September 2, 2004


Move Over, Confucius: A review of Jesus in Beijing by David Aikman (Joshua Kurlantzick, The New Republic)

On a visit to China several years ago, I happened to be in Shanghai after Jiang Zemin announced his theory on how the ruling party should update its ideology, so that Chinese communism would come to represent not only workers but also the country's history, culture, and most productive economic (read: capitalist) forces. This mind-numbingly boring theory, which Jiang called "The Three Represents," dominated discussion at party meetings in Beijing. So I spent my time in Shanghai chatting with acquaintances about the Three Represents. Shanghai has always been China's most urbane city, so surely its intellectuals would be feverishly arguing about Jiang's ideas.

But the professors had almost no interest in Jiang's theories. At the city's markets, where sellers have encyclopedic knowledge of bad Chinese action films, reporters found that no one seemed to have heard of the Three Represents. At Shanghai's newest and hippest watering hole -- Starbucks -- Chinese yuppies' conversation revolved around business deals and new clothes. And only a few blocks from Starbucks, average Shanghainese were paying rapt attention to another theory -- actually, a set of imported theories. When
I walked into a small structure near Nanjing Lu, a main shopping street, I saw hundreds of Chinese sitting in rows, listening to a man exhorting everyone to love one another, to create grassroots networks, to give themselves over to a power uncontrolled by the party. The audience listened raptly.

This scene was hardly unique. In the past decade, millions of Chinese have sought community, philosophy, and spiritual comfort outside the confines of communist ideology and their immediate families. In the first half of its reign, the Chinese Communist Party destroyed the institutions that had undergirded China's society for millennia, replacing them with Mao Zedong's all-destroying
totalitarian ideology; and in the second half of its reign, the CCP embraced the very offense with which the chairman used to charge his worst enemies. But capitalism is not a political ideology, and money offers no theories on the nature of man, nor thoughts on death, nor ideas of how to organize a society. The party has scrambled to devise an alternative mass ideology based in part on Chinese nationalism; but judging by the response to the Three Represents, it is not exactly thrilling the population. Instead, average Chinese are desperately seeking an ideology even as Beijing has repressed many of those secular actors -- liberal democrats, trade unions, non-governmental organizations -- who might have provided alternatives to Marxism or the state's new cult of money.

For this reason, many Chinese are looking beyond secular civil society. Across the country, the old opiate of the people has returned, and the masses are mainlining it. China is in the early stages of its own Great Awakening. In fact, the greatest threat to Beijing today may not be George W. Bush or Chen Shui-bian or the Dalai Lama or Harry Wu, but rather an old, old figure who has played a role before in the collapse of venal Chinese regimes. I am referring to Jesus Christ.

Well, they got the Three part right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 2, 2004 10:39 AM

Suddenly you're a Trinitarian? I understood you were not.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 4, 2004 3:24 PM

Of course.

Posted by: oj at September 4, 2004 5:36 PM