How Religion Has Influenced Politics in China

Andrii Zhezhera /

Key points in this article:

  • There is a traditional belief that natural disasters and political revolts indicate Heaven’s desire for a new administration
  • Religion has caused revolts many times throughout China’s history
  • The Communist Party’s religious oppression reflect their fear and understanding of the power of religion

The U.S. is preparing to make one fell swoop to bring a swift end to the North Korean regime. Japan must think about how to deal with any emergency in the Korean Peninsula.

In July, Master Ryuho Okawa, Founder and CEO of Happy Science, recorded the spiritual message of the late Chinese democracy activist, Liu Xiaobo. Liu spoke on the relationship between religion and the Communist Party thusly:


“The greatest enemy for the current administration is religion . . . Without religion, no one will have the power to stand up against the state authorities . . . religion is the only place where people can risk their lives to speak for justice.”

China has a traditional belief called the Mandate of Heaven. It is the belief that natural disasters and political revolts are messages from Heaven signaling the end of a dynasty.

This formula appears periodically throughout China’s history. Whenever natural disasters became frequent and corruption began to pervade politics, religion would initiate a revolt against the government in power.


The Yellow Turban Rebellion (184 – 205 CE)

Towards the end of the Han dynasty, a Taoist sect called Taiping Dao, founded by Zhang Jue, led a revolt against the government.

At the time, politics were very corrupt with bribery becoming a daily occurrence, and the people suffered from famine and natural disasters. Zhang Jue and the Taiping Dao engaged in sorcerous healing and advocated equal rights, becoming a place of refuge for the people.

The group realized that the government was coming to an end. This belief was based on their ideology to “Obey the will of Heaven and Earth, and follow the Five Elements”
. These Five Elements refers to an ancient Chinese belief that all things were made up of the following 5 elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. These five elements interacted with each other, and also influenced the rise and fall of governments.

According to the Five Elements, the Han dynasty – the fire age – was coming to an end and the new power was to be the ‘earth age’.

The Taiping Dao gathered under the belief of the Mandate of Heaven and the Five Elements. They wore a yellow cloth about their heads, the color symbolizing ‘earth’, and initiated the Yellow Turban Rebellion.

The rebellion was suppressed, but it did not entirely fail. Their revolt caused a decline in the power of the Han, and China eventually entered the heroic age of the Three Kingdoms.


The Red Turban Rebellion (1351 – 1366)

During the Yuan Dynasty, a Buddhist sect called the White Lotus Society initiated the Red Turban Rebellion. This religion was strongly influenced by Maitreya and believed that the world is constantly reformed according to the will of Maitreya to eventually become a utopia.

This age also suffered a great number of natural disasters and famines, and the people were drawn to the White Lotus Society’s utopian vision.

One day, the Yuan demanded the people to restore the damages caused by the flooding of the Yellow River without any reward. This was the final trigger to a huge revolt that broke out, which led to a resistance movement headed by the White Lotus.

The people wore red cloths to symbolize the Song dynasty, the previous dynasty that flourished before the Mongol Yuan invaded and dominated the land.

This resistance movement spread across the land and caused the decline of the Yuan. It was here that the man who later became the first Ming Emperor arose and ushered in a new age.


The White Lotus Rebellion (1796 – 1804)

The White Lotus Society caused another rebellion during the Qing dynasty.

The people at the time were suffering from a corrupt bureaucracy and unreasonably harsh taxation. The White Lotus group gathered in the hope of dispelling the grievances of the people.

Hundreds of thousands risked their lives to take part in the rebellion because they believed in a happy afterlife.

In the end, however, an insufficient command network led to a failure for organized maneuvers, and they were defeated. Due to the lack of a skilled commander, the rebellion had become a mere crowd.

The rebellion, although a failure, was not meaningless. Suppressing the rebels resulted in heavy financial expenses on the government, which now had to resort to further taxing its people, and brought the dynasty closer to ruin.


The Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864)

The Christian movement of the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace led by Hong Xiuquan also shook the Qing dynasty.

As the name suggests, the group idealized the creation of a heavenly kingdom on Earth. It was a movement that advocated shared use of farms and produce through mutual help, and in an age where the feudal lord was the chief proprietor, the ideology of equal rights was epoch-making.

The Heavenly Kingdom of Peace was not just passionate about religious virtue and missionary work, but also appealed to the people through healing and promises of good fortune.

As this movement spread, they began to retaliate against civil authorities and landowners. When news reached Hong Xiuquan, he was inspired to gather a military organization to aim for political reform.

The Heavenly Kingdom of Peace championed the victory of the Hans over the Machurians, and this gathered much support from the people who were able to reawaken to their identity as Hans.

The Taiping Rebellion spread with many civilians joining the movement, and at one point absorbed almost the entire southern half of China. Fair winds, however, did not last long. With internal conflicts and intervention by the Qing army and forces from the West (Britain and France), the revolution resulted in failure.

This rebellion, however, is now recognized as the first step towards China’s autonomy.


The Communist Party Fears the Powew of Religion

  1. The Mandate of Heaven: the idea that Heaven wills a change to the administration
  2. A utopian vision
  3. A belief in the afterlife; a lifestyle that is not bound to materialism

China is now unstable, with power struggles in the upper echelons, extreme wealth disparity, and natural disasters. Religion may become an important factor for the next change that China must undergo: the introduction of democracy.

How Religion Has Influenced Politics in China
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