Building a ’Harmonious Society’ in China
Center for Strategic & International Studies Washington, D.C.
During the past year, Chinese President Hu Jintao and the leadership of the Communist Party of China have emphasized “building a harmonious society” in the face of escalating social and economic challenges resulting from China’s rapid economic growth. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life co-hosted a panel addressing the role of faith-based organizations in China’s emerging civil society at a day-long conference at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The panel addressed the role of such organizations as social service providers, examining specific case studies and the broader context for faith-based development in China. Experts Qui Zonghui, Yang Fenggang and Richard Madsen discussed strategies for successful faith-based poverty alleviation, organizational and legal obstacles to social capital development, constructive and conflictual potentials of China’s emerging civil society, and the relationship between religious organizations and the Chinese state.
Qiu Zhonghui, General Secretary, Amity Foundation
Yang Fenggang, Professor of Sociology, Purdue University
Richard Madsen, Professor of Sociology, University of California, San Diego
Timothy Shah, Senior Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
TIMOTHY SHAH: Representing the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, let me say what a pleasure it is to co-sponsor this panel with CSIS on “Faith-Based Organizations in China.” The Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center, which is a nonpartisan fact tank, and given our mission to deliver relevant and reliable information to people like you, it is a great pleasure to co-sponsor this panel and to highlight fascinating new information concerning China’s growing sector of faith-based organizations.
One of the terms that I think is very important in this whole discussion is the phrase “mediating institutions.” Many scholars have suggested that NGOs can function as mediating institutions in society; that is, as institutions that mediate between individuals and the state. Carol Hamrin mentioned earlier today the possibility that these NGOs in China can mediate social conflict in a rapidly developing society.
To what extent can faith-based organizations play that role in particular? It is worth focusing on faith-based organizations in particular because, as many scholars have noted, faith-based organizations have played a particularly important role in functioning as a bulwark of civil society in countries like the United States. It is also worth focusing on faith-based organizations because one thinks that perhaps, in addition to the political obstacles to the development of a third sector in China, it may well be that there are cultural obstacles as well. What happens when you join an ethic of voluntary associations with a traditionally Confucian culture that emphasizes the importance of top-down rather than bottom-up organization? In other words, can faith-based organizations help overcome both the cultural and the political obstacles to developing a third sector, a vibrant sector of voluntary grassroots organizations in China?
Part of why I wanted to introduce this term “mediating institutions” is because one of the people who helped promote this concept of mediating institutions is Peter Berger, who happens to be in the audience. He helped introduce this concept through a very influential book, written in the late 1970s with Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People.
To discuss the important role of faith-based organizations in China today, we have an extremely impressive panel with wide-ranging expertise. Our panel includes a development practitioner, a scholar who has studied Protestant Christianity in China, and a commentator who has done extensive scholarly work on Chinese culture and civil society, as well as on the Catholic Church in China. I will introduce each speaker just before he speaks.
Our first speaker is Zhonghui Qiu. He was Director and Deputy Head Secretary of the Rural Development Department in the Amity Foundation. He is currently a member of Jiangsu Province Consultative Committee and the General Secretary of the Amity Foundation, which is a faith-based development organization founded by Chinese Christians in 1985, and which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this November.
Mr. Qui, thank you for joining us.
QIU ZHONGHUI: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Warm greetings from the Amity Foundation in Nanjing, China. For today’s presentation I prepared some articles for this speech and also prepared some PowerPoint. To save time I will only highlight several main points rather than strictly follow these written materials.
First, I would like to introduce Amity. We are in Nanjing and this is our office. So I’ll give you a vivid picture for that. Amity Foundation, an independent Chinese nonprofit organization, was created in 1985 on the initiative of the Chinese Christians to promote the education, social service, health and rural development in China. Our founder is Bishop KH Ting. At that time in our country the openness and the reform had just started. So Amity’s founding is unique under that particular historical circumstance.
Here are Amity’s principles and objectives. Abiding by the principle of mutual respect in faith, Amity builds friendship with people at home and abroad. Through the promotion of social development and public welfare, Amity serves society, benefits the people, and strives to promote the world peace. For more detail, we want to contribute to China’s social development and openness to the outside world, to increase the public, especially Christian, involvement in China’s social development. The third is to increase the access to the ecumenical sharing of resources for the social development.
This is our organizational structure. In the center is our project management. Our main work includes social welfare, rural development, relief and rehabilitation work, medical and health, and education, Church-run Project, and also the blindness prevention and special education program.
