Story: Gerda Wielander lectures about faith in Chinese political discourse

Author: Christine Cox


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may not historically have embraced the concept of faith, but times are changing, according to China scholar Gerda Wielander 

For example, Chinese President Xi Jinping regularly references faith through such phrases as “When the people have faith, the country has strength” and “Belief is the soul of a nation.” Xi also describes Chinese socialist core values as lying at the heart of faith.

Wielander, head of modern languages and cultures at the University of Westminster, London, explained these shifting attitudes on faith in China during a lunchtime lecture at the Keough School of Global Affairs on March 20. Her talk, “What China is Lacking: Faith (信仰) in Political Discourse,” was sponsored by the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies.

As China experiences a resurgence of religion, the word xinyang (faith) is appearing more frequently in political discourse, Wielander said. Through everyday communications channels such as new year’s greetings, songs, and television specials, the CCP encourages a belief system around socialist core values and creates a narrative around the history of the Communist party and its martyrs, who are elevated to near saints. 

Additionally, prominent Chinese intellectuals and activists have been addressing the role of faith in contemporary Chinese life and in relationship to the Party. Wielander cited Party academic Yuan Youjun, philosopher Zhou Guoping, civil rights activist Xu Zhiyong, and renowned Nobel Prize-winning author and activist Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in July 2017. 

If these intellectuals disagree about the precise meaning of faith—and which values should underpin it—they agree that faith is necessary in contemporary China.

“They all seem to agree that xinying, faith, is a good thing and an important thing,” Wielander said. “They all seem to agree that faith is missing in China today, that China is lacking faith. And also that faith is a motivational force … that whatever you set out to do, if you want to succeed, it requires faith.”

Wielander is the editor of Chinese Discourses on Happiness (2018) and author of Christian Values in Communist China (2013).