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Archive for the ‘china’ tag

A Confucian Constitution for China

The Dacheng Hall, the main hall of the Temple of Confucius in Qufu. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

by Jiang Qing and Daniel A. Bell
from the New York Times

Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a speech in Mongolia denouncing Asian governments that seek “to restrict people’s access to ideas and information, to imprison them for expressing their views, to usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders.” It was a swipe at China’s authoritarian political system. The view that China should become more democratic is widely held in the West. But framing the debate in terms of democracy versus authoritarianism overlooks better possibilities.

The political future of China is far likelier to be determined by the longstanding Confucian tradition of “humane authority” than by Western-style multiparty elections. After all, democracy is flawed as an ideal. Political legitimacy is based solely on the sovereignty of the people — more specifically, a government that grants power to democratically elected representatives. But there is no compelling reason for a government to have only one source of legitimacy.

Democracy is also flawed in practice. Political choices come down to the desires and interests of the electorate. This leads to two problems. First, the will of the majority may not be moral: it may favor racism, imperialism or fascism. Second, when there is a clash between the short-term interests of the populace and the long-term interests of mankind, as is the case with global warming, the people’s short-term interests become the political priority. As a result, democratically elected governments in America and elsewhere are finding it nearly impossible to implement policies that curb energy usage in the interests of humanity and of future generations.

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Jewish Life in Shanghai’s Ghetto

Much of Shanghai’s Jewish Quarter has disappeared, but visitors still can see some of the buildings, like this one, where thousands of refugees lived alongside the city’s residents. Photo from

by Casey Hall
from the New York Times

Shanghai–While much of the city’s Jewish Quarter has disappeared in the years since the end of World War II, the Ohel Moshe Synagogue is a constant reminder of how this Chinese city saved tens of thousands of Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

Built by Russian Jews in 1927 in the Hongkou district in northern Shanghai, the synagogue was the primary religious destination for the Jewish refugees who flooded into the city.

And while its facade has not changed, the building now is the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. It is the first stop for many visitors seeking information about what the Holocaust scholar David Kranzler called the “Miracle of Shanghai.”

About 20,000 refugees settled around the synagogue, in an area called the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees but more commonly known as the Jewish Ghetto. The 2.68 square kilometers, or about a square mile, which was cordoned off by the Japanese who controlled the city, also was home to 100,000 Shanghaiese, who were welcoming to their new neighbors, according to Jian Chen, the museum’s director.

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June 25th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Islamophobia’s Implications for the United States

by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy and Akbar Ahmed
from Huffington Post

Amid a surging fear of Muslims — Islamophobia — in our nation, it is time for all of us to improve our understanding of Islam and our relationships with Muslims — if not because it is right to do this morally, then because it is in our best interests nationally.

The fact is that we live in a world alongside one and a half billion Muslims, and regardless of the desire of some on the fringes of society, our Muslim neighbors are not going anywhere. A failure to understand this population and its religion is bad enough. Choosing to intentionally demonize those who follow this religion and provoke the anger of the Muslim people qualifies not just as insensibility but insanity.

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Her Holiness: Is the Time Right for a Female Dalai Lama?

From The Huffington Post

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, would make the perfect dad. Imagine having to tell the world’s most famous “simple Buddhist monk” that you wrecked the family car. Material items are not important, but you must examine the causes and conditions that gave rise to this accident. Or that you spent all the money in your checking account before the end of the month — again. You will not find happiness through external means. You must look inside to identify the things that lead to happiness. Or that you are devastated by the breakup of your love relationship.Everything is impermanent. This suffering too will pass.

His gentle and often playful manner, his engaging smile and twinkling eyes, his quick wit and simple yet profound remarks inspire a sense of reassurance, acceptance, and peacefulness that the world has come to attribute to this one person, this man.

But what if the next Dalai Lama is a woman? Would she, or even could she, offer the world the same grounding wisdom? Inspire compassion within people of all cultures? Properly navigate Tibet’s troublesome relationship with the Chinese government?

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November 2nd, 2010 at 12:38 am

Buddhist Charity Opens in Atheist China

From Reuters

China’s ruling Communist Party has a testy and often bitter relationship with religion.  During the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, temples and churches were shut, statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life, often after receiving a good beating or even jail.

While the officially atheist Communist Party hardly pushes religion these days, its attitude has softened considerably, though rights groups frequently complain of sometimes harsh restrictions on Christians and Muslims especially.

On Friday, the Taiwanese Buddhist charity the Tzu Chi Foundation opened its Chinese chapter, in the historic eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, perhaps better known in the outside world for its stunning gardens. Officials say Tzu Chi is the first overseas non-governmental organisation to receive the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ blessing to operate in China. Normally they have to register with the Commerce Ministry as businesses.

