Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Christian in China

Want More Growth in China? Have Faith - "One of the most important dissenting voices in China today belongs to Peter Zhao, a Communist Party member and adviser to the Chinese Central Committee. Mr. Zhao is among a group of Chinese intellectuals who look to the West to find the key to economic success. Mr. Zhao in particular believes that Christianity and the ethical system based upon its teachings are the reason that Western countries dominate the global economy. "The strong U.S. economy is just on the surface," he says. "The backbone is the moral foundation."

Without a unifying moral system enforced by common values, Mr. Zhao argues, there can be no real trust between people. Without faith among business partners and between management and shareholders, only the threat of the law can keep people honest. "There are problems of corruption emerging. . . . There is concern about whether China's market economy will ever become a sound market economy."

Mr. Zhao has made his case in both popular and academic publications in the past several years, publishing more than 200 articles -- for instance, "Market Economies With Churches and Market Economies Without Churches" -- explaining how Christianity leads to long-term growth. "From the ancient time till now everybody wants to make more money," Mr. Zhao told me. "But from history we see only Christians have a continuous nonstop creative spirit and the spirit for innovation."

Surprisingly, Mr. Zhao has been allowed to voice his thoughts on the country's need for more religion and religious freedom. And he has a growing audience for his message -- particularly among Christians, of course. One Chinese think tank claimed that Mr. Zhao's articles have produced more hits online than those of any other author in the country.

Mr. Zhao began formulating his ideas during a 2002 trip to the U.S. "In the U.S., the spires of churches are more numerous than China's banks and rice shops. On a street near Harvard Square," Mr. Zhao recalls, "I once stood and looked about me, only to find that in three different directions there were three churches." The trip seems to have made a personal as well as an intellectual impression. Shortly after returning home, Mr. Zhao became a Christian himself.

Mr. Zhao's argument goes beyond the need for common values. He claims that Christianity produces greater wealth than other religions or no religion. His view is partly historical -- the wealthiest societies are those that are traditionally Christian, either Catholic or Protestant. He says that Christianity provides three elements necessary for economic growth: motivation -- those who work for God rather than for pleasure, money or status don't tire of being productive; a moral framework that makes for less exploitation and less corruption; and a mandate to care for the poor and disenfranchised."

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