Religious Rebellion in China

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Religious Rebellion in China

Unread postby agga » Thu Oct 07, 2010 8:35 pm

Reading Plunged's wikia article on Zhang Jiao, i was reminded of something that i had noticed before, but never really brought up to someone who might enlighten me:

I can think of three famous examples of cult leaders leading, or being prevented from leading, rebellions against Chinese governments: the Zhang Jiao and his Yellow Turbans; Hong Xiuquan and his Taiping Tianguo; and Li Hongzhi and his Falun Gong.

is there only a superficial, coincidental resemblance between these movements and their effects on China? is it just that China's history is so long that it's easy to find multiple independent examples of similar phenomena? am I cherry picking China, and is it that the same thing has happened all over the world (Jesus? Peter the Hermit?)?

or, and this is what i'm really curious about, is there something about China that predisposes it to this sort of thing, and if so, are there other significant examples that someone more educated than I can point out?
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Re: Religious Rebellion in China

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:21 pm

Don't forget the various Buddhist cult-inspired Bailian Rebellions! One of these, headed by Zhu Yuanzhang, established the Ming Dynasty, and another of which was a failed attempt to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and re-establish the Ming.

agga wrote:I can think of three famous examples of cult leaders leading, or being prevented from leading, rebellions against Chinese governments: the Zhang Jiao and his Yellow Turbans; Hong Xiuquan and his Taiping Tianguo; and Li Hongzhi and his Falun Gong.

is there only a superficial, coincidental resemblance between these movements and their effects on China? is it just that China's history is so long that it's easy to find multiple independent examples of similar phenomena? am I cherry picking China, and is it that the same thing has happened all over the world (Jesus? Peter the Hermit?)?

or, and this is what i'm really curious about, is there something about China that predisposes it to this sort of thing, and if so, are there other significant examples that someone more educated than I can point out?


Not sure there's a critical mass of followers behind Li Hongzhi - honestly, I think he's just in it for the profit, and the government's been fairly successful at convincing mainlanders that the Falun Dafa are dangerous. (IMHO, they're really only about as dangerous as the Church of Scientology.) But you pose a good question here; perhaps historically and philosophically it may be related to the divine nature of the claims of the Emperor, in addition to the divine means (loss of the 天命) by which he may be removed? Thus, it would seem that for a popular movement to overthrow the Emperor to gain legitimacy, it must make some kind of competing religious claim about knowing the divine will for the country.

This might stand in direct contrast to Western Europe, where the divine right of kings was philosophically unqualified - there could be no legitimate excuse for deposing and killing a reigning monarch (hence, the martyrdom and beatification of King Charles I Stuart by the Church of England). Also, in Western Europe, up until the Reformation, you really had no competing religious traditions from which to draw legitimacy - there was the Church, full stop. In China you had various religious traditions competing for legitimacy and social power, including Confucianism, Buddhism (including heterodox systems like Bailian), Daoism (including heterodox systems like the Huangjin) and later Christianity (which inspired the Taiping Tianguo).

Of course, this is a very cursory beginning of a comparison; this sounds actually like it might be a good topic for a graduate thesis in history.
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Re: Religious Rebellion in China

Unread postby agga » Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:50 pm

WeiWenDi wrote:Don't forget the various Buddhist cult-inspired Bailian Rebellions! One of these, headed by Zhu Yuanzhang, established the Ming Dynasty


adding Zhu Yuanzhang and the red turbans to the list really starts to clear things up. chinese governments have only ever changed by overthrow, and maybe all these movements weren't "religious" per se, they were often millenarian - Mao and the Marxists i think are another example.

WeiWenDi wrote:Not sure there's a critical mass of followers behind Li Hongzhi - honestly, I think he's just in it for the profit


i would just count him as one in the list that was nipped in the bud - but aren't they all in it for the profit, or the glory, or the power?

