Is China Happy?

Last week the New York Review of Books published an article called China’s Way of Happiness, by Ian Johnson. The article is an interview of Dr. Richard Madsen, a scholar on religion in China, about his research on happiness in China. 

Taking the Blessing Home

Here are some interesting excerpts from Madsen’s comments.

On the subject of his next book: 

My research project is on searching for a good life in China in an age of anxiety. Where do they see their lives going? Where do they see China going? Its aimed at tapping into people’s sense of meaning. I’m doing it with several other colleagues.

On the need for moral anchors: 

People’s lives are disrupted by urbanization, economic change, and so on. There’s also a collapse of Marxist ideology and a sense of dislocation. There is a need for new moral anchors.

On the relationship between unhappiness and religious revival: 

In the reform era, the revival of religion is probably a quest to return to a normal life to carry out normal festivals, to do things in a normal way, which always had a religious element to it in China. In China, religion has always been more about practice than about belief. You do those things — you sweep the graves of your ancestors because that’s what you do to remain in connection with your family. People have been dislocated from their villages, but there’s a sense that you have to maintain your roots. So they might go back and rebuild a temple or ancestral hall.

On whether China might become a Christian country: 

If you look at the growth and project that over the next fifty or one hundred years, that would happen; but I would predict that the current trajectory will plateau out, like in Taiwan, in the range of 7 percent of the population. Maybe 10 percent. It’s a guess, a hypothesis. But other things like Buddhism are becoming more popular. People will look at other things for meaning and that will crowd out Christianity.

On whether or not Christianity has failed in China: 

It hasn’t failed. What does success mean for a religion? Taking over the country? Or is it just becoming an accepted part of the plurality of understandings, and permanent in a sustainable way? You can definitely argue that its like that for Christianity in China today. We’re seeing new ways for people to find meaning in their lives. Its definitely changing and broadening. Christianity is a part of it.

Read the whole thing here. You won’t regret it.

Related Posts: 

Give Me that Part-Time Religion


Pragmatic Religiosity