We also have the Hong Kong Office and Amity Bible Printing Company. We only had three staff and two desks in 1985, but now we have a small building with a beautiful garden and more than 40 staffs working in Nanjing headquarters of Amity. Certainly we have implemented different varieties of projects and set up a number of local project offices in different regions of China. At the beginning our projects concentrated just nearby the Jiangsu Province, especially in northern part of Jiangsu, but now cover over 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in China.
In our first year we only raised half-a-million RMB yuan, and our income of last year increased to over 80 million yuan.
I will explain why we said this is the pioneering role of the Amity Foundation. And I would like to use three terms to explain our work, our history and our special characters. One term is unique. Another term is international. The third is pioneering, or exploring.
First of all, the uniqueness of the Amity Foundation in terms of three aspects.
Firstly, Amity Foundation is the first organization initiated by religious believers, through which the church can directly participate in social service and development, during the era when the Cultural Revolution had just ended and the opening and reform policy began to take effect. It may be said to be a sign that China was moving towards a more pluralistic and open society.
Secondly, Amity Foundation is one of the earliest NGOs established in China after endorsement of the opening and reform policy. Only a few NGOs existed when Amity was founded, indicating the gestating of civil society in China.
Thirdly, Amity is unique in respective of its organizational formation, its VGM (vision, goal and mission) and activities. Our staffs are from all walks of society, not only restricted to Christians. Amity strives to help all the people in need, regardless their faiths. We witness the spirit of love for all. We love our neighbors, and love all the people in the world. Amity cooperates with different organizations, including different religion-based, as well as other social institutions as long as they serve people in need. Amity exemplifies the opening and pluralism of our society.
Amity’s uniqueness in these three aspects results in the direct involvement of churches in social development and service work, the increase in the number of social service organizations formed by the churches. For example, China Christian Council has established Social Service Department two years ago. Amity’s work has promoted more people’s understanding on Christianity and the positive contribution of church to social development. Consequently, the internal development of the church and theological construction has been improved, and the conservative phenomenon diminished. Additionally, to meet Christians’ demand, Amity’s Bible Printing Company has printed millions of copies of Bible. In 2004 and 2005 respectively, 5 million have been printed, most of which are for domestic Christians and some even for export.
I would like to talk about the international nature of Amity. Amity is one of the Chinese NGOs which have so many international organizations in cooperation. You may find from our annual reports a list of our international partners. This is a first. Secondly overseas support for Amity is very stable. Please refer to our income. Thirdly we are most active in international exchange work; as a result, international Christian society has got a better understanding of us. Amity acts as a channel for communication between Chinese churches and churches of other countries. Amity has promoted the ecumenical sharing of resources. It has helped the most needy people.
These are pictures that show our projects. Through the offer of our work, Amity helps the mutual communication and understanding of different countries, peoples, face to face. For instance, I still remember that just five years ago, an American visited our project area. After that, she mentioned that when she decided to go to China, her neighbor persuaded her not to go to that country because it’s a dangerous country, but at last she made her conclusion that it was the best trip for her.
Last June I visited the United States where I was told that some Americans donated for smuggling Bibles. They did not know we Chinese have legally printed 40 million copies of Bible. I think communication which is important for understanding and world peacemaking should be strengthened.
Lastly, the pioneering role of the Amity. Amity has done a lot of projects – you may find later on my PowerPoint. In 1993, our board made an important decision “going west” because most needy as well as ethnic people live in the west part of China. We go west, and similarly your country has a history of “going west.”
We emphasize a human-orientation and participatory approach, which is crucial for development work. Local people are the main motive in community development. As outsiders of a community, Amity respects local people and work with them instead of interfering their decision making.
At this transitional time in our country, we want to do more advocacy work through our projects, and set up development and research center, which will do more training work and help other smaller and grassroots NGOs to develop healthily.
I have to finish my presentation because of time limitation. You may find more information from my PowerPoints and reading material. Thank you for your concern.
DR. SHAH: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Mr. Qiu, for that fascinating case study of one of the largest and oldest faith-based NGOs in China, the Amity Foundation.
Our second speaker is Professor Fenggang Yang, who is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Perdue University, specializing in the sociology of religion. He has a Ph.D. in sociology from the Catholic University of America. His research focuses on immigrant religions in the United States as well as religious change in China. Among his various books is State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, published in 2005. He is currently directing a three-year project to advance the social scientific study of religion in China, which is being funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. We are very grateful to have Professor Fenggang Yang with us.
YANG FENGGANG: Thank you, Mr. Shah, for the introduction. And I want to thank CSIS for organizing this very important meeting. I’m very glad that I have the chance to hear those NGO practitioners in China to talk about the new development. I’m not an expert on NGOs. I’m a sociologist of religion, and I especially want to thank Carol Hamrin for getting me here, for this opportunity to hear this great presentation by the practitioners.
