With the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown coming June 4, and the 50th birthday of the People's Republic in October, this is a touchy time for China's leaders.
Maybe that's why they were so flummoxed by the recent protest by some 10,000 members of a religious/martial arts group called Falun Gong, or Buddhist Law. The protesters quietly occupied the sidewalks surrounding the living quarters of Beijing's Communist elite. Their purpose: to gain official recognition for their movement, which is said to include well over 50 million Chinese.
The demonstration dispersed as peacefully as it had begun when the group was assured government officials would discuss their complaints.
But the feelings left inside the leadership's compound were anything but peaceful. In the days since, word has gone out that such demonstrations are "completely wrong." Government employees have been told not to sympathize with such groups.
Yet such groups, often with a strong religious orientation, are on the rise. Their adherents far outnumber Communist Party members. With China's economic opening, and increased uncertainty for millions, the official "faith" has ebbed and people have sought alternatives.
The party is fighting back with a "rectification" campaign. Government and military cadres must study anew the writings of Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and current party leader Jiang Zemin.
Can those compete with the cosmic-powers musing of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi? Or with the teachings of Christianity, which is also growing quickly in China?
The Communist Party's way of dealing with religion has been to control it by allowing a few officially registered religions, which are deemed "patriotic." That regulation of faith is becoming less and less feasible as the Chinese seek not only economic opportunity, but spiritual sustenance.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society