Party members are punished for engaging in “superstitious activities.” Normally, such campaigns soon extend to the general population.
by Massimo Introvigne
We often hear President Xi Jinping proclaiming his love for “traditional Chinese culture.” However, as Bitter Winter has told its readers repeatedly and, more importantly, Xi Jinping himself has explained in his own books, the millennia-old Chinese culture is interpreted and filtered through Marxism. Xi Jinping has put to good use the idea, advanced by early 20th century liberal Chinese intellectuals, that in the tradition of China there is no religion. As contemporary scholars have evidenced, this was at best a misunderstanding and at worst an ideological fraud, using the true fact that before encountering the West the Chinese language had no word corresponding to the English “religion” to support the false claim that China was without religion or spirituality, which in fact had always pervaded the whole society (see e.g., David Palmer, “Is Chinese (Lack of) Religion Exceptional?” in Ryan G. Hornbeck, Justin L. Barrett, and Madeleine Kang, eds., Religious Cognition in China: “Homo Religiosus” and the Dragon, Cham, Switzerland: Springer 17-34).
After more than sixty years of Marxism and atheist propaganda, the traditional Chinese spirituality is very much alive. Meeting Chinese scholars, some of them teaching Marxist philosophy, in international conferences, and even debating in China the issue of xie jiao (banned religious groups) with police officers supervising their repression, I was always impressed that staunch CCP members, otherwise very critical of religion, very much believed in divination through the I Ching, the “Classic of Changes” dating back perhaps to 1,000 years before Jesus Christ, and in the traditional geomancy known as Feng Shui, mostly used to orient buildings and furniture in an auspicious manner, but going beyond that to offer precepts for a life in harmony with our environment. Indeed, Feng Shui was successfully exported to the West, and many celebrated Western architects admit relying on it.
Feng Shui was more or less tolerated before Xi Jinping. But much less after Xi decided to crack down on anything connected with spirituality or religion. On January 28, Beijing Channel, a useful newsletter in English by Xinhua News Agency journalist Yang Liu, where he expresses what he calls his “personal opinions” while candidly disclosing that his employer is “state-affiliated,” published a piece on the renewed crackdown on “superstitious activities.” It started with the recent fall of China’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism, Li Jinzao. He was accused of “corruption,” and CCP media said he “carried out superstitious activities.”
Quite correctly, Yang explains that “superstitious activities” are now regarded as part of “corruption,” as interpreted by the all-powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the CCP. As we previously explained in Bitter Winter, “corruption” under Xi Jinping is not limited to taking bribes, but includes all forms of dissent. And “superstition,” as well.
On October 1, 2020, Xinhua published a report by the CCDI denouncing CCP cadres “who have not cleared the spiritual world, and let the dregs of feudal superstition arise. Some of them burn incense and worship Buddha at home for a long time, some reorganize their graves and offices according to Feng Shui, and some donate money to ‘spiritual masters.’” Reporting that 24 cadres had been expelled from the CCP “for engaging in feudal superstition activities,” the CCDI lamented that even “highly educated Party members and scholars” rely on Feng Shui.
The Commission offered as a cautionary tale the fate of one She Chaoli, former deputy director of the Urban Construction Fund Management Center of Xianning prefecture-level city, in Hubei Province. He was expelled from the CCP after it was discovered that he had “not only used Feng Shui for rearranging his ancestral grave, residence, and office, and changing his son’s name, but also used workdays to participate in Feng Shui training classes claiming he was taking business trips.”
Worse still, the CCDI said, Quan Zhihua, a respected medical doctor, and the former vice president of Nanhua University, faced with health problems, sought the advice of a Feng Shui master, to whom he donated 1 million yuan. Quan avoided jail only by engaging in old-style self-criticism, and confessing that he “was superstitious about Feng Shui,” thus “betraying the education he had received from the Party.”
Ma Liheng, former member of the CCP Working Committee and former deputy director of the Management Committee of Zhuzhou City, Hunan Province, used divination and Feng Shui to determine why the promotion he expected did not materialize. The police raided the different residences he owned, and “found that the doorframes, bookshelves, and vases were all covered with charms.”
The CCDI concluded that the Party should “resolutely prevent disbelief in Marxism-Leninism,” and that using Feng Shui and other forms of “superstition” clearly show that some do not really believe in Marxism, and fall within the CCP’s definition of “corruption.”
The CCDI had already investigated the presence of Feng Shui among CCP cadres in 2016. At that time, it had to punish Liu Zhijun, the former Minister of the Railways, because he “believed in Feng Shui, and when some projects were started and completed, he invited Feng Shui masters” to choose auspicious days and locations. Former deputy secretary of the Provincial Party Committee in Sichuan, Li Chuncheng, was sacked by the CCDI for “abusing his power to conduct feudal superstition activities.” He had asked a Feng Shui master for instructions on where to move his family grave. Worse still, the ever-vigilant CCDI had discovered that Chen Hongping, former secretary of the Jieyang Municipal Committee of Guangdong Province, and director of the Standing Committee of the Municipal People’s Congress, operated as a Feng Shui master himself in his spare time.
In the end, the CCDI lost its patience, and some of the cadres accused of using Feng Shui went to jail. They included Shan Zengde, former deputy secretary of the CCP Working Group in Shandong and deputy director of the Provincial Department of Agriculture, who “moved the desk at the entrance of the office, so that it would face the window. Although it was inconvenient to get in and out, it was facing the sunlight outside the window,” which he believed was good Feng Shui. Shan was joined in jail by Yang Baohua, the former vice chairman of the Hunan Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, who “closed the door of the municipal party committee office and opened another door in another direction,” claiming that better Feng Shui would guarantee better performances.
While Yang Liu’s article offers a useful compilation of official sources, I disagree with his comment that Feng Shui “may be widely practiced in the Chinese society and is perfectly lawful for the general public, but Party members, especially those in power, are held to a different set of code of conduct.” We know that in China when something is denounced as a “feudal superstition” and an “evil practice” first the crackdown targets CCP members, but soon extends beyond the Party. This happened with Falun Gong, and in the next few months probably CCP cadres will not be the only ones talking about Feng Shui in secret rather than in public.