Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Religious Matters in New China

Praise for China is rarely heard coming from the Catholic press. A recent exception appeared in a bulletin for priests, praising the country's policy in caring for their citizens who live overseas, while finding plenty to criticize on how they deal with religious matters.

The writer recalls, when he was a child, seeing the school for foreign Chinese in his hometown. Wherever Chinese were living overseas, these schools were setup to help the newly arrived Chinese accommodate to the new culture, and they have been successful, he says, except in Korea.

The schools failed here, he feels--though admitting he's not an authority on the subject--because of the many regulations that made it difficult for foreigners to settle easily within the culture and earn money; the regulations being motivated, it is believed, by the aversion toward foreigners in Korea
of the past.

This was especially true in running a business. On the menu signs in front of Chinese restaurants, 'jajangmyeon' (noodles with black  bean sauce) because they could not sell rice. This has all changed today but 20 or 30 years ago the perception of the foreigner was not what it is today.

China of  today also is not the China of the past. Though he noticed the rigidity of the culture on his trip to China in 1999--a feeling of uneasiness in the air--as soon as he landed at the airport, a recent trip to Beijing convinced him this is no longer true.

In many ways China has come a long way since the middle of the last century. 21st century China is the only country, says the writer, that can vie with the United States for the dominant role in world affairs. China is increasing its influence throughout the world by forgiving the debt of African countries and giving assistance freely. The writer says, reporting on what some people are saying, that if China doesn't  buy part of the national debt of the European Union and the United States, they would be ruined--though he believes this is a bit of an exaggeration. And in 20 or 30 years, many believe that it will be difficult for any country to keep pace with China. But, says the writer, one problem remains: China continues to restrict the free expression of religious belief.

According to their laws, only Chinese can give religious instruction, in effect keeping foreign missioners out of the country. Those that do enter China have to sign that they will not do any missionary work in the country.This paper--signed, sealed and thumb-printed--along with a duplicate copy of the plane ticket and the address of the hotel where they will stay, has to be  given to the consulate. Those without a religious connection are not bothered with this annoying step to get a visa.

The writer strongly believes that if China intends to be a leader in the world, they will have to be more flexible concerning religious liberty, adding that this suggested change is not only motivated by his religious beliefs. Whether or not you accept religion is immaterial, he says, in this case. Religion has been an important element in the history of the world and trying to control it by force is not a sign of a developed country, and even less a sign of a country intent on becoming a major player on the world stage.

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