How China Got Religion – Slavoj Zizek
Slovenia’s favorite philosophical son turns his iconoclastic eye on the Chinese government’s much-discussed new rule that puts management of Buddhist reincarnation in officials’ hands. From the New York Times’ Op-Ed page:
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Chinese government is not antireligious. Its stated worry is social “harmony” ” the political dimension of religion. In order to curb the excess of social disintegration caused by the capitalist explosion, officials now celebrate religions that sustain social stability, from Buddhism to Confucianism ” the very ideologies that were the target of the Cultural Revolution. Last year, Ye Xiaowen, China’s top religious official, told Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, that “religion is one of the important forces from which China draws strength,” and he singled out Buddhism for its “unique role in promoting a harmonious society.”
What bothers Chinese authorities are sects like Falun Gong that insist on independence from state control. In the same vein, the problem with Tibetan Buddhism resides in an obvious fact that many Western enthusiasts conveniently forget: the traditional political structure of Tibet is theocracy, with the Dalai Lama at the center. He unites religious and secular power ” so when we are talking about the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, we are taking about choosing a head of state. It is strange to hear self-described democracy advocates who denounce Chinese persecution of followers of the Dalai Lama ” a non-democratically elected leader if there ever was one. [Full Text]
Slavoj Zizek is a professor of philosophy at the University of Ljubljana and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.