the human feeling of “all under heaven being one family” and the harmonious wisdom of “the way of neutralization'.4  In regards to these three aspects, Chinese religions also have deep faith and great wisdom.

— The universal feeling of the “unity of heaven and man”. Confucianism advocates the general concept that “those with love regard the universe as a whole”, emphasizing that human beings should have an ecological awareness and share the responsibility to protect the planet, which is the shared home of all mankind and all living things. Chinese Buddhism highlights oneness, saying that all living beings have an inseparable and immortal spiritual state. The subject and the object of life have interdependence, i.e. “oneness”. The survival of one sentient being relies on other sentient beings. Taoism believes that “[h]eavenand Earth and I come into being together and all things and I are one'.5 The human body is a small universe while the natural world is a big one. Man and nature are one. It advocates the concept that “the Tao follows nature”, the concept of “the imitation of nature”, the concept of “interactions between heaven and man” and the concept of “unity of heaven and man”, stressing conformity with the laws of nature, abiding by the laws of nature, the protection of the natural environment, the conservation of natural resources and encouraging “recovering the original simplicity and coming back to nature” and “thrift”.

— The human feeling of “all under heaven being one family”. As with Confucianism, the world outlook of Chinese religions is holistic and related, going beyond the limits of race and nation and takes embracing all mankind. Historically, the spread of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism in East Asia was peaceful,and there were no religious wars. Christianity believes that all men are created by one God, so humans are brothers and sisters who are supposed to love each other. Jesus takes “love your neighbour as yourself” as one of the greatest commandments and demands that all Christians should obey it. Not only love between Christians, but love and peace between Christians and non-Christians areemphasized.6

— The harmonious wisdom of “the way of neutralization”.Mu Zhongjian believes that the Confucian “neutrality” means “harmony in diversity”. It includes the recognition of equality among peoples and nations of the world, that is“[a]ll living creatures grow together without harming one another”; the recognition of diverse civilizations, “[t]he Tao is parallel but not contrary to others”; mutual respect and tolerance, “[d]o as you would be done by others”; the breaking through of extreme thinking,“[c]onflict must be reconciled and resolved.”7  Having been introduced into China, Islam has gradually integrated with Chinese culture and developed its own Chinese features. One of the most prominent features is the integration of the “mean” of Islam and “the achievement of equilibrium and harmony”8  of traditional Chinese culture, which helps to develop the valuable gentle, rational and tolerant character of Chinese Islam and the fine tradition of respect for the Lord, love for mankind, integrity and self-discipline. Chinese Muslims take justice and moderation, as an important personal moral standard, contributing to the formation of the code of conduct that a person should be impartial and keep doing good. Chinese Muslim sages once said: “Restraining one’s selfishness and doing everything possible to help others are conducive to a friendly world. On the contrary, a man is farther from another than a thousand miles if he is heartless, while long distance does not separate him from the others if he confers benefits to others.”9

With the support and encouragement of the Chinese government, Chinese religion has made positive efforts to contribute to the construction of a community of common destiny for all mankind.

— Carrying out foreign exchanges. In history, the spread of foreign religions such as Buddhism, Islam and Christianity in China has promoted the cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries. Today, China has established friendly relations with religious organizations in over 80 countries and regions of the world and has carried out dialogues and exchanges between different religions and civilizations, making it possible to promote mutual understanding and friendship with other countries.

— Dedicatedto public welfare and charitable activities. Religion is the mother of charity. The six departments of China’s central government jointly issued documents in 2012 to support and encourage religious participation in public welfare and charitable activities. Starting the same year, the“Religious Charity Week”has been held annually in China with the theme of “Love on Earth, FiveReligions Together”. The donations have amounted to more than 1 billion yuan. China’s religious charitable activities have even gone international. The Amity Foundation with a Christian background has a history of more than 30 years, holding offices in Geneva, Switzerland and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

— Advocating harmonious thought. Chinese Buddhism and Taoism have initiated reforms to correct some bad habits in religious activities, carried out civilized pilgrimages and scientific activities to protect the natural environment. Chinese Islam has held seminars to condemn extremist ideology, calling on Muslims to adhere to the concept of moderation. Chinese Catholicism adheres to the principle of independence and self-governance and has gained more and more recognition and support in carrying out democratic teaching. Chinese Christianity vigorously carries out the construction of theology to comply with the requirements of the times and social progress, interpreting the Christian doctrine and guiding Christians to adapt to and participate positively in the rapid development and social progress of the country.

The blueprint of building a community of common destiny for all mankind is magnificent and inspiring. The major religions in China have actively adapted to socialist society and are active participants in the construction of a community of common destiny for all mankind. These are just a few examples.

On March 5, 2017, Premier Li Keqiang delivered the annual government work report at the 12thsession of the Fifth National People’s Congress, in which he stated:“We will fully implement the Party’s fundamental policy on religion, manage religious affairs in accordance with the law, promote harmonious relations between religions, and encourage religious leaders and believers to actively involve themselves in promoting economic and social development.” This shows the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government are resolved to protect the freedom of religious belief and carry out concrete measures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the religious community. The Chinese religious community has a long history of giving back to society and serving the people and has made outstanding achievements in the practice of caring for the world and all mankind. Looking around today’s world we can see that ethnic and religious conflicts have become increasingly fierce and led to chaos in some countries. In contrast, the positive and healthy development of China’s religious relations has been increasingly consolidated, and the path and governance of religious affairs with Chinese characteristics havegained great success and made remarkable achievements.

(Translated by WANG Min)
 

*ZHANG Nu ( 张弩 ), deputy director and assistant researcher of the Research Institute of China Center for Religious Studies, PhD Candidate of religious studiesat the Department of Philosophy, Peking University.

1See Sun Chunlan, “Thoroughly Study and Implement the Important Speech of General Secretary Xi Jinping and Do a Good Job in Religious Work under the New Situation”,Qiu Shi, no. 15 (2016): 1. With regards to the number of religious adherents in contemporary China, an authoritative expression is that “according to incomplete statistics, the number of the existing adherents of various religions in China is more than 100 million”. The latest figure is “close to 200 million”.

2Tong Yan and Zong Wen, “Looking Forward into the Future of the New Era and Working hard for a Glorious Cause with United Efforts: A Documentary on Concerns over Religious Work of the Central Committee of CPC with Xi Jinping as General Secretary”,The United Front of China, no. 5 (2016): 9.

3Ibid.,9-10.

4Mu Zhongjian, “Community: the Fate of Humans, the Expression of China”,Guangming Daily, December 14, 2015, column 16.

5“QiwuLun” [Essay on the Uniformity of All Things], in Zhuang Zi.

6See Center of Religious Research of the State Administration for Religious Affairs,Chinese Five Religions’ Dicussion on Harmony(Beijing: Religion and Culture Press, 2010), 419-420.

7Mu Zhongjian, “Community: the Fate of Humans, the Expression of China”,Guangming Daily, December 14, 2015, column 16.

8Zhong Yong [The Doctrine of the Mean].

9Wang Zuo’an,“Adherence to the Way of Neutrality to Resist Extreme Thoughts: Speech at the Seminar for the Islamic Concept of Neutrality”,Chinese Muslims, no. 3 (2014): 12.