We are here to discuss what is helpful to build a harmonious society in China, a slogan by the current regime under Hu Jintao. Instead of retaining stability above everything else, a society can be in dynamic harmony that balances change and stability. To build such a harmonious society, many people wish that NGOs may play some role. Indeed, NGOs in China are rapidly growing. According to China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, there were only about 4,500 minjian zuzhi or civil organizations or NGOs in 1988. By 2004, the number reached 289,432. So this is a rapid increase. And also the numbers are large and impressive.
But the number of NGOs is actually very small for a country of 1.3 billion people. And there is a problem. The problem is that the existing NGOs in China are socially marginal, financially dependent on foreign resources, and deficient in organization. Today I’ll focus on the first one only. Observers of Chinese NGOs commonly recognize that most NGOs in China are concerning environment, charities to the very poor, and services for the disabled. No doubt there are huge needs in these areas. However, these problems are symptoms which will persist without getting the root problems treated.
The root problems, as I see it, are moral and spiritual problems as much as political problems. It’s also an intellectual problem. China is undergoing rapid and profound changes. Industrialization is mixed with the information revolution. Urbanization is accompanied by suburbanization. And market transition coincides with globalization. Amid these rapid and dramatic changes, social bonds are broken down, conflicting moral values are chaotically entangled, and corruption has become rampant.
Reestablishing a moral order that is compatible with the market economy in a modern society is the urgent need. Social scientists, from Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Alexis de Tocqueville, to many contemporary scholars, share the view that religious organizations play important roles in moral education, community cohesion, social stability, social solidarity, ethical economic behavior, and a democracy. In the recent discussion of social capital, Robert Putnam finds that faith communities in which people – well, here is the quote: “Faith communities in which people worship together are arguably the single most important repository of social capital in America,” unquote.
As China is moving toward a market economy and modern society, it is imperative to unbind religious organizations for the benefit of the whole society. NGOs are increasing in China, but few of them are faith-based organizations, or FBOs. Religion is not mentioned in the web pages of the ministry of civil affairs, which is in charge of NGOs. Meanwhile, researchers in China routinely exclude religious organizations when discussing Chinese NGOs. Moreover, international and domestic NGOs seem to intentionally distance themselves from associating with Chinese religious groups. In fact, many try to stay away from anything remotely related to religion.
Just an example. The Ford Foundation China office even refuses to consider a project that trains Chinese scholars to conduct social scientific study of religion. How much of this negligence is due to their tacit precautions and how much due to intellectual biases against religion? I think there are more biases than tacit precautions.
Despite biases and policy restrictions, FBOs are playing important roles in China today. Let me just point to a few cases to illustrate this. First, there are faith-based social service organizations such as the Protestant Amity Foundation. That was founded in 1985, much earlier than most NGOs existing in China today, and Mr. Qiu just gave some introduction of that. And there are also YMCAs and YWCAs in many cities. Another well-known FBO is the Beifang Jinde Catholic Social Service Center, established in 1998 in Shijianzhuang Hebei Province.
These FBOs often mobilize believers for various programs that cannot be measured simply by the amount of money they have in banks. However, government regulations put strict restrictions on them. Recently, the Beifang Jinde director has been busy with raising funds so that it can be registered as a foundation. The new regulation has raised the minimum required operating fund to 8 million yuan for national or 4 million yuan for local and regional foundations.
Second, there are social service enterprises established by religiously motivated individuals. Because of the cumbersome regulations, many of those enterprises cannot be registered as nonprofit organizations, just like the China NPO Network. And among the religious enterprises, one example is the Zhimian Counseling Center, established in 2002 in Nanjing. It had to register as a for-profit company, but the founder, Mr. Zhang Xuefu, a Christian, said he had never intended to make profits out of it. As the center is expanding to become the Zhimian Academy of Psychology, Dr. Zhang has been trying hard to re-register it as a nonprofit organization. That’s the second type.
The third type, more widespread is the grassroots FBOs – churches, mosques and temples – which are not counted by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. These grassroots FBOs not only provide mutual aid among members, many of them also offer social services to the local community. For example, by mid-2004, Catholic churches in the country had opened 38 senior care centers, 14 childcare centers, 10 centers for orphans with disabilities, and over 100 clinics and hospitals. However, such social service programs by churches, mosques and temples are rarely reported by the media due to restrictive policies toward religion and the media and seems unknown to many Chinese NGO researchers. Moreover, many of the social service programs of religious organizations are co-opted by the local Religious Affairs Bureau, so they appear as governmental instead of non-governmental programs.
