Chinese Religion and Politics

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
Sophomore and above—Year

Recent news coverage of China has highlighted the Chinese government's persecution of religious groups, among them Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism, and has suggested that such persecution is a product of the Communist Party's failure to promote human rights and religious freedoms. At the same time, the government tolerates a widespread cult to the deceased Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong as the god of wealth and business success. This course seeks to place China's attitudes toward religion within a broader historical and cultural context by looking at the rise and unfolding of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and popular religion. We will focus on two related themes: how different religious groups in China interacted with and affected the state, and how the state created its own religious structure and ultimately shaped the various religions. Questions to be raised will include the following: How did the traditional religions both support and oppose the state? How did the state adopt the symbols and practices of these religions to legitimize its authority? How did the traditional Chinese state conceive of the sacred role of the emperor? What assumption led to its creation of a state religion that controlled private religious practices? How has the contemporary Chinese government borrowed, transformed, or eradicated the traditional relationships between religious groups and the state? We will attempt to answer these questions from a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses institutional, economic, intellectual, and cultural perspectives. Although readings will include secondary sources, emphasis will be placed on primary documents. Sources will include government edicts and ritual manuals, legal cases, religious texts and temple records, private memoirs and diaries, miracle tales, and didactic fiction.