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Sinicising what?

With the challenge of Sinicisation inserted into the constitutions of both the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China the Church is now under even greater pressure to pay attention to the process.

Sinicisation is a slippery word. As an invented term of convenience it can be interpreted in many different ways depending on whose convenience is being served.

It immediately suggests making something that has come from outside belong, in some sense, to China, but the question remains: belonging in what sense?

But since the Church is being pressured to Sinicise, it has to come up with a narrative in order to show that it is making progress in that direction.

An immediate temptation is to interpret it as inculturation, but that is built on the foundation of culture, and it is based on the presumption that it is only through developing their relationship with each other and with nature, themselves and God that a people can develop their humanity to the fullest extent.

It is also suggested that since the Church does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of the wider society, then it does not inculturate for its own benefit, but for that of the society in which it is planted.

Father Peter Phan suggests that the principle task of inculturation is to discern the gospel apart from cultural forms in which it is clothed and to re-express it in new cultural forms.

But Sinicisation seems to turn the matter around the other way, as it demands the Church feed into another, decidedly political agenda, taking its focus away from society and its culture and pointing it towards serving a power structure.

The term has been promoted by the president of China, Xi Jinping, who on previous occasions has spoken about the Sinicisation of Marxism, a process where a philosophy is dragged under the control of the Communist Party.

When he speaks of the Sinicisation of Marxism, ultimately it means that it is being usurped as a tool of the Communist Party and when he uses the word in connection with religion that also seems to be the case.

However, to ensure it remains a live topic, universities are encouraged to research the term, which also ensures that it remains in the discussion and that the discussion can be well monitored.

It is a way of insuring that the development of the party is up to speed.

When Xi uses the word in connection with religion, it is clear that he is placing it in a political context, as steps have been taken in Church structure to hasten the process of Sinicisation by placing the appointment of personnel and some other decision-making processes under the direct control of the party.

Writing in Tripod, Sergio Ticozzi suggests Xi may have two ambitions in mind, pulling all religions into the party line and adding a word to the honoured lexicon of the development of Communist thought alongside Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.

He also suggests it may be to position China on the world stage as able to control unity in all sectors of its own society.

As religions are worldwide bodies they have useful strings to pull on the world stage. JiM