Chinese quake survivors finding religion
The Communist party is for the moment allowing displays of religious devotion given the magnitude of suffering but they are worried about social control.
The Buddhist Association of China held a large-scale service for those who were killed or displaced by the earthquake on May 14, two days after the disaster occurred, at Guangji Temple in Beijing, and also organized a Sutra-reciting prayer ceremony five days later.
Yonghegong Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing, also held a prayer service to wish victims an easy passage to eternity.
Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean newspaper, reported that all kinds of religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Christians, Muslims and Taoists, are stepping forward and hold large-scale gatherings for the spirits of the victims.
A poll of 4,500 Chinese men and women aged 16 and older conducted by a professor at Huadong Teachers` University in Shanghai in 2005 revealed that the number of believers in the country is estimated to be around 300 million, almost triple the government figure.
Experts say that such an explosive increase in religious population, which stood at just 20 to 30 million before the 1978 market opening of the country, is caused by the increasing number of people feeling a sense of uncertainty about their future in the market economy, different from the planned economy, which had guaranteed basic livelihoods for them. Another reason is believed to be the increasing gap in income and wealth among people.
Furthermore, there are circulating rumors that “a disaster comes on the day that the sum of month and date equals eight, as in the case with the bloody protest for independence of Tibet on March 14 and the Sichuan earthquake on May 12” or that “a massive flood will come next.” These rumors are also prompting people worried about their safety to seek religious facilities.
Still, there are also reports that various government agencies are cracking down on religious organizations in the lead up to the Olympic games.
Also covered in the report is the disturbing news that Christians have been arrested and fined for seeking to help the victims of the tragic earthquake in Sichuan Province.
As the Olympics draw closer, sources have recently reported that the Ministry of Public Security has received funding from the Chinese Central Government to increase its campaign of eradicating house churches throughout China. Among the tactics used to restrict religious believers is the targeting of multiple well-established churches in Beijing last month, directives to landlords to refrain from renting to those engaging in religious activities and controls to prevent those engaged in "illegal" religious activities from participating in or attending the Games.
Alongside these specific measures, the report highlights the disturbing trend of increasing persecution of China's unregistered Christians in the run up to the Olympics, including the use of separatism charges against Christians in Xinjiang, a level of expulsion of foreign Christians not seen since the 1950s, the largest mass sentencing of house church leaders in 25 years and targeted repression of the Chinese House Church Alliance.