Finally, and probably more important, there are informal associations of religious believers that make moral issues their primary concern. One example is Shang Ren Fellowship – businesspeople fellowship – in a southern city. The members are Christians who are business owners or managers in private or international companies. The purpose of the fellowship is to provide mutual support in their effort to uphold Christian principles in their life, including their business activities. Its members usually attended government-approved churches but the group was not affiliated with a church because the members felt that the church pastors were not equipped to offer spiritual guidance but might impose political controls.
It cannot register with the government because their gatherings, monthly gatherings, are not acceptable under the current regulations of religious activities. Without a legal status, such religiously motivated informal groups nonetheless play important roles in upholding moral principles for its members. If such a moral association is given legal space, this Shang Ren Fellowship would develop into a parachurch organization with a specialized ministry for Christian businesspeople, thus play a bigger role in the moral reconstruction in Chinese society.
In short, the restrictions imposed on religious formal organizations, local congregations, and informal associations have become the bottleneck of NGO development in China today. Without unbinding FBOs, further increases of NGOs are less than hopeful, and the rampant problems of corruption and moral disorder are left without proper social agents.
And the problem is not simply a policy problem but also an intellectual problem. The intellectual biases against religion are widely held by many scholars in China, and practitioners of NGOs, as well as government officials.
What can be done about this problem? Well, I think ultimately the Chinese have to come to the understanding themselves. And what Mr. Qiu and Mr. Shang mentioned earlier, education, training seminars, can be very helpful. And also, Mr. Luo talked about the important roles that intellectuals, or the literati, could play to mediate between the people and the government officials.
So in order for the Chinese to come to the understanding of themselves, I think we should begin with encouraging NGO researchers and practitioners in China to treat religious organizations seriously and fairly. We may encourage this by helping Chinese scholars to study this matter in depth, and helping them to carry out research projects in China that include faith-based organizations.
Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. SHAH: Thank you, Professor Yang, for that critical appraisal of the remaining obstacles to the further development of the NGO sector in China.
Finally, we have as commentator Professor Richard Madsen, who is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University California, San Diego. He received an MA in Asian studies and a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard. He is the co-author of 11 books on Chinese culture, American culture, and international relations. His best-known works on American culture are those written with Robert Bellah, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler and Steven Tipton, Habits of the Heart and The Good Society. His books on China include Morality and Power in a Chinese Village, and also China’s Catholics: Tragedy and Hope in an Emerging Civil Society.
Thank you, Professor Madsen, for being with us. We look forward to your comments.
RICHARD MADSEN: Well, thank you very much for inviting me. It’s a very, very great honor to be here, especially with our guests from China, to discuss this enormous transformation that’s going on in China today.
I teach, in the University of California San Diego, different kinds of courses. Some are basically on social philosophy and moral philosophy – sociological theory. Then others are specifically related to China and emerging trends in China today. Let me just in these remarks try to put both these really fascinating talks into perspective, first of all from my social philosophy perspective, and then second from the point of view of things I see emerging right now in China today as it faces the challenge of modernization.
First of all, some of the more abstract discussion, a framework of kind of social philosophy – this issue of civil society I’d like to talk a little bit about. A problem when we talk about civil society in China or any other place nowadays is that we often talk past each other because different people, when they use the term, use it in different senses, and each different sense carries with it a whole constellation of ideas about what a good society is and what the path is toward it. So I think that before we talk about the contribution of faith-based organizations or any other kind of NGOs to a civil society, it’s good to be clear about what we’re talking about.
From my point of view, the way I would like to define and talk about civil society is in a neutral way. As I see it, the classical social theorists in the West in the 18th and 19th century talked about civil society, first of all, as not necessarily a good or a bad thing but as a certain form of social life that inevitably comes into being whenever you have urbanization, industrialization in which people are torn up from traditional relationships – extended family and traditional church – and left on their own to form their own kind of relationships based upon their own voluntary interests and sentiments.
Civil society is the realm of voluntary associations, which is made possible by people being uprooted and cut loose from traditional forms, especially the extended family, and also the traditional church, which made people members just by virtue of being born into that church.
So that’s civil society, this realm of voluntary associations. From the point of view of classical sociological and political theorists, this kind of civil society was neither good nor bad; it was inevitable, just a fact of life. It’s going to happen when you have modernization, and it has good and bad potentialities. The good potentiality is of course the enormous amount of social creativity, which comes from loosening people from these traditional bonds and letting them form a great variety of new forms of association.
But there are bad possibilities as well. One of the bad possibilities has to do with social polarization, economic polarization because some civil society groups – NGOs, if you want to call them that – which are supported by the rich and have more resources, can get even richer, and they represent the interests of the rich, and therefore you get economic polarization, class polarization in society. When Karl Marx talked about civil society, this is what he focused on. Another possibility is that civil society can, under some circumstances, be a realm of what today we would call sectarian violence because if you have groups that are based on voluntary association, sometimes they can generate enormous amounts of zeal and a sense that other people who don’t join are bad and therefore need to be struggled against and fought against.
