Home Issues Past Issues MCS 2015 Issue 1 On not Learning from the Soviet Union: Religious Policy in China, 1949-65
On not Learning from the Soviet Union: Religious Policy in China, 1949-65
Abstract: Scholars have contrasted the apparently accommodating “religious policy” of the early People’s Republic of China to the explicitly “anti-religious” policy of the Soviet Union. However, recent material suggests that the religious policy actually carried out was not so very different from its Soviet counterpart, despite emollient statements from Zhou Enlai. It is on this paradox that the title of the article plays, in as much as the Chinese Communists chose, on the one hand, “not to learn from” the Soviet Union in the sense of not to follow an anti-religious policy; and on the other, failed to learn lessons from a Soviet policy that had been massively counter-productive. The article does not seek to trace the influence of the Soviet Union directly on the CCP’s religious policy, since we do not yet have access to documents on internal policy-making in the PRC. Rather it compares differences and similarities between the religious policies of the two states; and by exploring policy in action, shows that the practice of the PRC deviated significantly from the inclusive tenets of the united front policy. It goes on to show that with the adoption of a policy of socialist construction, especially with the Great Leap Forward, the policy towards religion became steadily more repressive. Ironically, this may have happened partly because following the Sino-Soviet split, Mao Zedong was afraid that the PRC was being outflanked by the hardline anti-religious policy the “revisionist” Khrushchev.