"Do you believe in God?": How religion surprised me in Zhengzhou, China | Speaking of China

27 Responses

  1. Adam Daniel Mezei
    Adam Daniel Mezei November 1, 2009 at 1:30 pm | | Reply

    I’m going to crank the discussion off with a query of my own:

    | Do you readers sense or discern a genuine affinity between Chinese people and Jewish people? |

    While I may be able to cite several key similarities between the two ancient peoples, perhaps your readers can list reasons of their own for feeling the way they do?

    Peter Hessler spoke about this at length in his seminal book, RIVER TOWN, and I was just curious what your readership thought about the matter.

    I’ll be coming back to check and see how the discussion is percolating…

  2. Adam Daniel Mezei
    Adam Daniel Mezei November 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm | | Reply

    And a good film you might be keen on checking out about prosthelytizing in China is the dGenerate Film’s distributed RAISED FROM DUST: http://dgeneratefilms.com/catalog/raised-from-dust-ju-zi-chen-tu/

  3. Mei
    Mei November 1, 2009 at 6:20 pm | | Reply

    Jocelyn, hope you are doing well. I am visiting china for a short period of time till Nov 7.

    Buddhism and Taosim are the essence of Chinese culture. They are remerging after Culture revolution and captalism. I have participated in walking meditation a few times when I visited Buddhist temples. Very beautiful and touching. Yes, most of participants are older generations, but there are also younger people. I feel at home with them.

    Most of people are practicing pure land buddhism in China, which uses lots of chanting and walking meditation. Nevertherless, Chinese culture is so closely linked to Zen. I am looking forward to read your future articles on Zen, which is a losting art in China now.



  4. Momo
    Momo November 1, 2009 at 8:46 pm | | Reply

    Although most of the friends around me name themselves as “atheists”, there are some young Buddhists too. They never kill any life on purpose (even mosquitos), they go to the temples to pray every month, and some of them read a lot of books about the Buddist.
    Last year, I went to Mao Mountain for a travelling. The mountain is located in Qingdao, Shandong Province and famous as the Holy Land of the Taoism. When i was there, i saw Taoist everywhere and it seemed they were living a life of simplicity. However when our guide introduced me to a self-assumed “famous Taoist”, I was disappointed. He led me to a small room, which I reckoned as his office, and asked me to pick a draw from his bamboo box. I did and handled him my stick. He acted as very very surprised and said “You lucky girl, this is a great draw!” After explained the cryptic meaning of the draw, he started to make his price:“You’d better pay for your good luck to keep it. Our Taoism like 3, 6 and 9, so you can pay by the multiple of the three numbers, like 30, 60, 90 or more, and if you dont pay, you will…” …It was totally unexcepted. I mean, it’s much like a trap or rip-off. Of course i didnt pay for my “good-luck”, and he was a little bit mad and thought i was “stingy”. Funny eh
    That’s just an example. I do believe that there are many loyal religious believers here in China, but meanwhile, there are also some people who declare they are faithful to religions, but their actions illustrated only the opposite.

  5. Roadblock
    Roadblock November 2, 2009 at 8:52 am | | Reply

    Fundamentalist buddhism is not a theist religion, is it? For any serious buddhist, there is absolutely no such thing as a creator. Buddha is no god, but a philosopher and a teacher. So one can easily be both a buddhist and an atheist, no problem at all. But it would cause a real contradiction if one is a monotheist buddhist.

  6. David Livermore
    David Livermore November 2, 2009 at 10:58 am | | Reply

    Thanks for this great post Jocelyn. I’m struck by how increasingly dangerous it is to sterotype an individual’s religious identity in light of his/her national culture. Yet even those of us who deny the dominant religious orientation of our cultures are profoundly shaped by them (e.g. I’m interested in the parallels between Protestantism’s emphasis upon a work ethic vis a vis individualism and capitalism). I could go on and on but mostly wanted to thank you for your thoughtful reflections!

  7. ellis
    ellis November 4, 2009 at 5:46 am | | Reply

    Some of my (Chinese college) students are Christian. One of them invited me out to lunch one day, and while we were waiting for his friends, he asked if I was Christian. I said no, and he asked what my religion was. (I don’t have much of an answer, I guess more Jewish than anything, but my family never went to temple.) I’ve had some Americans really push me on that point, but he just left it alone. Later, as we were about to eat, his friend asked, “Do you pray?” I got really flustered and said no, so the three of them went ahead and said a prayer before they ate. I think being Christian in China, especially openly so, takes a lot of cajones. These students were saying how much they admired their leader, who had given up his job, his family, and his money to be a Christian leader.
    As for Buddhism, I don’t know too much about the religion itself, and I don’t really hear people talk about it much either. They talk about going to temples and making offerings every so often for luck and prosperity, but I don’t hear a lot beyond that.