So those are the bad things that can result in civil society under certain kinds of circumstances: economic polarization, sectarian violence and deep social conflict. The problem that most theorists try to deal with is how do you take the civil society, which is going to happen no matter what when you have an emerging industrial urbanizing society, and how do you make out of civil society a harmonious society, a stable society, a just and peaceful society, and what arrangements in government and economics and social formation do you need to make sure that civil society is going to be a good society in this sense?
And basically what you see in the 19th and 20th centuries are three main strategies for this. One – you could call it the Leninist strategy – is to suppress civil society, to keep a very tight government control, in order to keep some of those bad potentialities from ever being realized. Of course, this also stifles the creativity that is possible in civil society.
Another strategy basically is one of cooptation – government taking civil society into itself and guiding it and trying to direct it toward some sort of common good. This is the social corporatist mode, which may be characteristic of many European countries – social democratic countries especially in northern Europe.
A third approach is the approach followed in English-speaking countries in general – especially the United States and England. This is the strategy of unleashing civil society, liberating it, to letting it regulate itself as far as possible, so as to provide a realm of both freedom and creativity.
Now, which strategy is followed in any given case? It depends on a lot of contingent historical circumstances. It depends on traditions of governance. It also depends on the kind of emerging civil society any country finds itself faced with. The kind of liberal civil society that you have in the United States is based on a particular kind of set of contingent historical circumstances and particular kind of cultural circumstances that led to a certain kind of civil society that is conducive to relatively small government, a relatively hands-off government. At least in part, this is enabled by the enormous fluidity of American society, the fact that it’s a nation of immigrants. People are moving up and down on the social class ladder and mingling with all sorts of groups, and so many people join many different kinds of groups that overlap and diffuse potential social conflict.
Even religion in America takes on this form. It’s relatively informal and relatively pragmatic – Alexis de Tocqueville said in his famous book on America that it is mostly a pragmatic form of faith – it smoothes some of the rough edges of the civil society in a way that doesn’t inspire sectarian violence. This is because of a particular kind of form of American culture and the way in which American religion developed under these particular historical circumstances. Countries that were faced with a different kind of emerging civil society maybe don’t have the luxury that Americans had in setting up a relatively loose liberal framework.
Now, what China did of course in the first phase after the Chinese revolution was to set up a Leninist form of government that tried to stifle civil society. That’s being abandoned. That’s failed and we have this new form of opening and a very rapidly developing economy, people once again uprooted, people forming all sort of new groups – a very, very lively, informal civil society really developing in a place like China. But now the Chinese government and intellectuals and elites are trying to struggle with the notion of how you’re going to take this civil society and really make out of it a harmonious society, a stable society, a peaceful and just society. I think that they will probably end up with some combination of the second and third models of government response to civil society – that is, the social-democratic model and the Anglo-American liberal model. But because change is happening so rapidly and so quickly, it’s very, very difficult for people caught in the midst of it to figure out the best way forward.
Other obstacles to understand the way forward come from culture. One problem you have in China when talking about civil society is that the very vocabulary to discuss these emerging groups is not adequate to name what’s really going on. Yang Fenggang, in his paper, in the part that he didn’t give today but in the part he gave to me so I could read it, has a marvelous discussion of how people in China talk about civil society and how the talk does not really map onto what’s going on. Basically civil society is talked about in terms of minjian shehui, “people’s organizations.” But this term in the way it’s really used encompasses things like these GONGOs which in many ways are appendages of the government that maybe we couldn’t call civil society here.
And they don’t name – or at least don’t name adequately – informal kinds of groups that aren’t directly connected to the government, but nonetheless involve a lot of social solidarity, a lot of voluntary interaction, and a lot of social good. So the term tends to talk about things that maybe we wouldn’t want to call civil society, in this country at least, and to be blind to other forms of civil society that are emerging. So you have a problem of vocabulary, how to talk and how to think about this, but this vocabulary is emerging and changing.
I’m involved with a project from Fudan University in which we’re trying to discuss with various elites what they mean by civil society. An older generation means one thing, younger generation tends to use it a different way, and so forth and so on. People from the government and people from business tend to think of it in different ways. So there is kind of an emerging confusion just of the vocabulary.
