Chinese popular culture. Comics and Religion

When you think of comics you think of Marvel or DC from America or Manga from Japan. When asked, many do not know of Chinese comics, many believing that they are merely translated Japanese or American comic books. Chinese comics are called Manhua. The eldest being stone reliefs from 11C BC and on pottery from 5000 to 3000 BC. Chinese manhua was born roughly between the years 1867 and 1927. Because of the introduction of lithograph printing from the west, satirical drawings soon appeared in newspapers and periodicals. By the 1920’s palm sized books had been printed and were considered the predecessor of modern day manhua. Chinese comic books are seen as a way to entertain and educate the public of China. It’s content can include anything from literary classics, fiction and non fiction, fairy tales, myths and biographies. Due to the rising interest in Chinese visual art, popular culture and media, comic books have gained a lot of attention from academics in the more recent years. Around the time of the Cultural Revolution, politics showed up in in almost every aspect of everyday life. The comic book was no exception. Due to the content and artistry of comic books of the period of Cultural Revolution, these books are popular topics of study for modern day Chinese history as well as the communistic propaganda and the relationship between politics, art and education.

 

When thinking of religion in China, we think Buddhism or perhaps the worship of ancestors and deities. Mostly what we have seen in films or television adaptations, but what is the Chinese view on religion? Many travelling to China for the first time are often surprised or shocked at the differences between China and the western world. Beliefs and values play an important in the culture. The word religion only exists in western languages. In others a word had to be created. This is much the case with China. At the beginning of the century, the Chinese borrowed the Japanese word for religion. Currently there are five religions in China: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Though due to the fact that religions are family based they do not demand the support of its members. Many believe that the term “religion” is inaccurate when speaking of Taoism or Buddhism and tend to refer to them as “cultural practices”. Much of who or what should be called religious in China is up for debate. It has been said that the general percentage of people that regard themselves as religious in China is amongst the lowest in the world.

Since it’s introduction in the first century, Buddhism has remained a popular religion in China. However the largest religious group in China is that of Chinese folk religion otherwise known as “Shenism” . It is the collective which includes Taoism and the worship of the shens. The shens are a collection of local deities, heroes and ancestors, and figures from Chinese myths and legend. Most recently Mazu, goddess of the seas; Huangdi, divine patriarch of the Chinese nation and the Black Dragon Caishen, god of prosperity and wealth.

Although Christianity in China is well established since the seventh century, it declined in the tenth through fourteenth centuries due to persecution. It was reintroduced in the sixteenth century and by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there had been an influx of European ideology in China. The Communist party of China, when it came to power in 1949, was seen as an atheist faction and viewed western religions as a tool of western colonialism and since then has preserved a separation of the church from state affairs. By the 1980’s more religious freedoms were granted and the traditional values and beliefs of Taoism and Buddhism were supported as a necessary part of Chinese culture.

Nowadays, Shenism-Taoism and Buddhism are the largest religions in China with around 30% of its population. Around 10% of the population are counted as non-Han ethnicities who follow their own tribal religions. It is believed that Christianity only covers around 3 or 4% of the population and Muslims are around 1 to 2%. It would seem that most of the population art agnostic or atheist, this being around the region of 60 to 70%. Confucianism is widely popular amongst intellectuals.

 

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