Religions—as Christians, Jews and Muslims practice them—have seldom played a major role in Chinese Culture and Politics. Even today, more than 800 million Chinese say they don’t belong to any religion and the largest religion in China is Buddhism (about 10% of the population). Even during Imperial times, most members of government didn’t belong to organized religions. The same is true today with the Communist government.
China’s struggle with pagan cults (for instance, the White Lotus Society) stretches back almost a thousand years. The White Lotus Society appealed to poor Han Chinese peasants and more so to women, who found peace in worshiping the Eternal Mother. It was believed that this Eternal Mother would gather all her children at the millennium into one family.
White Lotus Societies started out seeking tranquility through a combination of Buddhism with some elements of Daoism (Taoism) and other native Chinese religions. Even in the 12th century, the Yuan Dynasty was distrustful of the Yellow Lotus Society, which didn’t fit comfortably with Confucianism.
Persecution of the White Lotus Society started during the Yuan Dynasty (Mongols: 1271 – 1368 AD). Due to this, the White Lotus Society changed from one of peace and tranquility and organized protests to violence against the Mongol rulers, the first non-Han to rule China.
Since Yuan Imperial authorities distrusted the White Lotus Society, the Dynasty banned them, and the White Lotus went underground. The White Lotus predicted that a messianic—Christ like—figure would come and save them from persecution. That man’s name was Zhu Yuanzhang, a Buddhist monk.
The White Lotus led revolution started in 1352 near Guangzhou before Zhu Yuanzhang joined the rebellion. Soon, he became the leader by forbidding his soldiers to pillage in observance of White Lotus religious beliefs.
By 1355, the rebellion had spread through much of China. In 1356, Zhu Yuanzhang captured Nanjing and made it his capital. Then Confucian scholars issued pronouncements supporting Zhu’s claim of the Mandate of Heaven, the first step toward establishing a new dynasty.
Zhu Yuanzhang liberated China from the Mongols and became the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643).
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.
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Thank you. Your post helps to explain China’s uneasiness with religious movements.
You’re welcome. I think we should all be uneasy about religious movements of any kind. Especially those who condemn or persecute others because of their beliefs that don’t agree with any specific movement.