Another problem is moral – a matter of government responsibility to try to take these rather chaotic new social formations and weld them together into a public good. There are issues of interest here and power politics and so forth, but there is also a moral concern. I gave a talk on civil society to the Shanghai Political Consultative Congress – I was the first American ever to speak to them apparently about this. And during the break one of the delegates came up and said, I thought I misunderstood you. I thought I heard you say that in the United States, the government just sets an open framework and allows all these groups to form as long as they don’t hurt anybody else, and they don’t really take any concern about making sure they’re all working together for the common good. And I said, actually that’s exactly what I said. (Laughter.) And she just couldn’t believe it. She said, this is totally unbelievable – she just was totally dumbfounded.
So this notion that the government wouldn’t take responsibility for tying these together just didn’t fit the moral framework that was extremely important to this person. So it involves a transformation and challenging of basic moral frameworks to think about how we’re going to deal with this.
Among the problems of civil society, both in the West in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and now also in China, the role of religious organizations, faith-based organizations, is especially problematic potentially because these organizations on the one hand have the potential of mitigating some of the social polarization, the economic polarization that comes from some groups getting richer and others having no resources. But also they can foment kinds of zealotry, of irrationality, et cetera that can lead to a lot of social disruption. Again, the United States developed one formula for dealing with this that fit our particular national characteristics and has worked reasonably well for us to the present, but on other societies with long histories of religion being connected with certain kinds of resistant ethnic divisions, it may work out in a somewhat different way.
And this is now further complicated by the fact that around the world there are new forms of religious revival taking place, and new forms of religious activism, which present challenges that maybe weren’t presented when civil societies developed earlier on in this century, in the West. So China has to confront this as well.
In general, as you know, the Chinese government has been very leery of religious organizations because they tend to see in them the potential for social disruption more than just social harmony. At least that’s been a tradition and part of it is connected with Chinese history, with the way in which religious groups were a basis of rebellion in imperial China. It also has to do with the way in which these groups were repressed during the Maoist era and therefore the government leaders are afraid that having been repressed these groups will come back with a certain kind of vengeance.
And so there’s concern about not having too much religion, and so the regulations about religion are also now in a big state of flux. In addition, there is a built-in suspicion to religion in general. In this context, certain groups have flourished, however. The Amity Foundation, for instance, is probably one of the best NGOs in China – in all of China, I think, in terms of its effectiveness, its efficacy, its efficiency – not just the best of the faith-based NGOs but probably one of the best of any of the secular NGOs and even best of all the internationally oriented NGOs. It’s just a marvelous organization. They’ve pioneered in carrying out very effective poverty alleviation programs, education programs at the grassroots and so forth, and they use participatory models and sustainable development. It’s just a model of efficiency and effectiveness. That’s been very, very good.
And part of it is based on its heritage of Christian ethics, certainly. It also gets its effectiveness through being able to utilize networks of people that were left behind by the old Christian missionaries and evangelization early on in the century to get down to the grassroots, I think. Nonetheless there are other kinds of Christian groups in China and the West that would say Amity isn’t being very effective in carrying out the faith because it’s open to everybody, it helps everybody; it doesn’t make may converts Amity would say that it’s not an agency for doing that, but there are some Christian groups that would say that the whole purpose of Christian work is to bring people to Jesus, and this has to be done. In the eyes of such critics, the fact that Amity works the way it does shows that it’s a faith-based organization that doesn’t have much faith, or at least a faith that’s too broadly diffused and so forth.
So these kinds of controversies and other kinds of Christian groups would want a place on China’s table, but then are faced with various kinds of restrictions. And the government and concerned people in China and the West have to try to think about what is the most appropriate way to handle all this in these rapidly changing, evolving circumstances?
To conclude, let me speculate about ways in which, if China can keep on developing in a stable way, it might incorporate faith-based organizations in a dynamic, flexible and democratic, stable, just way.
One model might be Taiwan. I just finished writing a book on this. In Taiwan, there is an enormously vital role played by what we would call faith-based organizations. Most of these aren’t Christian groups – Christianity has sort of declined in Taiwan – but Buddhist and Taoist organizations, especially charity groups like the Ciji Gongdehui – the Ciji Charitable Foundation – which have enormous amounts of assets and do incredible work, internationally as well as in Taiwan, helping the poor and the sick and so forth and so on.
And one thing about these groups is that they have a closer relationship with the government than we would think appropriate. To give you a sense of the way they work, consider the response of Ciji to the terrible earthquake in Taiwan six years ago, a disaster more devastating to Taiwan than, say, Hurricane Katrina was in the USA – 2,500 people killed, hundreds of thousands left homeless and just total social devastation. Ciji did an enormous amount of work raising money for helping the victims and building homes for them, helping the sick, and they’ve also built schools. They’ve built 50 public schools to replace schools that were destroyed by the earthquake.
