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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Rethinking “Sinicization” of Religions: New Perspectives from Late-Imperial to Contemporary China
3: Standardization, Bureaucratization and Convergence: The Transformation of Governance of Religion in Urbanizing China
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
Independent Scholar, United States
In recent years, the Chinese government has been promoting so-called sinicization of religions (zongjiao zhongguohua). This “sinicization” agenda, however, is far removed from adaptation to traditional Chinese culture as one usually understands. It seems to be just a thinly veiled political engineering to remold the religious sector to conform to the rule and control of the CCP. In this vain, sinicization is part of and better understood in a broader secularizing project to redefine “what religion is and what religion should do,” which is what this study attempts to explore.
This research explores the paradigm shift in the governance of religion amid China’s massive urbanization. Clashes between state urbanization projects and religious communities have increasingly come to the forefront of public attention lately. The recent urban development programs in Zhejiang are an example of this. As the campaigns made churches into a prominent target, they sparked concerns that the government was targeting Christianity to constrain its growing influence. As this study demonstrates, however, the ongoing transformation in modalities of religious control in conjunction with urbanization, has had effects far beyond a specific religion or religious property issues. This study highlights broader transitions in the ways religion is governed, and to reflect on how these should be understood alongside the government’s broader social and political agendas. Governance of religion in China today, I argue, represents a critical departure from twentieth-century Chinese secularism, and will have a far-reaching impact on religious life.