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New Capitalism Blamed for Religious Surge in China

Times Staff Writer

Chinese authorities say that Buddhist and superstitious practices are rapidly spreading among young people in southern China, and they blame the phenomenon on the spread of private business and the influence of Hong Kong.

“Walking slowly through the streets of Canton, you can see that business in incense and candles, paper (play) money, fortunetelling wheels and other superstitious articles is thriving,” the Guangming Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper for intellectuals, said in a report last week. “In recent years, more and more youths have been burning incense and practicing Buddhism.”

At a recent religious festival, the newspaper noted, “oceans of people” waited in line to burn incense, make money offerings and fulfill their vows to the gods at a Canton temple. “Among the worshipers, old men and women accounted for only about one-third, while fashionably made-up youths, especially women, accounted for about three-fifths.”

‘Guidance’ Required

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Although the report spoke of the religious activities in negative terms, it did not urge a ban or crackdown on them. Instead, it concluded that “more attention, management and guidance should prevent these youths from taking the wrong path.”

The report appeared to be part of a broader effort by Chinese authorities this year to discourage the growth of superstitious practices and populist religious activities in China.

The Communist Party, itself avowedly atheist, once sought to eradicate all religious activity. In recent years, however, it has shifted direction and encouraged the tolerance of organized religious activity, as long as it is under the control of the party and not subject to any outside influence.

Among practicing Roman Catholics, for example, China has permitted the growth of a Chinese Patriotic Church, separate from the Vatican and ultimately under the control of the United Front Department of the Communist Party. Despite such new encouragement of organized religion, however, the Chinese regime still frowns upon folk religions and superstitions.

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Sometimes, popular Buddhist and Taoist practices such as burning incense or making money offerings appear to be considered superstitions, particularly when people are praying for good luck.

The Guangming Daily article said that during a religious festival in Canton last fall, “those praying for a change in fate reached record levels.” At one temple alone, more than 200,000 people burned incense, the paper said, and “the pious ones, for the most part, were young people.”

Hong Kong a Problem

The story said that there are several reasons for the rapid surge in such activities.

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The first, it said, is the proximity of Hong Kong. “Hong Kong people are really superstitious, and following the ever closer Canton-Hong Kong ties, there are also many Hong Kong people returning to the motherland to worship. This really attracts those youths who chase after the latest fads.”

The second factor was said to be the development of commercial activity, which the Communist Party newspaper said causes some people to “worship fate.”

Finally, the article said, some people in China are turning to religious or superstitious activity because of the “need for spiritual solace.”


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