  8. stan
    stan November 17, 2009 at 1:25 am | | Reply

    I have no experience on religion in China except that my mother felt recently into buddhism (and indeed became vegetarian). But I can tell about Japan which presents many similarities with China (marxism not included 😉 )
    Most Japanese go to temple or shrine for prayers and many will have shinto ceremonial for birth and most will have buddhist ceremonial at funeral. Many Japanese will marry in Christian church. But are they believers ? I don’t think so.

    I feel that religion there is much a matter of culture and rituals than some kind of devotion as we know in Western countries.

    I would add that even many Chinese would claim being atheists (eesentially because of lack of religious education), I’m sure they are pretty superstitious though.

  9. VicSion
    VicSion December 24, 2009 at 3:21 am | | Reply

    I’m a native Chinese, born in Henan province. I became a Christian (not catholic) in 2003 when I was in collage in Wuhan, after 2005 I further studied in Guilin for another 3 years. During these school times, I attended family church fellowships as well as three self churches.

    I should say that in recent years, Christianity is much more popular than other religions among collage students especially when they are studying in a higher degree. Today china’s universities are becoming more and more corruption, most teachers are not focusing to academic studies and care less about their students moral and mind; also most parents of this generation are unable to educate their children because they missed collage education when culture revolution.

    When the government and family fail to educate the students, the Christian fellowships give them what they want. They have energy and want to change the corruption world, and the faith gives them vision; they need study more and know more, and in weekly fellowship they have talks with different major background; they need be loved and understand, and in fellowship they help each other……

    To me, Taoism and Buddhism are more like superstition, they focus more on meditation rather than communication, and they care less about the social system; for Maxims, my father teaches Maxims in collage for 25 years, I know it is for bureaucracy system, it is just a slogan, nobody really believe communism in their bottom heart, even my father.

  10. VicSion
    VicSion December 26, 2009 at 8:48 pm | | Reply


  11. Man W
    Man W January 17, 2010 at 8:56 pm | | Reply

    To VicSion,

    I disagree with your perception of Buddhism and Taoism being mere superstition. If this is the case, so is Christianity and Islam. In fact, Buddhism can be much more secular than the monotheistic religions. Faith in itself is the ultimate superstition, just because the Christian religion originated in the west (middle east to be exact) does not make it’s practitioners less “superstitious”. Case in point: A friend of mine teaches qigong for heath, and they are Christian students who sincerely believe Satan will enter their minds through the breathing process. The “solution” was to say “Jesus Christ” through the meditation. If this is not superstition, I don’t know what is.

    As for trying to change social order through faith, well, China has had a basically secular form of administration for centuries. Although the Emperor had the “Mandate of Heaven”, the entire administration of the Chinese dynasties have always been much more secular compared with the kingdoms of Europe. The Chinese government today is even more secular to say the least.

    I personally have no problems with secular governments. In fact, I think politics and religions ought to stay separate. I can give you a long list of non-corrupt secular administrations in the world, so please do not try to argue that Chinese authorities are corrupt because they do not believe in God. FYI, corruption was rampant in the Churches of the Middle Ages. The problem is absolute power, not religion (or the lack of it).

    Perhaps Christianity is catching on the China due to disillusionment with society, but as Yangxifu will know, the reverse is true of the western world. Many westerners are turning away from the religion of their childhood in pursuit of Eastern religions. In fact, I have met a lot of westerners with more enlightened views of Buddhism than my grandmother who have gone to the temple all her life.

    The key to understanding is through study, something that a lot of the older generations do not do a lot of. But how can they? My grandma is illiterate. If I only look at Buddhism the way grandma practices it, then yes, it’ll look like archaic superstitious rituals. Look deeper though, and this Eastern religion is full of wisdom and rich in life lessons.

    I’m not going to bore you any more on Buddhism, coz your cup is full. I just like to say that it is fine for you to pursue your faith, but please do not cast aspersions on other faiths in such a casual manner.


  12. Junjie
    Junjie January 26, 2010 at 11:45 am | | Reply

    My default answer is: I believe in myself. I don’t like to depend on the mood of some omnipresent superpotent ghost.

  13. thelordismyshepherd
    thelordismyshepherd January 28, 2010 at 6:38 am | | Reply

    I also believe in Christianity(Protestantism) and was baptized in a house church when I was in college. Whenever I meet foreigners, especially those from the West, I am impulsed to ask them if they are Christians, for it is such a joyful thing to find brothers and sisters in this nation dominated by non-believers.

