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China in Hu’s Colours: Part IV

1. As part of a three-year research project on contemporary Chinese cultural life commissioned by the Education Ministry of the Government of China, the East China Normal University in Shanghai had conducted a poll on religion and spirituality in China. The poll covered 4,500 people. The results of the poll were published by a magazine called the “Oriental Outlook”. They were also covered by the “Washington Post” on February 7, 2007.

2. The poll concluded that 300 million people in China out of its total population of 1.3 billion admitted that they were “religious believers”. This was three times the official figure of 100 million religious believers in China. This number (300 million) represented only those, who had the courage to admit openly that they were religious believers. It is believed that many more secretly believe in religion, without having the courage to admit it openly. While the poll findings did not say so, it is estimated that the majority of the Buddhists and the Muslims have the courage to admit their belief in religion, but instances of open admission are less among the Christians.

3. The poll was jointly conducted by Mr.Liu Zhongyu, a philosophy professor, and his colleague Mr. Tong Shijun. Explaining the results of the poll, Mr.Liu told the “Oriental Outlook” magazine: “More Chinese feel unstable and harassed by the rootless lives they lead now. The standards of morality are declining. People don’t trust each other anymore. They are looking for something to anchor their lives in.”

4. Mr.Liu said one factor in the fast growth of religion was the expanded freedom of belief in China. He said that during the 1960s and the1970s, radical political orthodoxy enforced by Mao Zedong and his followers replaced religious beliefs, often under the threat of imprisonment. He added that although the Communist Party remained officially atheist, the Chinese were free now to practice the religion of their choice as long as it did not challenge the party’s monopoly on power.

5. The poll did not indicate how many of the religious believers came from the ethnic minorities such as the Tibetans, the Mongols and the Uighurs, and how many from the Han Chinese. The poll indicated that 67 per cent of those, who admitted that they were religious believers, believed in Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. That is, roughly 201 million. Another 40 million said they believed in Christianity. One does not know in which religion the remaining 59 million believed. It is quite likely that a substantial number of them also believed in Christianity, but did not have the courage to say so.

6. Keeping in view the growing number of those, who admit that they are religious believers despite being under Godless communism for nearly 60 years,the Communist Party of China (CPC) has decided to come to terms with the reality that long years of Communist rule have not been able to eradicate the influence of religion on the minds and lives of a large number of its population. The amendment to the party constitution on this subject, which has since become available, says: “The Party strives to fully implement its basic principle for work related to religious affairs, and rally religious believers in making contributions to economic and social development”.

7. The other issue, which figured prominently in the 17th National Congress of the Party is the importance of soft power. In an article titled “CHINESE QUEST FOR SOFT POWER” written by me on April 15,2007, which is available at http://www.saag.org/papers23/paper2209.html, I had stated as follows: “The term soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye, a Harvard Professor, who had served as an Assistant Secretary of Defence under President Bill Clinton. Nye was quoted more frequently than any other American analyst during the session of the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC), which was held at Beijing from March 5 to 16, 2007. The importance of China strengthening its soft power was repeatedly stressed by different speakers at various sessions dealing with China’s economic development, military modernisation, the working of its Foreign Ministry and the various institutions dealing with the development and propagation of the Chinese language and culture. There were references to the importance of strengthening China’s soft power even at the sessions devoted to discussing the preparations for the Olympic Games of next year, which are to be held in China. Many Chinese athletes—men and women— who had participated in the past Olympic Games, spoke about the opportunity that would be provided by the forthcoming Olympics to project a soft, lovable image of China to the world through the thousands of participants and journalists from all over the world who would be coming to China for the Games. This is not the first time that the importance of soft power has received such attention. Since 2004, many analysts had been drawing attention to the various steps being taken by China to develop and increase its soft power to promote its national interests and to make its influence felt across the world through means other than coercion. But this was the first time that this subject received such concentrated articulation.”

8. There was a significant difference between the way the importance of soft power was projected at the NPC session and the way it was projected at the Party Congress. The NPC session projected the development of soft power as a means of improving China’s international image and influence through the spread of the Chinese language and culture across the world, through better non-confrontational diplomacy and through people-to-people contacts with the people in other countries. The Party Congress highlighted the internal role of soft power as a way of promoting national unity by strengthening the cultural bonds of different sections of the people.

9. In his report to the Congress, Mr.Hu Jintao, in his capacity as the Party Secretary, said: “Culture has become a more and more important source of national cohesion and creativity and a factor of growing significance in the competition in overall national strength.We must enhance culture as part of the soft power of our country to better guarantee the people’s basic cultural rights and interests.” For this purpose, he proposed the following tasks to the Party for the next five years:

  1. To step up the development of the press, publishing, radio, film, television, literature and art, give correct guidance to the public and foster healthy social trends;

  2. To strengthen efforts to develop and manage Internet culture and foster a good cyber environment;

  3. To continue to develop nonprofit cultural programmes as the main approach to ensuring the basic cultural rights and interests of the people, increase spending on such programmes, and build more cultural facilities in urban communities and rural areas;

  4. To vigorously develop the cultural industry, launch major projects to lead the industry as a whole, speed up the development of cultural industry bases and clusters of cultural industries with regional features, nurture key enterprises and strategic investors, create a thriving cultural market and enhance the industry’s international competitiveness;

  5. To establish a national system of honors for outstanding cultural workers.

10. He added that Chinese culture had been an unfailing driving force for the Chinese nation to keep its unity and make progress from generation to generation. “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will definitely be accompanied by the thriving of Chinese culture”, he said.

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com ).

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