Ian Johnson

The national fight against the coronavirus has also triggered off help in temples, churches and mosques, writes author Ian Johnson of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao in the New York Times, but not all help has been appreciated. Religious groups have been donating large amounts of money, a feature hard to imagine even ten years ago, he writes.

Ian Johnson:

“In China the government likes to control all channels for donating money,” Pastor Huang said in a telephone interview. “They don’t like civil society to participate, and especially not faith-based organizations.”

Still, many religious groups — particularly those that have registered with the government — have been doing just that.

According to recent figures from their websites, the China Buddhist Association has contributed $14 million to the fight against the coronavirus, the Protestant association $10 million, the Islamic association $4.5 million, the Catholic association $1.5 million and the Taoist association $1.9 million.

Some donations have been prompted by dissatisfaction with China’s large government-run charities. The Red Cross, the China Charity Federation, the Hubei Charity Federation and the Hubei Youth Development Foundation have donated the equivalent of $1.9 billion. But their work has been plagued by accusations of corruption, leading the national Red Cross to send a review team to Hubei Province, where Wuhan is.

These charities also often channel money from big businesses, while the donations from China’s religious organizations are led by grass-roots efforts supported by ordinary people, said Professor Wu.

The two Taoist temples that helped the town of Caohe received hundreds of small donations from believers, according to lists published on the temples’ social media accounts.

In the Chinese city of Wenzhou, the Rev. Wu Shengli of the Chengxi Protestant Church said the city’s Protestant churches were asked by local officials if they could donate roughly 1 million yuan, or about $143,000. He said that worshipers were glad to do it.

“People aren’t reluctant,” he said. “People are very willing to help out and the final amount will be higher.”

Susan McCarthy, a political scientist at Providence College who studies faith-based charities in China, said these kinds of donations can also help religious organizations prove their loyalty to the state.

“The government is happy if religious groups make contributions but is wary that they will use charity to expand their base and infiltrate society,” Ms. McCarthy said. “My sense is a lot of this is defensive, or to prove their patriotism.”

But for many believers, the nonmaterial aid is the most meaningful.

Even though all places of worship in China are closed as part of the effort to prevent the virus from spreading, temples and churches have been organizing prayer vigils, while halal restaurants in Wuhan have provided free meals and boxed lunches to medical staff at local hospitals.

More in the New York Times.

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