Spiritual India vs godless China: Article of faith
China and India are civilisational states having some similarities but they adopted different ways in the last seven decades. China vehemently rejects religion and categorically terms it as an evil thing.
On the other hand, religion has got sympathetic treatment in the independent secular India. The way of life in India has remained deeply embedded in religion. Indian system has never suppressed any faith. Multicultural underpinning is its USP.
The Communist Party in China penalised people for practicing religion. The case in point is recent instructions by Xi Jinping vis-a-vis Saka Dawa festival, considered to be the holiest festival of Tibetan Buddhism. China has imposed a series of measures prohibiting Tibetan schoolchildren from participating in the festival that began last week. People have been barred from performing Buddhist practices.
The notification is similar to one issued by China’s education bureau in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the country’s northwest. China has banned Muslim civil servants, students and teachers from observing fast during Ramzan.
Though China is officially an atheist state as a survey conducted in 2014 and 2015 proved that more than 61 per cent of Chinese are atheist, action by Chinese rulers to suppress religious practices faces disapproval even from the Han Chinese.
Fundamental questions are being raised: What is beyond material comforts? What is the meaning of good life? How could we achieve it? These basic questions have rattled the Communist Party of China which still holds the doctrine that “religion is poison”.
Father of Xi Jinping was a prominent leader of the Communist Party of China. He challenged the Communist Party’s approach to the religion. In 1980s, he drafted a 20-page report and advocated for acceptance of faith of different religions especially three religions which are historically connected to China: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
This document is known as Document -19. In fact, one of signature lines of Xi’s father is said to have been “If the people have faith, the nation has hope and the country has strength”. But the current President is relentless in suppressing the religious beliefs and faiths not merely in Tibet and Xinjiang but throughout China. The desperation among the people is equally high. At a similar or even stronger move towards spiritualism is emerging among the Han Chinese, the ethnic group that makes up 91 per cent of the country’s population.
China is undergoing a spiritual revival similar to the Great Awakening that took place in the United States in the nineteenth century. The burst of religious and spiritual activity poses risks for the Chinese Communist Party.
Across China, hundreds of temples, churches and mosques open every year, attracting millions of new followers. The faith and values are returning to the centre of a national discussion over how to organise Chinese life. China’s ethnic minorities, especially Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, have long valued religion as a form of resistance against an oppressive central state.
The two different things are happening in today’s prosperous China. One is the common people who are exploring their lost spiritual thrusts which had been suppressed by the successive regimes. Second, the Communist regime is more determined not to allow any kind of liberal approach which will may challenge the Communist regime. The tussle is set to create problems in the foreseeable future in China.
The history of religious repression in China has a long history. The first phase began in 1912 with Sun Yat-Sen when he started demolishing local temples. Nationalist party chief Chiang Kai Shek who followed him in 1926 started the New Life Movement to cleanse China of its old ways. On the name of destroying superstitions, he attacked rituals and demolished temples. The rest was done by the Communist Party of China.
In the late 1950s, Mao Zedong began to suppress most religious activities. During the Cultural Revolution in 1966 began the most furious attack on religion. Virtually every place of worship was closed, and almost all clergies were driven out. Priests and nuns were put behind bars.
China’s good number of Christian followers went underground during the Cultural Revolution. Christianity began to spread in China’s economic heartland and among its most influential classes. But the major uprisings are from Tibet and Xinjiang. The reasons are very simple. In the last 65 years of suppressive rule of the Communist Party, China has failed to trample Tibetan voice. It has miserably failed to win hearts and minds of Buddhist lamas.
China claims that the Tibetan culture and people have been much better off since its occupation rule began in 1959. It claims, “Tibet’s traditional culture is well protected and promoted, and freedom of religious belief in the region is respected, while its ecological environment is protected. The White Paper also presents data to justify its rule over the last 59 years. It claims: earlier Tibet did not have a single school in the modern sense; its illiteracy rate was as high as 95 per cent among the young and middle aged; there was no modern medical service, and praying to the Buddha for succour was the main resort for most people if they fell ill; their average life expectancy was 35.5 years. Beijing compares these to the rapid development and modernisation that has occurred in the last 65 years.”
The fact of the matter is that the Tibetan community has been butchered and subjugated to reduce them to slavery. Their twin identities of faith and pastoral lives were forcefully destroyed by the Communist regime. Tibet had been strategically divided into two parts.
The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has been converted into a nuclear dustbin, spreading deadly diseases such as cancer. Thousands of Tibetans are behind bars. Their economic status is very low. The policy of transferring the Han Chinese into TAR is making the Tibetans a minority community in their own region.
There was further disappointment for the Tibetans and supporters across the world at the beginning of 2015 when China announced plans to increase the Han-Chinese population of Tibet by 30 per cent by 2020, a total of approximately 2,80,000 arrivals.
Difference between Modi and Xi
Getting June 21 declared as International Yoga Day is a success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cultural diplomacy. Indian heritage of culture is based on ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’: The world is one. Whereas Chinese cultural baggage is driven by economic confabulation.
The recent attempt of Xi to play the Buddhist card is stirred by force and coercion. All Buddhist countries from South Asia to South East Asia were lured and threatened to expand the signature campaign of One Belt One Road of Xi.
However, Modi’s approach is completely different from the Chinese. During his first Nepal visit, Modi talked about Buddha and Yuddha. Both cannot move together. India is connecting to the Buddhist countries without ignoring or skipping any one. How is it possible to build the Buddhist Circuit by ignoring the Dalai Lama?
India believes that the world peace and fraternity are only possible through the spirit of spiritualism. The Yogic philosophy is the reassertion of mental fitness and thinking beyond your own self-interests. China is amassing economic capital by using Buddhism as a tool. That is why China is desperate to bring the Dalai Lama back to Tibet before he dies.
If his Holiness does not go there during his life time, the legitimacy of Tibet and supremacy of Buddhism will remain disputed for China.
(The writer is Head of the Department of Political Science, Central University of Haryana)
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