The religious growth that China currently experiences is leading towards a most interesting trend: the organization of faith-based charities. For sure, such trend is still hampered by a number of factors, but it does express the growing assertiveness of China’s civil society and of its religious groups.
Religious charities are anchored into Chinese history. Confucian lineages were providing funds for public work and education. For a long time, Buddhist lay associations had been helping the poor and organizing disaster relief. Popular religion was structured as a network of solidarity. After the introduction of Christianity in China, the new religion made itself known through hospitals, orphanages and schools. For sure, it all went to a stop after 1949, when new regulations on religion were put step by step into effect. But the religious revival happening in China from the 80s on could not go without a new focus on charitable and social work. Buddhists have been looking at the success of the “Buddhism-in-this-world” approach in Taiwan – an approach first theorized in the Mainland during the Republican era. Christians, Protestant and Catholics alike, have been remembering the dynamism of Church-affiliated social services in the past, and have been inspired by examples from abroad. Taoism and popular religion are inseparable from the self-structuring of civil society on the basis of mutual support and local initiative.
- Benoit Vermander
Religions and Charities in China