Three generations of Chinese were born and became adults under a communist regime. They have been raised to believe there is no God, and that their heart’s loyalty should belong only to the party. How come so many young people are now turning to old Chinese religion?
The generation currently coming of age in China has done everything they should to become successful. As children, due to 30 years of China’s one child policy, the dreams of their parents and grandparents have been projected on them, and great sacrifices were made to give them the best education possible.
They have studied very hard, with long days at school and gruelling university entrance exams. They did what was expected of them and got their degrees, despite the chaos and mental challenges posed by a pandemic and three years of China’s zero Covid policy. The country opened back up and they were ready to roll, with dreams of good jobs, nice apartments, and a life which would offer them opportunities their parents never had.
But China’s economy is not recovering like expected and youth unemployment stands at 20%. That is before more than 11 million college graduates will start to look for jobs this summer. Communism’s substitute for religion has been to offer people upward social mobility. Prosperity was in reach for those who worked hard, and a college education was a ticket to a comfortable life. But the promises of the party are failing, and people are forced to turn to powers greater than the powers of the stock market.
Ancient religions are offering something people need under the current circumstances. Young people are flocking to Buddhist and Taoist temples to burn incense and call in the help of deities. They realise they need more than good grades, they need good luck and they think a bit of supernatural help may be just what you need to make it in such a tough job market.
On the one hand, it is perhaps encouraging to see that young people realise that a combination of their own effort and their party’s policies cannot produce the happiness they desire. They are willing to consider the supernatural despite being raised in atheism.
On the other hand, it shows that people are still looking at material prosperity as a way to bring them happiness. The supernatural for them is just a way to get material prosperity in the natural world. It is comparable to the way the prosperity gospel works for Christians in the West, offering wealth in exchange for Christian devotion, and tempts them to set their minds on earthly things.
Fortunately, young people turning to old religion is not the whole story. What you do not read about on most news sites, is that many in China keep turning to Christ, despite persecution. They have found a greater treasure than a good job and a financially secure future. The blessings they received no party can provide.
We rejoice along with the angels for every Chinese that joins the body of Christ and pray many of China’s desperate youngsters will likewise find in Jesus more than what they are looking for.