Monday, June 27, 2011

China, Church, and Censorship

[Written ~4 days ago, losing track of the days]

Apparently, I was pretty clueless when it came to what you can and can’t do as a Christian in China. I went an entire semester taking a course on Christian Chinese literature completely oblivious to the current policy on religion. Nonetheless, I knew a couple friends who had regularly gone to international churches in Beijing, so I blew away my dad’s warnings about hiding my Bible and other overdone precautions. Although proselytization would be pushing it, most foreigners in China seem to have no trouble going to authorized churches and holding small groups elsewhere. The government also seems to accommodate foreign Christians, anything to increase China’s globalism.

There are, however, small signs of the government’s hostility to Christianity – for one, I had to show a foreign ID at the door, the services were held in a hotel since no one can “build” a church building, and a couple nights ago, my VPN-less Internet blocked off the Wiki entry on Chinese house churches. The church I’ve been going to, Beijing International Christian Fellowship, is also called a “fellowship” since technically, it can’t operate as a “church”. The congregation at BICF is also mostly made up of expats – only Chinese nationals who have foreign IDs from studying abroad can enter. As for Chinese Christians without one, their options are either government-registered churches or the infamous house churches (underground church). So basically, if you’re a foreigner, feel free to be a Christian in China.

Ugh, sorry I just gave you a drawn out lecture on the condition of Christianity here. Just began thinking a lot about religion in China after my individual session today with a teacher who was a Christian from Taiwan – we had a pretty interesting conversation about Christianity in East Asia and religion in general. Of course, with a year’s worth of vocab, I can’t say much past “Um, the meaning of ‘religion’ in America and ‘religion’ in China … uhhhh, are VERY different”, but along with the words we cram in class and use in everyday life, I get to pick up a new set of words dealing with religion the more I dive into it.

Below: Pics of Summer Palace - if I was the emperor, I would forget the Forbidden City. 

Um, which way?

Tower of Buddhist Incense

  Suizhou Street
As for other religions, I’ve seen a lot of sacred places overrun by tourism – but then again, this is everywhere. I’ve only been to the most famous temples, so I want to check out some of the smaller ones – don’t know if I’m not looking hard enough or if it’s just Beijing, but it seems like the “temple on every corner” phenomenon in Asia doesn’t apply here. At the ones I’ve been to, people still clasp their hands together and bow before the Buddha figure, but you wonder if they’re really Buddhists or doing it for luck (especially if they’re tourists too).

I wonder if the Chinese have strong feelings, if not for religion, for spirituality. Either way, I'm starting to accept Confucianism as a system of principles more so than a "religion". I've already had three individual sessions where the teacher would give me a puzzled look after I tried describing Confucianism as a religion. But what defines spirituality and religion, especially on the other side of the world? Are we too quick to label temple visits and prayers without adhering to a said religion as nonreligious? I think, a lot of times, I judge too quickly.

Haha too many rhetorical questions. To give you a break (and also because you can probably tell right now that I am super frustrated about my VPN-deprived state), here’s a list of other blocked sites I’ve found in China:
Central Tibet Administration and various other sites on Tibet (well, this is a given)
List of blocked websites – what, I can’t even check what sites I can’t enter?
The usual – social networking sites, Blogger, Google (only occasionally drops sometimes especially when I use controversial key words)

This isn’t blocked, but I thought it was cool – Chinese-English anagrams

 Peking opera - you can get here one day if you can sing, dance, juggle, sword-fight, you get the picture...

UPDATE: As a religious studies major, I could talk all day about - what else - religion. But I've realized that whether or not people are "religious", people are always curious when they say you're a religious studies major. I'm lucky to say I study a field at which people raise their eyebrows and start asking questions. This is after an exhausting (but awesome) 2-hour conversation with a HBA teacher about the differences between Christianity/Buddhism, Catholicism/Protestantism, etc. (which is hard enough as it is in English!)

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jglc said...

Word. Confucianism is a very interesting thing. Have you read the Analects in class?

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