The Future of Religion in China

"What is Christianity in China today? To some, a regeneration. To some, a newer and better doctrine. To some, merely one faith among many. To some, one more insidious Western influence. But to all, the fruit and symbol of a civilization."

Here, then, are the religions that are struggling for the spiritual allegiance of the Chinese. The Japanese demand in 1915 of the right to send missionaries may foreshadow the entry of another element, but it is doubtful if any effort with Japanese support stands a chance for favor. What lies ahead?

I am convinced that Confucianism will live on – the philosophy of the Chinese. It is a wonderful philosophy, and much better adapted to the practical working out of a Kingdom of Heaven on earth than most of the philosophy that has come from the so-called Christian lands. It is materialistic, to be sure, but its materialism is enlightened, and can easily be ‘fulfilled’ by the elements which Christianity offers.

There need be no bitter conflict between Christianity and Confucianism. The rites which seek to deify the Great Sage, which seek to transform a philosophy into a religion, are an excrescence, the result of the demand of the human soul for an object of worship. With the spiritual need satisfied elsewhere, Confucianism can, and will, become what its founder intended that it should be, the system of thought by which the Chinese orders the affairs of his daily life. The teachings which do not conform to the demands of the present – and no system can stand with. out change for twenty-five centuries – will be modified by the words if later disciples. And a century hence the Chinese leader will be as proud or being the offspring of a race that has nurtured a Confucius as of being the disciple of that other Master.

Many Christians have been deeply disturbed over the question of ancestor worship, which is one of the popular rites connected with the Confucian system. There is no question that ancestor-worship has led to abuses, just as has the adoration of the saints. But it is a restricted vision which does not see behind ancestor-worship a feature of Chinese life which has contributed mightily to the stability of these centuries, and is therefore in its essentials to be conserved. Too many Christians have gagged at the word ‘worship’ without looking at the facts. The point made by leading Chinese Christians, that originally the custom was merely one of veneration, is, on scholarly grounds, incontrovertible. And the (lay will cone when the Christians will find some way of carrying on this same recognition of the contribution of their forefathers without compromising their allegiance to the One True God. In. fact, in some Christian churches the memorial tablets to deceased members already mark a beginning in this direction.

The rapidly decreasing reputation of the Buddhist priesthood points to its eventual disappearance. No faith can finally survive whose servants do not exhibit elements of moral strength greater than those possessed by the run of men. But it will not be in this generation nor in the next that idolatry, which is the popular expression of Buddhism, ceases. There may come spasms of idol-destruction here and there, such have been indulged in by the Mohammedans, and such as marked the bloody trail of the Taiping rebels. But idolatry goes too deep into the life of Chinese society as a whole to be eradicated in a day or in several days.

Not long ago, a teacher in the city of Foochow began to investigate the relation of idolatry to the industries of that city. Foochow contains approximately 700,000 inhabitants. Such a survey as has been possible, using student investigators, has shown that at least 80 per cent of the population is, to some degree, dependent for its livelihood upon the popularity of idol-worship. Thirty per vent of the people were found to be entirely dependent upon it. Some day the manifold ramifications of idolatry through Chinese society will be adequately discussed. Here it can only he said that it has its economic stakes set where oven many of the missionaries never suspect them to be. Mohammedanism and Christianity combined have scarcely begun to affect idolatry.

Closely linked up with idolatry as an abiding force goes superstition. Taoism is as surely in the grip of death as Buddhism. But superstition will not pass in a year. It will be a long time before the air is purged of its terrors, even for those who may embrace such a faith as Christianity.

At the reassembling of a class in a Christian college, the absence of a certain student was noted. It was reported that he had been drowned while on a launch trip, returning from a vacation. His small brother had been with him at the, time; the boy had been pushed overboard from the crowded deck; a strong swimmer, he had been able to reach the side of the boat, but not to clamber aboard; but the pleas of the puny younger brother could not avail to move a single person to lift a helping hand, and the other passengers had looked on while the lad drowned, rather than move to save him. The teacher heard the tale in horror, but the student accepted it as a matter of course, explaining that the drowning devil, -who had been after the student, would certainly have taken possession of any person who attempted to rescue him. And these men, in the closing years of a Christian education, had no word of censure for people who had calmly watched a fellow drown rather than incur the wrath of a devil!

As religions, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are on the down grade in China. Certain elements that they contain will persist long after the religions themselves have passed. Some elements will form a permanent part of the life of the country. But the Chinese will demand some religion in place of these three. What will it be?

Mohammedanism is at a standstill, and has no hope of winning the nation.

Materialism has its proponents, principally among those who have studied in Japanese schools. The affinity of Confucianism and materialism is emphasized. Chinese transcriptions of Japanese translations of the works of European rationalists and skeptical scientists are on the markets in large numbers. And, in the swing of the pendulum from the past, there is a tendency to thrust out any belief in the spiritual as unworthy of the present.

The element which works most mightily against materialism, outside the grip of the old order, is the example of what it has done to other nations, especially Japan. Modern Japan is a materialistic state. On no other basis can it be explained. The Chinese see its fundamental failure as clearly as its remarkable achievements, and they say, ‘If that be the fruit of materialism, we want something better.’

