From Caixin, a translated interview about the moral state of Chinese society, the religious market in China, and the commercialization, vulgarization and voodooization of religion written by Yang Fenggang, professor of sociology and director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University.
I don’t actually agree with a lot of what he says – both in fundamentals and particulars – but it’s interesting to read an outsider’s take on Americans and American society, and I found the bit quoted below particularly interesting for the way he distinguishes external (Chinese ‘face’ concerns) and internal (“religious faith”) motivators for acting ethically and morally in a modern, urban context.
The Problem with Chinese Religions: Vulgarization and Voodooization
I don’t think all religions have positive impacts on social morality. But … Why does modern society seems more than ever need religious faith? Because modern society has turned society to be strangers society. … So, this is the real problem: in a “strangers society,” losing face is no longer a big concern in most people’s life most of the time. People can only be moral out of their own consciences. But where does this sense of conscience come from? Religious faith. When you don’t have a faith, you may say to yourself that ‘I want to be a good person, do good things,’ but very often people tend to give up halfway, especially when you encounter sticky problems and when the conflict of interest is very severe. It is usually human nature to think for self-benefit, thus, only with firm faith can we be moral and ethical. As China is developing rapidly, China needs a basis of faith to greatly improve its ethics and morality.
A recent commenter noted that in China people assume a legitimate moral double-standard between insiders and outsiders (the degree of perceived moral obligation to each is drastically different). Another culture reading I’m in the middle of right now talks about Chinese culture’s honour/shame orientation, how those are moral categories in China, and how “individuals do not exist apart from a web of relationships”. So several things I’ve come across at the same time are talking about how Chinese communalism and the relatively bright insider/outsider distinction plays out morally. And all that ties into the larger on-going discussion surrounding “Good Samaritans” in China — a topic recently big in the news but one on which I’ve been writing for a while.
Morality — the lack of it, actually — is a hot topic in China right now. So here’s some more about Mainland China’s moral collision with its post-Reform and Opening modern society:
- “Mao’s Great Famine” and China’s moral landscape
- Prostitution in Tianjin, China — anecdotes, STD vocab, and how one group of local women is fighting back
- The Good Samaritan with Chinese characteristics (Pt.1): examples
- The Good Samaritan with Chinese characteristics (Pt.2): explanations, excuses, & scapegoats
- “Painless”, “cozy”, “cheerful”, “3-minute”, “sweet dream” abortions in Tianjin, China
- Lying, “Lying” and Mainland China