There are contradictory trends in Chinese policy toward religion, according to China specialist Roman Malek: On the one hand, China would like to integrate mainline religions as contributions to the building of a harmonious society; on the other hand, there are attempts to revitalize the Communist ideology at a time of economic development, Malek notes in Glaube in der 2. Welt (October).
The Communist leadership seems to be concerned about the growth of religious activities among Party members: according to an analysis published in the Hong Kong based periodicalZhengming, out of 60 million members, up to a third are involved in some kind of religious practice. The Party leadership has reminded its members that they are not supposed to be religiously involved.
Signs of religious revival in China may reflect more complex developments than it may seem at first. An article by Graeme Lang and Lars Ragvald in the current issue of Fieldwork in Religion (Vol. 1.3, 2005) looks at the construction and reconstruction of Buddhist, Daoist and folk-religion temples since the 1980s and finds that many of them have been built to attract tourists and investors as well as to assist economic development and to assert local cultural histories.
Some have been dramatic failures, not attracting the expected crowds of pilgrims and tourists. There have been cases where temple managers have introduced new features in order to make the temples more attractive to local people. In some cases, two deities have been merged into one figure. According to Lang and Ragvald, people with an entrepreneurial rather than a religious background have been the most successful builders and managers of temples, thus apparently confirming the religious economy paradigm in contemporary Chinese settings.
Meanwhile, some groups declared illegal, such as Falun Gong, remain a target of Chinese state policies. Accordingly, a growing number of Chinese asylum seekers in the West are claiming to be persecuted Falung Gong members. This is currently the case with a third of Chinese asylum seekers in Germany, reports the newsletter Entscheidungen Asyl (9/06). This is accepted as a ground for asylum under certain conditions, but civil servants having to deal with the cases now need to familiarize themselves with Falun Gong’s teachings and practices in order to assess such applicants and their relations to Falun Gong.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
(Glaube in der 2. Welt, Postfach 9329, 8036 Zurich, Switzerland (http://www.g2w.eu) — Fieldwork in Religion, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, The University of Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester CH1 48J, UK, published by Equinox (www.equinoxpub.com). — Entscheidungen Asyl, http://www.bamf.de)