Friday, February 18, 2011

China and Buddhism

News of Master Yang's impending death reached his most enigmatic student on an isolated mountaintop above the Shaolin Temple. There Shi Dejian, a 47-year-old Buddhist monk, had already endured a trying week. A television crew had trekked up the vertiginous series of switchbacks hacked into the granite mountainside to reach the monastery. They brought with them a professional mixed-martial-arts fighter, whom they planned to film testing his skills against the monks. (He went home bruised.) A neurology team from Hong Kong University had arrived to study the effect Dejian's rigorous meditation regimen has on his brain activity, and he had spent an exhausting night applying his chi techniques to ease the pain of an ill friend. Then there had been the Communist Party official from Suzhou who had barged through the gate and demanded a cure for his brother's diabetes. For a man who seeks solitude, Dejian finds himself inundated with people.

The Chinese 'Communists'* have a very odd relationship with Buddhists.  They claim to be atheists and their official policy is one of condemnation and dismissal.  And yet, they pass laws trying to regulate reincarnation, and then you have incidents like this one.  They try to control and regulate the monks, and they also try to make money off exporting their image.

I know that it is a mistake to think of a government as a single self-consistent entity.  All governments are full of different people who think different things.  The main leadership will act and think differently than local officials.  But they seem unusually confused on this issue.

That official is an interesting portrait of religion, hope, desire, and corruption.  Generations of indoctrination fade away and old religious beliefs resurface when a family member gets sick.  He is desperate for a cure, and accustomed to ordering people around, so he turns to anything that might work.  This official has been trained his whole life to believe that the monks are frauds, but he turns to one in desperation.  And yet, even if the monk had anything to offer, this would be exactly the wrong way to get it.  You don't order around a Shaolin monk like one of your lackeys.  

The official's actions are ignorant, arrogant, and irrational.  And from what I have seen, the Chinese government is full of people like him.  Remember that when thinking of the future of China.  That kind of government incompetence seriously limits a society's potential.  There is a reason that all of the richest and healthiest economies are democracies.

*As I always tell my Econ 200 class, they are no longer communist or socialist and should be classified as 'Fascist'.

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