Law and Religion in China: An Economic Approach,

Author:Aaron Walayat

This project is an interpretation of the regulation of religions in China through economic language, analyzing the religious behavior of individuals given heavy regulation. The relationship of Chinese regulation of the five legal religions as either a regulated monopoly or an oligopoly. Due to the fundamentally legal nature of the industrial organization of religion in China, the project will... (see full summary)

e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
© 2020 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
is paper was presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientic Study of
Religion and the Religious Research Association in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 27, 2018.
My gratitude to Professor George B. Shepherd for serving as my advisor for this project, to
Professor Teemu Ruskola for his helpful comments on my dra, and to Professor Sasha Volokh
for his help brainstorming ideas when this paper’s thesis was still in infancy. Special thanks to
Dr. Patrick Carey of Washington & Jeerson College for digging up my undergraduate term
paper that served as the impetus of this project.
rEligion in China
An Economic ApproAch
Aaron J. Walayat
is project is an interpretation of the regulation of religions in China through
economic language, analyzing the religious behavior of individuals given heavy
regulation. e relationship of Chinese regulation of the ve legal religions as
either a regulated monopoly or an oligopoly. Due to the fundamentally legal
nature of the industrial organization of religion in China, the project will anal-
ogize the legal relationship between the Chinese government and the ve legal
religions with the legal status of Chinese state-owned enterprises. e compar-
ison between the laws governing state-owned enterprises and the laws govern-
ing social organizations like the legal religious organizations is important in
interpreting the behavior of religious groups. e project will be focused mainly
on the behavior of so-called religious “rms” in the context of the industrial
organization model and the constrains that such a model puts on these rms.
Furthermore, given the presence of an industrial organization of religion, spurs
the creation of a parallel “informal” market of religious activity which includes
special economic behavior among religious consumers.
Keywords: Religion, China, Law and Economics, Informal Economy, Rational Choice
VII Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law 3-46 (January 2020)
It will likely come as a disconcerting unease (rather than a shock) for
the reader to nd that I write from a generation that does not remem-
ber the famous, live-image of the Tank Man. e photograph embodied
the persistent idea of what China meant to Western eyes: “the solitary
encounter between the two main protagonists of the liberal political
universe . . . a lone but heroic individual facing o the power of the
state.1 To this day, laymen of Chinese studies insist on decorating the
noun China with the adjective “communist” including all the authori-
tarian, totalitarian, and “unfree” connotations the word invokes. How-
ever, even while attributed, categorized, and dened with a Western
political theory,2 the denition still retains the resilient notion of China
as, eo ipso, an authoritarian despotism.
e contexts that shaped China are so fundamentally dierent
in origin from the contexts of Western civilization, such that the
“modernization” thesis, as commonly understood in the Western
paradigm, is nearly inapplicable to the cumulative analysis of Chinese
civilization. Indeed, Europe “owns modernity itself” and has become
the sort of measuring stick by which comparisons of modernity
are conducted.3 Such a Eurocentric preconception of China in the
context of modernization led Professor Teemu Ruskola to note that, to
Eurocentric observers, the questions of “Where is Asia? When is Asia?”
are answered simply as “not Europe” and “not now,” respectively.4
China, to the Western mind, is a stereotype-riddled caricature of
contradictions, interpreted as anarchic yet despotic, spiritual yet
practical, manifold yet monolithic.
In considering Chinese religion, therefore, it is common for
observers to interpret China as a slew of contradictions. Chinese
1. T R, L O 210 (2013).
2. Lest we forget that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were Germans.
3. Teemu Ruskola, Where is Asia? When is Asia? eorizing Comparative Law and
Internationa l Law, 43 U.C. D L. R. 879, 885 (2011).
4. Id. at 881-885.
Religion in China
religions like Daoism,5 and especially Confucianism6 are oen taken
as basically privatized by enveloping every aspect of the private lives of
adherents without crossing over into public, political life.7 At the same
time, news of China’s persecution of members of Falun Gong8 and the
animosity between China and the Dalai Lama over Tibet,9 support the
persistent Western image of the Cultural Revolution stretching into
modern times where religion poses an existential threat to the Chinese
government. Survey studies contort Western perception even more,
determining (perhaps unpropitiously10) that China is the least religious
country in the world with 90 percent of Chinese considering themselves
to be a convinced “atheist” or, at the very least, “not religious.11 To the
Western mind, only in China is it possible to have a society where the
religions are private, the government is religiously repressive and the
people are irreligious, all at the same time.
However, China’s relationship with religion has been a complicated
one, moving from a period of heavy repression during the Mao
Zedong-era to a more accommodating position in recent years.
5. Taoism, BBC (2014),
6. Judith A. Berling, Confucianism, A S,
7. Historically, however, politics played a role in the relationship between Chinese
religions. One notable example is in 842 when the Tang Emperor Wuzong,
who was personally attached to religious Daoism, launched a persecution
against Buddhism as well as other “foreign” religion in China. See Richard J.
Smith, Buddhism and the ‘Great Persecution’ in China in C M
 R H (Kenneth Keulman ed. 1993).
8. John Li & the International Herald Tribune, China vs. Falun Gong: Aer four
years of repression, it’s time to let go, N. Y. T, July 22, 2003, http://www.er-four-years-of-
9. Tibet prole, BBC (Aug. 16, 2017), http://w
10. Ian Johnson, Chinese Atheists? What the Pew Survey Gets Wrong, N. Y. R. 
B (Mar. 24, 2015), http://www.ny
11. Rick Noack, Map: ese are the world’s least religious countries, Wash.
Post (Apr. 14, 2015),

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