  14. VicSion
    VicSion January 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm | | Reply

    Dear Ming:
    I am very sorry for my word that may give aspersions on other faiths. It’s good for you to have the experiences to talk with a lot of westerners with more enlightened views of Buddhism—which I never had, even with Chinese, so forgive me.

    When I say “To me, Taoism and Buddhism are more like superstition”, I mean a lot on my experience. But I do not against the people who have faith like many Christians. And even I am discontentment about the government; I still agree with u that it’s dangerous to have a state religion.

    And I do believe that the government problem at last is the problem of each people living in this country.

    It’s good for every one to find a place to rest his/her soul, so dose this country, isn’t it?

  15. VicSion
    VicSion January 28, 2010 at 10:13 pm | | Reply

    sorry, My former reply is to “Man W”.

    ps: I’d like to share another interesting story about my father, who teaches Marxism in collage, also a part-time teacher of local Party School. Once we were discussing on the social function of religions. He didn’t agree with me that PRCchina is a theocracy country, and I argued that he is more like a Father or Priest, and his department and the local Party School is playing a role like theological Seminaries……

  16. Laura
    Laura January 28, 2010 at 11:53 pm | | Reply

    We were just having the discussion tonight at dinner, before I read this. My husband who is a Christian says that there are no true atheists in China. He was saying that even before he became a Christian, he believed there must be some organizing power out somewhere because of all he had seen and experienced. The people who call themselves atheist usually are very superstitious, they believe is spirits, ghosts and will go to temples and make offerings. He said even Jiang Zemin would make offerings at temples when ever he could.
    I am not Chinese and its hard to say any absolute statements about the hearts of people. One thing I found to be true among Chinese Christians is that they are truly dedicated to helping one another and others. I don’t know if its because they face persecution or demotion for being Christian, so it kicks the nominal Christians out. But you really see them working hard. Many that I have met are taking care of disabled orphan kids in their homes and helping neighbors whenever they can. It was a truly refreshing to me that they have really good hearts, the world has become a cynical place. With China taking off economically, most are so focused on making money and how to cheat or swindle money to increase their profits, I hope more do embrace the Christian faith more.

  17. Friend
    Friend January 29, 2010 at 11:16 pm | | Reply

    You’re right about Laotianye being quite vague but real to many people’s minds. I’ve heard of several theories by scholars and non-academic realms, so far there’s no dogmatic definition. In my opinion, if any type of non-Abrahamic monotheistic faith emerges from the Chinese world, it will be center around this figure. The Christians have tried it with Shang-di.

    Hopefully, given the location, history and magnitude of China, the people there can be more free in exploring many different religions rather than just the status quo of Islam, Christianity or Buddhism, etc.

  18. KMarie
    KMarie May 7, 2010 at 5:33 pm | | Reply

    I am an American woman with a daughter born in China. I consider myself a Buddhist, I was raised a Christian and still believe some of it too.. We attend a Chinese Christian Church for Chinese School and I have Buddhas in my home which I consider very spiritual… not as decorations. I am a Guanyin follower. My daughter attended Hebrew Jewish preschool where she learned all the Hebrew songs in the temple and loved them.
    Why do we have to decide?

  19. John - Trust God
    John - Trust God August 28, 2010 at 8:41 am | | Reply

    I believe in God and what is written in the Bible. I have found a lot of truth in the scriptures, especially where it talks about one true religion and it basically says to “Love One Another” and be uncontaminated from the world. I believe that it all comes down to where are heart is and what we practice on a daily basis. Are we living for worldly things that are only temporary or are we giving of ourselves in trying to show love towards our fellowman? Love is creation and Hate is destruction. God Bless Us All

  20. Michael
    Michael September 14, 2011 at 2:44 am | | Reply

    I’m teaching in Zhengzhou right now (English). I had someone approach me after getting off of a bus. They didn’t speak English but the Chinese girl with me told me that they asked, “Do you believe in Jesus?” I said, “Yes.” I mean do I believe that he lived? Yes. Do I believe in his teachings? Yes. Do I believe in an exported evangelical concept of ‘do this or you’ll go to hell’? No. Do I believe that everyone that doesn’t do what evangelical religion says will ‘go to hell?’ No. Do I believe in hell? Yes. Its in Africa where millions are starving to death and dying from disease and hunger. Do I believe in an ‘after life place’ called ‘hell’? No. Do I meditate daily? Yes. Do I pray? Yes. I mean, I’m not sure what they’re asking me. (And I WAS an ordained minister for many years. Just not of the hellfire, turn or burn, persuasion.)

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