WeiWenDi wrote:Thus, it would seem that for a popular movement to overthrow the Emperor to gain legitimacy, it must make some kind of competing religious claim about knowing the divine will for the country.


i guess i'm forgetting all the Mandate of Heaven stuff - cults are a good breeding ground for millenarianism, and to claim that the current order is corrupt, etc., has lost the mandate and needs to be overthrown (i.e. to carry out an internal overthrow of the government), kind of requires a sort of millenarianism.

WeiWenDi wrote:This might stand in direct contrast to Western Europe, where the divine right of kings was philosophically unqualified - there could be no legitimate excuse for deposing and killing a reigning monarch (hence, the martyrdom and beatification of King Charles I Stuart by the Church of England).


and so, when a government is overthrown in europe, we have what contrasting situation? not millenarianism (and excluding foreign invasion), but..?
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Re: Religious Rebellion in China

Unread postby agga » Fri Oct 08, 2010 4:00 pm

agga wrote:and so, when a government is overthrown in europe, we have what contrasting situation? not millenarianism (and excluding foreign invasion), but..?


i'll answer my own question: overthrows in western governments are usually by rival factions - the military, some already-in-partial-power political party, legislators moving against aristocrats, etc. rival factions are typically suppressed in chinese govt, and so this is never the way things change in China. the effect of millenarianism in the west is likely simply to be addition of support to some extant political faction.

good analysis?
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Re: Religious Rebellion in China

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Fri Oct 08, 2010 9:08 pm

agga wrote:i would just count him as one in the list that was nipped in the bud - but aren't they all in it for the profit, or the glory, or the power?


I suppose that depends on how cynical you are. :D

But in Li Hongzhi's case in particular, I think a good healthy dose of cynicism is called-for.

agga wrote:and so, when a government is overthrown in europe, we have what contrasting situation? not millenarianism (and excluding foreign invasion), but..?

...

i'll answer my own question: overthrows in western governments are usually by rival factions - the military, some already-in-partial-power political party, legislators moving against aristocrats, etc. rival factions are typically suppressed in chinese govt, and so this is never the way things change in China. the effect of millenarianism in the west is likely simply to be addition of support to some extant political faction.

good analysis?


Well, China also had competing power cliques at various points in its own history, and these conflicts also turned violent - for example, the rebellion of An Lushan, who was a general in the Tang military. I don't recall there being any overt religious element to An Lushan's attempted coup, but I could be wrong about that.

There also seems to be a kind of disconnect in Western political uses of religion up until the Reformation. Before that, yes, you had some millenarian religious groups competing with the Church in Rome (notably the Albigensians in France, the Lollards in England and the Hussites in Bohemia and Moravia), but I'm not familiar with how heavily they influenced the politics of the time. Wyclif in his early years actually sought to appease the English monarchy by proclaiming the doctrine of ecclesiastic subservience to the State - though he may also have been seeking official protection against the powers of Rome and the Inquisition.

After the Reformation, you had explicitly millenarian groups obviously seeking political power - German princes used Reformed theology to seize church lands, various peasant groups revolted and established miniature theocracies (like that of John of Leyden in Muenster) and of course there was the Calvinist theocracy which took root in Geneva. Out of this mess you got the Thirty Years' War. So perhaps it isn't a problem specific to China, though the political and religious landscapes are undoubtedly quite different...
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Re: Religious Rebellion in China

Unread postby Jordan » Sun Oct 10, 2010 8:48 pm

Actually, I always thought that religious wars were, for the most part, less common in China than the rest of the world. I have to admit, though, that there were some pretty bitter religious conflict once Buddhism and Daoism entered the scene. The Taiping Rebellion was also absolutely brutal, and probably much greater in scope than many other religious wars.

I was always under the impression that the Chinese were generally more tolerant and able to adapt their religious outlooks to other ones.

One thing that is interesting is that the Chinese Imperial system endured for most of Chinese history. Not until the modern era did anybody think that the Imperial system itself should be changed. The most radical changes were swapping one Emperor for another, or the proclamation of a new dynasty. People might think the Emperor was corrupt, but not the system...
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