Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In Mao's Blessed Memory

"There once were many churches in Changsha, but many were knocked down."
"Mao was a son of Changsha. And emperor. The most successful man in China. So he's a great asset to Hunan and Changsha."
"Belief in the party has died, and everything today turns on advantage and disadvantage."
"Under such conditions, people don't care about anything, really. Mao is fine. Christianity is fine. It's all kind of irrelevant."
Tan Hecheng, author, The Killing Wind, Changsha, China
Christian Theme Park

Blueprint of Xingsha Ecological Park, with the Xingsha Church in the middle of the park.: So far the largest Christian theme park in Southern China.(Representational Photo)

The Xingsha Protestant Church is being newly constructed within a park in Changsha, China. When completed the church will have a height of 80 meters. And atop the church will be a large cross. "Going for Christianity in a big way damages our nation's ideological security" Zhao Danyang posted on the website Red Morality Think Tank. And a controversy was born. And then suddenly it was gone as officials took charge.

Only in China would news reports disappear from the Internet. And as far as the capital of Hunan Province, Changsha residents are concerned, there is nothing perturbing them with the juxtaposition of Christianity and Communism. The Communist state had done its best to suppress all religion up to Mao's death and beyond. But it does officially recognize Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam.

An estimated 60 million Protestants stubbornly linger in a nation of 1.4-billion souls. And in Changsha, official Protestant churches have roughly 100,000 members. Changsha is not just any ordinary Chinese city. It is where Mao Zedong was brought up, attended school, and the first stirrings of revolutionary Communism entered his awareness. It is where he organized student and worker strikes, shaping a peasant movement later to take China by storm.

His personal belief was set; the Chinese must prevail, become assertive about their futures. And in the process discard the imperialists and missionaries. Christianity, after all, is not an indigenous religion of China. China is ancient, its heritage rich and diverse, its culture and values set long before Christian missionaries challenged traditional Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism for adherents. Christianity's mission to convert as many Chinese as possible took place at a time when Chinese strength was in the descent. The religion did not reflect the region's culture; it was entirely alien.

When, much later, Communism (yet another import) as a state ideology was embraced, it was the enemy of all religion, the 'opium of the masses', and a campaign to tarnish and destroy religion in China took place as it did in Russia. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a brutal, socially destructive upheaval that destroyed the cultural heritage of the nation and demolished places of religious worship. Since Mao's death in 1976, the country has undergone a massive change while retaining a version of Communist rule, tinctured with capitalism.

Now, the city where Mao remains venerated, is hosting the construction of a church whose height far outstrips a nearby monument to Mao, and it is this that has occasioned mumblings of resentment where worshippers of Mao's memory railed with outrage against the size and symbolism of a church that their hero at one time decried as foreign to China's heritage and offensive to its new ideology of Communism. One can hardly blame them, but this is a new, more tolerant China in many ways.

But Mao Zedong is China's most famous and favoured son whose wisdom and charisma brought immense change to China while incidentally causing the country to turn inward upon itself, devouring itself in a cataclysmic miasma of accusation and violence where millions died as the nation restructured itself ideologically. The memorial to Mao, the sculpture depicting him as a young man, stands 32 meters tall, 15 kilometers west of where the new church stands at 80 meters in height.

An insult to his hallowed memory.

A 32-metre (105 feet) statue of late Chairman Mao Zedong in his youth is seen under construction in Changsha, Hunan province, China: New statue of Chairman Mao surprises China
A 32-metre (105 feet) statue of late Chairman Mao Zedong in his youth is seen under construction in 
Changsha, Hunan province, China Photo: REUTERS

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