And these are public schools. Ciji has raised private money to build public schools for the people of Taiwan recovering from the earthquake. The logic is almost exactly the opposite – mirror opposite of the faith-based kind of movement here in the United States, which wants to take public money to help finance private schools and so forth. Ciji is taking private money to help build public schools – public schools with secular textbooks.
And so a group like Ciji, a Buddhist organization, is in fact separate, independent from the government, but there is a close cooperation, which draws upon certain revivals and transformations of traditional Buddhist and Confucian values to kind of create a harmonious society. So Taiwan is developing a kind of a very dynamic kind of social democracy, but it’s different than what we have here, and there are many very positive things about it. I think China in its own way may develop its own form but it will probably be different than we have here but produce some very, very good results nonetheless.
DR. SHAH: Thank you very much, Professor Madsen.
We have about 20 minutes for discussion, and I would like to take the opportunity to begin with the first question, which is for Professor Yang. I wonder whether Professor Yang could give us a little more detailed empirical picture of the existing NGOs that we know about in China. We have heard that there are about 300,000 NGOs registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. What proportion of the registered NGOs are faith-based organizations? Also, in terms of those that are not registered, what proportion of these might be faith-based? What is the proportion between the different religions? What proportion of Protestant versus Catholic versus Taoist, Muslim, Buddhist and so forth?
DR. YANG: Okay, I got some numbers. The numbers on religion in China are not very accurate or reliable, but that’s the best published by the Chinese government, numbers published in 1997, the white paper, “Freedom of Religious Beliefs.” In that white paper it is reported that there are 3,000 religious organizations and I think they are classified in one of the categories by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and these are the associations like the China Christian Council on all levels: the provincial- and county-level councils, and the Catholic Patriotic Association on different levels. But actually it’s really very hard to tell exactly how many of them are included in the Civil Affairs Ministry statistics because they are not separated from the other numbers.
And also in that 1997 white paper it reported that – its own words are that there are more than 85,000 local congregations, or religious sites – temples, mosques and churches. And it actually reported separately for the five religions, and when you add them together it was not more than 85,000; it was 86,100. It’s just – I think even in that paper they tried to downplay the number of religious sites. It’s interesting.
Okay, according to this – about the different religions, it says there are like 13,000 Buddhist temples, over 1,500 Taoist temples, 30,000-odd mosques, more than 4,600 Catholic churches and meeting points -
MR. : Forty-six thousand.
DR. YANG: Forty-six hundred – 4,600 Catholic churches and meeting houses, and more than 12,000 Protestant churches and 25,000-some meeting places. So talking about the local congregations, there are more Protestant churches than the other religious sites.
DR. SHAH: Thank you. David Aikman? I’d like to ask that you identify yourself when you ask your question, and please, if you can, direct your question to a particular person. Thank you.
DAVID AIKMAN: Thank you. My name is David Aikman from Patrick Henry College. This is a question for Mr. Qiu Zhonghui, from the Amity Foundation. Commendations to you for all the good work that your foundation does, and I think I agree with Professor Madsen that your foundation is one of the most effective NGOs in China. However, as many people in this room know, there are millions of Christians in China who want nothing to do with the church authorities in Nanjing, including the Amity Foundation. Partly it’s for theological reasons – they don’t agree with theological reconstruction – and partly it’s because they fear government control.
Nevertheless, many of these independent Christian groups, sometimes known as house churches, are organizing very effective charitable works. They are taking care of old people, they are looking after orphans, and they are trying to deal with poverty at the grassroots in the countryside. My question to you is this: Is the Amity Foundation prepared to acknowledge the existence of Christian groups engaged in charitable work that don’t particularly want to be associated either with the China Christian Council or Amity or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement?
MR. QIU: What you mentioned as “house churches” are now called unregistered churches in China. Amity is an NGO so we do not have the authority to acknowledge or recognize other organizations. Amity is committed to help the poor people. No matter what kinds of groups, as long as they really want to help those who are in need and have no other extra conditions, we would like to cooperate with them.
DR. SHAH: If I may, just as follow up, Mr. Qiu, you mentioned in your presentation that you work with people of all different faith and faith commitments. Do you in fact work with people who participate in house churches or unregistered churches, or are you aware of that if you do?
MR. QIU: In fact we cooperated with some. For example, according to my memory, about eight years ago we worked with some churches – unregistered churches in Anhui Province to rebuild primary schools for flood disaster relief. And also we cooperated with others- here is another example. When we carried out relief projects in Wu Ding County in Yunan Province, we cooperated with local unregistered church. Our cooperation developed very well. At the beginning of our cooperation, some local Christian believers refused to work or do farming instead they waited for what God sends them. Our projects improved their living conditions and encouraged them to participate in agricultural production and community development. Later County Christian Council were founded. I think it’s really good for the local churches and local people.
