THE dominant political narrative in China today is one of resounding triumph: targets for economic growth achieved, rival countries overtaken, an Olympics successfully hosted. Yet in the telling of a philosophy professor at a prominent Shanghai university, many of these supposed victories have proven hollow for the Chinese people.
“On the surface we’ve achieved the goals, but no one is happy,” the professor, who goes by the English name Luke, told The WorldPost. “There’s no love, no hope. For more than 100 years we Chinese have been trying to catch up with Western countries. We want science, technology and military power. But the most important thing is the soul of the culture. The mind is based on the soul, and we’ve lost our souls.”
Luke, who asked that his Chinese name not be used because he worships in one of China’s many illegal underground churches, isn’t alone in his concern for the state of the country’s soul. As a convert to Christianity, he is one of a growing number of Chinese who are turning to a variety of faiths as they grapple with what they say is a gaping moral abyss in society.
“People today are afraid of showing ×love, afraid of being laughed at by other people,” Luke lamented. “That spells the end of society.”
China’s Christian population has been expanding at rates that rival its awe-inspiring GDP growth, with one scholar predicting that by 2030 China will be home to more Christians than any other country on earth. Many Chinese are also seeking solace in traditional belief systems such as Buddhism and Confucianism, in what they describe as a reaction to China’s transformation from a poor agricultural society to an urban-industrial powerhouse. Yet others have found spiritual comfort in a return to Communist ideology and view Mao Zedong, former chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, as a savior who will help them revive communal bonds.
“Many people perceive a moral and spiritual crisis in China today,” wrote the editors of the Review of Religion and Chinese Society, a new academic journal dissecting China’s religious revival. “The foundation of a better future for China is believed by many people to be a spiritual renewal.”
The Cultural Revolution robbed China of a decade of development, demonized traditional Chinese religious practices — and, in the process, discredited Maoism for millions. Since then, 35 years of economic reform have more than quintupled both rural and urban income levels. But China and its people are currently at the “lowest of lows,” according to Luke.
Asked to identify the low point for Chinese society, Luke and many other Chinese point to Oct. 13, 2011. That was the day Wang Yue, the 2-year-old daughter of migrant shopkeepers in southern China, wandered into an alley behind her father’s store and was run over by two vehicles. For seven minutes she lay crying and bleeding in the street as 18 pedestrians, one by one, delicately made their way around her body without doing anything to help. It wasn’t until a woman scavenging for trash came upon her mangled body that Wang was taken to a hospital, where she died eight days later.
The entire event was captured on closed-circuit television, and this bone-chilling display of indifference to human suffering was the second most viewed video of the year in China. What became known as the “little Yue Yue incident” stirred up a wave of soul-searching and hand-wringing among Chinese people, and strengthened Luke’s conviction that China needs God’s grace.