Blog EntriesChurch and State

Governing Religion with One Eye Closed


I am not a regular reader of Daedalus (although I probably should be), but a few weeks back I downloaded the Spring 2014 edition of the journal Daedalus onto my kindle because the cover caught my eye: Growing Pains in a Rising China.

The article topics range from economics to education to the internet, and almost everything in between. The one that caught my eye, though, and the one I read first was the Politics of Increasing Religious Diversity in China, by Robert P. Weller.

His main point is that China's approach to religious governance is a case of "governing with one eye open." Another term he uses is "governance by mutual hypocrisy."

The abstract of the article lays it all out:

China has seen a remarkable growth and pluralization of religious activity over the past thirty years, a development that has rapidly overtaken the incremental and sluggish changes in the relevant regulatory structures. In much of the country, the government has managed the mismatch between religious practice and official rules by governing with "one eye open and one eye closed," that is, by pretending not to notice violations of the regulations as long as people pretend that they are following the rules. Comparative evidence suggests that such a mode of governance can be long-lasting and effective by encouraging groups to self-censor, by allowing space for contextual experimentation, and by stressing the acceptance of nominal convention over the control of behavior. This situation is likely to continue unless China adopts a new vision of the desired relation between state and society.*

This article is a "must-read" for anyone trying to make sense of the religious environment in China today.

This kindle version of the journal is available for $9.99.

Related Articles:

The winter edition of the ChinaSource Quarterly was devoted to the topic of religious policies in China. Links to the articles follow.

ChinaSource Quarterly Winter 2013, Vol. 15, No. 4: Religious Policies in China and Their Influence on the Church

"Religious Policies in China: Defining 'Normal'" by Joann Pittman

"How China's Religious Affairs Bureaucracy Works" by Carsten T. Vala

"The Present Condition of Christianity and Religious Regulations in China" by Huang Jianbo

"Pastoring in a Registered Church", a ChinaSource interview (View from the Wall) by Kay Danielson

"House Church Attitudes towards Government Authorities" (Peoples of China) by Kay Danielson

"Closing a Perception/Reality Gap" Religious Freedom in China: Policy, Administration, and Regulation; A Research Handbook by Kim-kwong Chan and Eric R. Carlson, reviewed by Brent Fulton

*Perry, Elizabeth J.; Naughton, Barry; Davis, Deborah S.; Kirby, William C.; Whyte, Martin King; Lee, Ching Kwan; Hsiao, William C.; Frazier, Mark W.; Gallagher, Mary E.; Liebman, Benjamin L. (2014-03-24). Daedalus 143:2 (Spring 2014) - Growing Pains in a Rising China (Kindle Locations 3803-3805). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio