Chinese Religious Citizenship: A Comparative Study of Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian Religious academies in Republican China

CGS Brown Bag Lecture Series
Oct 18, 2017
12:15 PM to 01:15 PM
157 Burrowes

Bin Chen, Penn State

Bin Chen's talk seeks to present Chinese the main argument of his dissertation. In twentieth-century China, Republican regimes and ruling elites largely excluded religion from their visions of modern China. The state and elites considered citizens of Republican China as a group of “new people” who were fully committed to modernity and free from “backward” superstitions or belief. However, the concept of citizenship was open to debate. While the state and elites did not include religion in their visions of modern citizens, the religious institutions responded through religious academies. In these academies, religious institutions constructed religious citizenship. They nurtured a new group of students who unquestionably defined themselves as members of modern China yet their markers of citizenship were inevitably connected to religion.

Different religious academies constructed religious citizenship differently. Buddhist academies were firmly adherent to the political rhetoric of Republican regimes. Buddhism academies and their students presented themselves as preservers of essential Chinese culture. They argued that Republican regimes should patronize Buddhism and Buddhism was useful for nation-building, including nurturing “citizens.” The Islamic academies, in particular, the Chengda Teachers’ Academy, incorporated citizenship with Islamic religious practices. They argued that to be a good citizen was crucial for a Hui to be a good Muslim. Christian academies, like the Suzhou Yates Academy, presented the Christian education as the ideal education for citizens. Students who graduated from Yates might not be converts, but their understandings of citizenship were deeply influenced by Christian civic ethics: good citizens should break away from China’s superstitious past, arm themselves with scientific knowledge, and actively engage in sports and public affairs.

Bin Chen is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the Penn State University. He is currently working on a dissertation that compares Islamic, Buddhist, and Christian religious academies and their interactions with the broader society. The dissertation seeks to alter our understanding of China’s modernization, arguing that the modernization process in modern China was inextricably linked with religious institutions.

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