While the Communist Party has long-excluded religion from its vision for China, some Chinese officials and common people still hold on to rather feudal beliefs. The well-known author, Yu Hua, tells stories on the New York Times:
A district chief in a southern Chinese city told me this story: Heavy rains had triggered a flood that swept away over a thousand graves, affecting more than 10,000 people. The Chinese have a deep-seated belief that the state of one’s ancestors’ graves determines one’s own fate. To accommodate urbanization, these thousand-odd graves, originally dispersed over a variety of locations, had been shifted and placed next to one another — a process that was itself contradictory, because according to tradition, graves are not to be moved, lest later generations suffer some calamity.
[…] Instead of mobilizing the police, however, the canny district chief summoned a dozen or so practitioners of feng shui. They calmed the protesters, assuring them that when the graves were swept away it signified a fortune in the making. As folk wisdom has it, water is wealth — and an encounter with water means you will get rich. The protesters didn’t trust the government, but they did trust the feng shui masters.
Here’s another story, told to me by a former county official in Hunan Province, in central China. Consignments of timber, concrete and reinforcing rods were piled on a vacant lot to prepare for the building of a government office block. Every evening, local residents would sneak over and help themselves to construction materials, planning to use them for their own projects. In their eyes, stealing property from the government didn’t count as theft, unlike, say, stealing from your neighbor. County officials proposed security measures: a perimeter wall topped by an electrified fence, and regular police patrols.
No need for any of that, the county leader told them. His solution: wooden signs posted on all four sides. “For temple construction,” the signs read. This did the trick: when the locals saw that the timber, steel and concrete were going to be used to build a Buddhist temple, not only did they stop their pilfering, but under cover of darkness they even returned the loot they had carted home. Theft of temple property, superstition told them, would incur terrible retribution.