Post 5: The Religious Question in Modern China

Chapter Four of The Religious Question in Modern China focuses on the effects of a tumultuous period of modernization of China. Two main focuses of the era were “redemptive societies” which conformed to the Christian model of religion (despite being inherently Confucian, Buddhist, or Taoist) and the secularization of tradition by preserving the “national essence”. Through my reading, I found that these attempts to “preserve” Chinese culture ultimately resulted in a perverse conglomeration of new and old.

Throughout our studies thus far, I’ve noticed that the influence of Western culture and religion in China often resulted in syncretism, which played a large role in the changing religious dynamic. For example, spirit writing societies purportedly received revelations from Leo Tolstoy, George Washington, Muhammad, and Jesus alongside the more traditionally recognized figures Laozi, Confucius, and Buddha. In addition, other aspects I found interesting were the establishment of spiritual healing and Lingxue (the study of spirits) as “sciences”.

The secularization of tradition also resulted in yet another instance of pseudo-academic practices when it came to traditional Chinese medicine. In order to maintain this “cultural heritage,” TCM underwent a significant overhaul in order to “scientize” traditional remedies.

The contrast between traditional Chinese practices and Western tradition just seems so large that any meaningful transition from one to the other would certainly result in a significantly distinct medley of ideas and traditions. However, the results of syncretism in China still seem rather abnormal, or at least unprecedented, to me.

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