DR. SHAH: Thank you. Any other questions or comments? Yes, towards the back there.
SERENA LIN: Serena Lin from Georgetown University. I have a question for Professor Yang. Besides the obstacles posed on China’s religious NGOs, as you mentioned, such as bias or neglection, how does the political repression on religious freedom affect the development of FBOs in general?
DR. SHAH: Thank you.
DR. YANG: I would have to say that there is some space of freedom for religious groups to operate. The fact that many so-called underground churches exist – they could exist and operate itself shows the level of freedom. And actually, as far as I know – as far as I can tell, many of the house churches, at least those in the cities, the government bureaus know their existence, but they do not come to stop them unless it looks like getting out of hand.
So, I think, what is important is really that those administrators need to be, I would say, educated and informed. Many of them, I think they are misinformed about religion, about the operation of religious groups, and so, as long as they learn what’s really going on, they may take – that knowledge itself may take away some of their fears of religious groups. I think many of the officials, including those in the Religious Affairs Bureau, are very pragmatic rather than very ideological. So that’s my answer to your question.
By the way, I think the black-white contrast between the Three-Self churches, or government approved churches, and the underground churches is not very accurate. In my fieldwork research, I have found many places, especially in cities, people move back and forth between officially approved churches and house churches. And many leaders of both tracks, they know each other and they could be good friends with each other. So it’s not that black-white contrast.
MR. SHAH: Thank you. Yes, please.
CARL MINZER: Hi, my name is Carl Minzner. I’m with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Let me ask a question for both Professor Yang and Mr. Qiu. To what extent to you notice differences in government treatment between faith-based organizations belonging to different religions? That is to say, differences between treatment of Muslim faith-based organizations and Protestant faith-based organizations, or Buddhist or Taoist faith-based organizations?
DR. SHAH: Thank you. That’s a great question.
DR. YANG: These are tough questions. (Laughter.) As I observe, it looks like there is some kind of affinity between some government officials and Buddhism, at least more so than with other religions, but that’s only based on some observations in distance. I do not have more in-depth research on that, such as interviews about that.
MR. QIU: It’s also difficult for me to answer this question because I have not done the research work. My main work focuses on the social service and developmental work. But according to my understanding, my observation, I don’t think that there is any significant difference among the different religions. For Amity itself, we respect different religions. For example, we have a project called the Amity Teachers Program and every year we hold Amity Teachers Orientation. At last year’s orientation, we invited several leaders of the 5 major religions from Jiangsu Province and give introduction on their own churches and relationships among different religions, which received good feedbacks and appraisal. Another example. Early this year Amity sponsored the workshop on “Religion and Ethics” convened by Catholic-founded Jinde Foundation.
So I think it’s very good for that. Since we hope to build up a peaceful and harmonious society, different religions should equally sit together to discuss and have more communications. Amity will further develop this trend.
DR. SHAH: Yes, please, at the back.
DENNIS WILDER: Yes, I’m Dennis Wilder. I’m with the National Security Council, China director. There have been many articles written recently in China of concern to us about Chinese government taking away from the color revolution, a concern about NGOs, particularly faith-based and others. I wonder if your panel has any views on whether there will be a new chilling effect with the government’s concern about the color revolutions that have occurred and what that effect will be on faith-based organizations in China.
DR. SHAH: Thank you – great question. Would anyone like to take a stab at that? Mr. Madsen?
DR. MADSEN: I was in China a couple of weeks ago and talking to some people involved in these discussions, and there has been in fact a chilling movement going on for about the last six months, and they talk about the color revolutions. They’re trying to develop new frameworks of legal regulation to deal with NGOs, and the net effect of these is to make NGO formations somewhat more restrictive and more supervised. They’re especially concerned about international NGOs and very concerned about international NGOs that have grassroots connections because they think that it was through such kinds of NGOs that some of the agitation that led to these color revolutions took place, and we see these as a potentially subversive thing. And they’re trying to work out regulations and they’re discussing it, and as far as I know they haven’t reached conclusions yet, but they’re going to try to develop something by the end of this year.
DR. SHAH: I’m sorry, who is trying to develop something? The Ministry of Civil Affairs?
DR. MADSEN: The Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Communist Party, the Political Consultative Congress – you know, parties who work in government?
DR. SHAH: That is, a more coherent regulatory scheme -
DR. MADSEN: Yes.
DR. SHAH: Well, I think that is all the time we have. It’s just about exactly 12:30, and there is now lunch and a keynote address. Please join me in thanking our outstanding panel.
(End of Panel II.)