What is that something better to be? Chancellor Tsai Yuan-pei, of the National University of Peking, a few years ago came forward with a proposal to substitute a sort of ethical culture, with emphasis upon esthetic values. Chancellor Tsai is the leader of the most influential group in the intellectual life of China to-day. From the university over which he presides have gone forth the publications of the New Thought, or Renaissance, movement which has taken hold upon the students to an un-precedented extent. Much that is in the movement is of the highest value; and when such a man as Chancellor Tsai dismisses religion in any form as superstition, his words are bound to have a profound effect. If they would, teachers in Christian institutions could testify that the young men of China have adopted a severely critical attitude toward Christianity as well as toward other faiths, largely as an effect of the New Thought agitation.

But ethical culture can hardly be expected to prove the final spiritual resort of such a nation as China. If it could not suffice for a compact state such as Greece, what chance has it in this colossus? And when you study the situation you are forced to the belief that the future religion of China provided that China has a religion – must be Christianity, profoundly affected by the civilization of that. ancient land.

What is Christianity in China today? To some, a regeneration. To some, a newer and better doctrine. To some, merely one faith among many. To some, one more insidious Western influence. But to all, the fruit and symbol of a civilization.

Let no man think that the struggle between Occidental and Oriental civilization is finished. There are signs that the civilization of the Occident will he, in its essentials, vindicated and adapted in the making of a New East. But there are still plenty of Chinese leaders, men of good education and large ability, and of undoubted patriotism, who reject Western civilization entirely.

Thinking Chinese long ago discovered that Western civilization has been largely formed by Western religion. The pragmatic test, which is the characteristic test of Confucianism, shows a civilization better fitted to grapple with the modern world than is the old individualistic and fatalistic civilization of the East. The conclusion is obvious.

But it is this fundamental premise in this line of reasoning that must now en­gage the attention of the foreign missionary. In truth, it is this premise which constitutes the present raison d’être for the foreign missionary, He is in China to vindicate the civilization from which he has come.

Does he practise medicine? He does so to prove that his Western hygiene and medical practice contribute more to health and happiness for the people as a whole than the medical systems of the East.

Does he teach school? He does so to prove that his civilization has a hind of education which fits more people better for the tasks of life than the education of the Orient.

Does he seek to introduce new methods of agriculture? He does so to prove that. more food can be produced and more stomachs filled with less labor than by the methods which the Chinese have followed for forty centuries.

Does he go about seeking converts? He does it to prove that he knows of a spiritual force which is able to purge society of those fundamental weaknesses which have made the doctrine and the doing in China so glaringly different.

In every aspect of his work the foreign missionary is really, to the Chinese, seeking to vindicate the civilization of which he is a product. And when that vindication is complete, the work of the foreign missionary is done.

The day is coming when the spiritual needs of the Chinese people will find their satisfaction in a widespreading talking to a missionary in New York acceptance of Christianity. But that one day last summer acceptance will come only after the civilization  which Christianity breeds has been thoroughly vindicated, the missionary has withdrawn, and the Christian church in China has become an organization of and by, as well as hr, the Chinese. So long as foreign influence is apparent, the masses of Chinese will hold off. Even that advisory relation which we are told will follow die present will prove a sufficient handicap to discourage any sweeping movement toward Christianity. But when Christian civilization has been so thoroughly vindicated that the Chinese can assume, with assurance and unassisted, the propagation of the religion that lies at its foundation, a marvelous ingathering within the acknowledged Christian fold is sure to occur.

That day is closer than many missionaries realize. Already Christian civilization is so nearly vindicated that Chinese Christians are moving out to assume the leadership in the Christian enterprise in their native land. The church papers of America have told of the spontaneous response on the part of the Chinese church to the projected missionary enterprise in the province of XUflflal1, an enterprise that is Chinese in conception, support, and execution. Even more significant is the recent call for a National Missionary Conference to be held in 1921. Fourteen years ago such a conference was held, one hundred years after the landing of Robert Morrison. It contained not a single Chinese delegate. The conference of 11)21 is to contain Chinese delegates in numbers at least equal to the foreigners. During this year the Chinese have demanded, and obtained, equal representation on the China Continuation Committee, which binds together the work of the various denominations.

A brilliant Chinese Christian was ‘You missionaries make me tired!’ he exclaimed. ‘You are not honest with yourselves or with your constituents. I have heard dozens of missionary speeches on China since I came to America, and react articles galore. Again and again and again I hear you talking about C. T. Wang and Chang Po-ling and Fong P. See, and David Z. T. Yui, and pointing to them as examples of Chinese Christians. Of course they are Christians. But I have yet to hear a missionary say, or read a missionary’s admission, that not one of them is connected with your foreign-controlled churches! Every one of them has come U through your churches and schools, and when they felt their powers pressing for worthy expression, every one has been forced off into some line of independent effort. It is practically impossible for the Chinese to have real leadership in the churches as long as they remain under foreign direction.’

The days of foreign direction of Chinese Christian churches are numbered. The civilization of the West is too nearly vindicated. Just a little bit of Christian practice in the realm of international politics will finish the test; and the radical movements in all Western lands indicate that that practice will not be long delayed. It is, for example, conceivable that the formation of a Labor government in England would transform the outlook for Christianity in China in ten years.

With that final proof oft he superiority of the West, the case for the Christian proponent in China will be complete. But it will be a Chinese Christian, under Chinese direction, with Chinese support, who goes out to set his religion above all others in China. Before the end of this century he should be fairly launched upon his task.

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