It is another sign of China’s Communist rulers’ growing but still limited religious tolerance and part of a drive to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese. The Chinese government is generally less fearful of Buddhism with its home-grown roots, but maintains tight control especially in Tibet where monks have been jailed for supporting their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Yet Tzu Chi is barred from preaching and cannot raise funds from ordinary Chinese without government approval on an ad hoc basis. “We will not make it a point to preach when we do charity work on the mainland, but if people ask me my religion, I will say I’m Buddhist,” foundation spokesman Rey-sheng Her told Reuters.

“We will use compassion to care for every suffering person and enlighten them to use love to help others,” said Her, a former Taiwan television news anchor.

The opening of Tzu Chi’s China chapter, housed in a traditional courtyard, was attended by Chen Yunlin, China’s top negotiator with self-ruled and democratic Taiwan. Despite China and Taiwan’s political rivalry, bilateral trade and investment, tourism and civilian exchanges have blossomed since the late 1980s. “The two sides of the (Taiwan) strait need this spiritual bridge … so that they can live in harmony,” Chen said.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and insists on eventual unification, through force if necessary, a goal it has not renounced despite the signing of landmark trade and tourism agreements following the election of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan president two years ago.

Taiwan, with its rambunctious democracy, enjoys complete freedom of belief. In China, the Communist Party sees religions as rivals for the loyalty of the Chinese people and have maintained tight control over beliefs since taking power in 1949. The Party has sought to use religion to help curb rising social unrest and fill an ideological vacuum in the post-Mao Zedong era which has eroded ethics and spawned graft.

In what appears to be growing tolerance towards religion, museums in Beijing and Shanghai hosted exhibits this year to commemorate the 400th death anniversary of Matteo Ricci (1582-1610), the Italian Jesuit who brought Christianity to China. Foreign clerics, including Jesuits and other Catholic orders, were expelled after the Communists seized power in a revolution in 1949.

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August 20th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Tony Blair On Religion in China

From The Washington Post

My interest in China – her history, her people and her culture – began before I was British Prime Minister. During my time in office, I knew power was shifting East and sought to build strong relations with this fast moving new power.

Since then, I have got to know the country even better still. Today, I am a witness to a new revolution happening here; to the rapid modernization and the opening up of borders, culture and society both internally and externally. And whilst power is still shifting East, there is a fascination about what that means for China and for the rest of the world. I hope the new partnership my Faith Foundation is announcing with Peking University can, in some way, help to explain. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation has been looking at the issues of faith and globalization for three years now. We’ve been working with some of the world’s leading universities to define and debate these vital questions academically. We started at Yale University in the United States and now have a network of seven leading research institutes, stretching from Mexico to Australia.

I am delighted to be announcing in Beijing that Peking University is the newest member of this group. China’s great wealth of academic, and other, talent is engaging and shaping our world as never before and Peking University holds an esteemed place in the international academic world. I believe the launch of this partnership signifies China’s openness on many levels and willingness to reach out to other universities in a spirit of co-learning and enterprise and to contribute the best of its talent to an international consortium of academics and future leaders. The new course will focus on Western and Chinese doctrinal traditions – looking at different faith traditions in different parts of the world, not just within the Chinese context. This is proof positive of China’s outward-looking perspective. In the future the Peking University and Tony Blair Faith Foundation will co-sponsor a discussion event at the Beijing Forum 2010, under the general theme of “The Harmony of Civilisations and Prosperity for all – commitments and responsibilities for a better world.”

One of the crucial questions for people of faith – and for those who are not – is how does interfaith dialogue impact on international policy-making? How does faith and dialogue motivate and influence decisions on a global scale?

Some in the West may find the idea of debating religion in China strange. They will cite, for example, that proselytising in public places in China remains forbidden. But few are aware that Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Daoism are all officially recognized and almost one third of Chinese describing themselves as religious – an astonishing figure for an officially atheist country where religion was banned until three decades ago.

According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 31% of the Chinese public considers religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives, compared with only 11% who say religion is not at all important. When asked a somewhat different question in a 2005 Pew poll, an even greater percentage of the Chinese public (56%) considered religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives.

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August 1st, 2010 at 4:00 pm

China’s Quiet Religious Revolution

Folk Goddess Mazu

Folk Goddess Mazu

From NPR

Alongside China’s astonishing economic boom, an almost unnoticed religious boom has quietly been taking place.

In the country’s first major survey on religious beliefs, conducted in 2006, 31.4 percent of about 4,500 people questioned described themselves as religious. That amounts to more than 300 million religious believers, an astonishing number in an officially atheist country, and three times higher than the last official estimate, which had largely remained unchanged for years.

The collapse of the communist ideology created a void that has left many Chinese staring into a spiritual vacuum, looking for a value system to counterbalance the rampant materialism that seems to govern life in China.

“Chinese people don’t know what to believe in anymore,” says Liu Zhongyu, a professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai, who conducted the survey. “And since the political atmosphere has relaxed, they turn to religion for comfort.”

One young evangelical Christian missionary travels from rural village to village in the Protestant heartland in eastern China to proselytize. She attributed her own conversion to the overwhelming pressures of China’s education system.

