Many people are confused about the perceived change in Communist China’s attitude toward capitalism and religious worship. How can a country that professes to be communistic, one that sees the proletariat and bourgeoisie as waging an ongoing class struggle, while being officially atheistic, allow any activities that are so contrary to their philosophy?
On the surface this seems like a very bad idea indeed. In fact, in the past both Russia and China spent years trying to wipe religious worship out of existence; as well as create a healthy socio-economic environment sans capitalism. What happened? Worship went underground and actually became more of a problem. At the same time, both governments were falling short of their productivity goals, while their citizens suffered as food, services, and other products were difficult to obtain.
In the meantime, capitalistic countries were easily feeding their citizens and providing a plethora of products and services that couldn’t even be imagined in Russia or China. Boris Yeltsin in his autobiography, Against the Grain, described his first experience of visiting a Houston supermarket in 1989 as “shattering.” He went on to write:
“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”
Observing what was taking place in Russia, the Chinese Communists understood they had to solve both the religious and poverty problems.
Was religious worship really a problem for them? After all, religious people had been worshiping under all types of government since the beginning of recorded time. And all they had ever asked was the freedom to worship their God. For almost all of the world’s religions, the system of government was a secondary concern that only got attention when worship was not allowed.
In the same way, capitalists have also been providing products and services under every known system of government. However, with the old style of communist government, capitalism had to go underground, meaning that it, too, became a problem. In addition, it exacerbated the poverty issue, in that only the rich could afford the exorbitant prices that were the result of an underground economy and this caused discontent amongst the masses.
So, for the Chinese Communists, the answer seemed obvious (although, I am sure that many traditionalists had a very rough time accepting the need for this change); allow both religious worship and capitalism, but keep a tight control on their activities to make sure that they do not become a threat.
Has it worked? Probably much better than even they realized it would. After all, the vast majority of religious activity is not threatening to governments. In fact, most religious people are extremely interested in peace and willing to “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s“; as long as worship is allowed.
Regarding capitalism, the Chinese Communists quickly discovered that if you let business people provide a product or a service, and make a profit, they won’t care about the system of government. And, in fact, they will be strong supporters of the status quo. In addition, China’s support of capitalism provided an additional benefit: all they needed to do to obtain the advanced technology of the western nations was to offer to those nations the potential of the Chinese market and western technology flowed in.
While the Chinese capitalist reformation began in the 1970s, the major push toward a capitalist economy didn’t take place until the 1990s. International Viewpoint describes it in this way,
The reforms began in 1978, and extended and deepened, progressively debilitating the mechanisms of the planned economy and received a decisive push from 1992 onwards.
In the 1990s an unrestrained process of privatization of state companies and liberalization of public services took place. Nowadays, two thirds of wage-earners work already for private capital. At the beginning of the 21st century, China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization in 2001 culminated its process of reintegration into global capitalism.
America, too, has discovered that capitalism doesn’t need a democracy to thrive. Even Robert B. Reich in his CommonDreams.org article, “China: Capitalism Doesn’t Require Democracy” states, “… visit China today and you find the most dynamic capitalist nation in the world,” …
China shows that when it comes to economics, the dividing line among the world’s nations is no longer between communism and capitalism. Capitalism has won hands down. The real dividing line is no longer economic. It’s political. And that divide is between democracy and authoritarianism. China is a capitalist economy with an authoritarian government.
Reich isn’t the only one recognizing the “potential” of Chinese capitalism. The New York Times reported that American businessmen have embraced the Chinese Communists since discovering that the Communists have embraced capitalism,
The best businessmen … are pragmatists. Deng Xiaoping famously said it didn’t matter whether a cat was black or white so long as it caught mice. Smart businessmen are likewise pretty indifferent to a regime’s ideology (and indeed its treatment of dissidents, journalists and other such niceties) as long as their deals can get done and their tax rates are lenient.
This was apply demonstrated by the lack of hesitation shown by GE when it agreed to supply some of their highly valuable next-generation technologies to the Chinese. For General Electric, the short-term profit motive eliminated any concern about how that contract with the Chinese might ultimately impact the socio-economic health of the United States. It is possible this could be extrapolated even further, that GE doesn’t particularly care what happens to the U.S. as long as they can continue to do business and make a profit.
This may very well end up being the Achilles Heel of the American capitalist system.
This recent history of religion in China begins with the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1947 with a government that was essentially atheist. Cultural Revolution in the 1966 and 1967 eliminated all forms of religion, with the destruction of many places of worship. This policy was relaxed in the late 1970s and today China has a policy of freedom of religion.
The 1978 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees “freedom of religion” in Article 46. The policy regarding religious practice in China states that “No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens because they do, or do not believe in religion.
Nobody can make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt social order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.
In 2007 The Washington Post reported that a Chinese government-sponsored survey of religion in China found that the number of believers among the country’s 1.3 billion people was equal to the entire population of the United States, approximately 300 million.
Karl Marx said that “religion was the opium of the people.” Where Marx got it wrong, was his belief that it was necessary to free the people from this opiate; which proved to be a very difficult task indeed. Actually, allowing worship means that a large portion of the population’s energy and focus is on their religious practice and not on causing problems for the regime. In many ways capitalism provides this same distinction as business people focus their time, energy, resources, and wealth on providing products and services, in order to make a profit. Plus, the regime gains the added advantage of dramatically reducing poverty.
After these eight posts on China’s potential plan for world domination, there is still no obvious proof that they desire to control the political and social systems in other countries. In fact the exact opposite is true. The Washington Times reported that China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Qin Gang, gave an eight-point statement (abbreviated below) regarding China’s philosophy regarding foreign relations:
First of all China will not seek hegemony.
Second, China will not play power politics and we will not interfere with other countries’ internal affairs.
Third, we maintain all countries, big or small, should be treated equally and respect each other.
Fourth, [in international affairs] China will make judgment on each case, each matter on the merit of the matter itself and we will not have double standards.
Fifth, we advocate all countries handle their relations on the basis of the United Nations Charter and norms governing international relations.
Sixth, we advocate peaceful negotiation and consultation so as to resolve our international disputes.
Seventh, China is firmly opposed to terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Eighth, we respect the diversity of civilization and the whole world.
Many diplomats and pundits take China’s word on this matter, believing that China wants to become an influential partner in world affairs.
However, as any good poker player knows, when you are out to win, you definitely do not want to telegraph the hand you are playing. In fact, the rules of poker allow you to lie, but forbid you from telling the truth. So … if you have a pair of aces, you can tell the other players that you’ve got a pair of deuces, but you cannot tell them that you have a pair of aces.
Bottom-line, to depend on the eight-point statement above would be foolishness in the extreme. As a competitor on the world stage, you have to assume that your competition is lying … to do otherwise is to risk losing and losing big.
There are many advantages to attaining world domination. And, the only real disadvantage would be the immense control problem over hundreds of countries and billions of citizens. However, there’s little doubt that a large, successful regime would feel confident that they could handle the situation and, with the aid of modern technology, they just might be able to make it work.
If so, the end to Chinese Communist rule … might end up being centuries into the future.