“In high school, I felt very depressed,” said the bright-eyed young woman, who gave her name as Nicole. “I felt people had no direction, and I felt life was dry and boring. I felt the pressure of school was very high. God helped me and liberated me.”

Although proselytizing is still illegal in China today, she and a group of friends are openly preaching in villages, without official interference. China has come a long way from the dark days of the Cultural Revolution, which ended in 1976, when all religious practice was banned, and monks and clergy were sent to prison or to perform hard labor.

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July 20th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Chinese Preachers in Indonesia Teach Universality of Religion

Anton MedanFrom NYT

CIBUBUR, INDONESIA — In Indonesia’s crowded world of celebrity Muslim preachers, it often pays to have a trademark. For Koko Liem, his ever-present Chinese-style outfits — garish satin tunics paired with matching skullcaps — play the role.

Whether in television appearances or Koran recitals, the approach of Mr. Liem, a 31-year-old convert to Islam from Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, is undeniably kitschy. In multihued permutations of his signature garb, he mixes preaching with guest appearances on dating and talk shows and promotes a religiously themed text-messaging service through his Web site.

Mr. Liem is one of a small but significant group of ethnic Chinese preachers to emerge over the past decade with a simple message: that being a member of Indonesia’s dominant majority — Muslims — and its historically most maligned minority — Chinese — need not be mutually exclusive.

“Clerics don’t only have to wear turbans. I’m a Chinese cleric. This is how I am,” Mr. Liem said at his home outside Jakarta, bouncing around boyishly on the couch in a crimson version of what he calls the “Koko Liem Costume.”

To outsiders, that assertion may seem unremarkable, even banal. But in Indonesia, it represents a powerful break with the past.

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July 18th, 2010 at 6:00 am

The Dalai Lama’s Message to the West

From HuffingtonPost,

The Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday on July 6 marks a bittersweet milestone. The anniversary is cause ftenzin_gyatzo_foto_11or celebration that his message of peace has become so widespread, yet it is also illustrative of his mortal frailty as China’s power grows and the Dalai Lama’s fades.

But there is also a deeper resonance — and controversy — to his preachings: that peace and compassion are more important than prosperity and financial advancement. It is a message, at one time straightforward and prehensile, that now poses a dilemma, particularly to the West, in our troubled times. Practicing what the Dalai Lama preaches, for some, has never been harder.

In September 2006 a murder on a remote mountainside on the Tibet/Nepalese border perfectly illustrated the West’s conflicted response when the moral imperative to speak up for human rights and spiritual freedom comes at the risk of increasing prosperity. Near Choy Oyu, the sixth tallest mountain in the world, a group of Chinese People’s Armed Police opened fire on a group of 74 Tibetan refugees in full view of 100 or so Western climbers.

Among them was 17-year-old Tibetan Kelsang Namtso. Forbidden from becoming a nun by her family in Tibet for fear that it would lead her into trouble with the Chinese authorities, she took her vows in secret. A year later, frustrated that that she could not practice her faith in a working nunnery because of draconian regulations and interference from Communist party officials, she decided the only option she had left to find spiritual fulfillment was to cross the high Himalaya. A chance of a few seconds with the Dalai Lama and the opportunity to practice her faith freely in India was worth a grueling journey beset with danger. Together with her best friend Dolma Palkyi, she set out. After 12 brutal days, just 20 minutes from the border, Kelsang Namtso was shot in the back and killed as Western climbers watched.

Shortly afterwards children, monks and others who couldn’t escape were led through the climbers’ camp at gunpoint, some later to be tortured in a mountaintop military compound.

Some of the Western mountaineers, making considerable amounts of money leading climbing expeditions, urged others in camp not to talk about the murder lest the Chinese retaliate by banning them from climbing in Tibet. In short, the climbers faced the same dilemma that the West faces in that if it wants to economically prosper together with the Middle Kingdom it must, at China’s insistence, turn a blind eye to its human rights abuses. A few climbers broke the adopted code of silence — one Romanian filmed the murder — and the story shortly thereafter became an international incident as the footage contradicted China’s assertion that the soldiers killed in self-defense. It was the first time a human rights murder in Tibet had been captured on film since the Chinese invasion in 1950.

Kelsang’s best friend, Dolma Palkyi, and 43 others made it to India where they met the Dalai Lama.

I too met the Dalai Lama shortly after Kelsang Namtso’s murder and found a profoundly human presence, rather than a lofty god-king. He was above all else direct and simply angry, not only at the murder but also at the West’s apathetic response to China’s brutal treatment of Tibetans. He told me that the West was often consumed with indifference, self-interest and quite simply racism.

“In the sixties, seventies and eighties, we went through incredible suffering,” he explained. “But they [the west] all looked at Russia and not China.” His chest was heaving as he spoke. “Perhaps it is because we are Asian, they don’t care?” he asked me directly. “So you see there is even discrimination in human rights!”

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July 4th, 2010 at 6:00 am