Syncretization in the New China

Now that we have looked at examples of syncretization during the Tang Dynasty such as the feminine fusion of Guan Yin, the swapping and sharing of terms in inter-religious , medical, and political literature, and the mimicking of ritual, we can look to how this might apply to the 21st century in China.

China has opened its doors to the world. As a global player it has a duty and responsibility to humanitarian demands beyond its borders. Floods, disease, war, and  economic collapse requires that China show compassion and charity. Feminine fusion will require that China develop humanitarian organizations with government support. NGO’s (non-government organizations) may take on a new form such as HGOs (Humanitarian Government Organizations). The Peace Corps is an example of a government supported humanitarian organization. China will need to create and model such a program.

The analogue in the Tang Dynasty was the fusion of Guan Yin and Mary. These compassionate forces were fused into a hybrid image. It also resulted in broader expressions of compassion in Chinese cultures. Hospitals in Xian appeared for the first time in the capital city sponsored by Asian Christians. The fusion of Guan Yin gave psychological and social permission for Buddhists and Daoists to receive help from Christian aid institutions. Christian physicians who were also priests were able to reach out to a broader population irregardless of religious tribalism.

In Dunhuang we see the syncretization of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manicheanism (but not Islam). All this was built on an economic exchange at the crossroads of the Horse and Butterfly road. The demand for horses in exchange for silk among other things. This led to levels of cooperation that drove the forces of syncretism. Today the same this is happening again with new theological creations that will fuel a renewal of syncretization. It will produce an evolved religious reform. Bishop Ting may be the new Martin Luther, He has created a new doctrine of “Justification by Love” subordinated to  “Justification by Faith.” This will ignite a new religious, political, and cultural fusion approved by the host government in the same way the Tang Dynasty gave paternalistic support to the cooperation and non-lethal competition among religions in its empire.

The arts are especially suited to syncretization. Central Asian dancers with long sleeves and unique styles merged with more traditional art forms. The disciples of the Pear Garden were given space among the pear tree blossomed courtyard of the Tang Dynasty to entertain the court and the Emperor. Driven by creative energy and the artist to create ever improving variation on music western contributions were welcomed.

The long-sleeved contribution from Central Asia still survives today in the Peking Opera. It is a beautiful example of syncretism among the arts.

Today we see western music infiltrating and merging with Chinese culture. Chinese students listen to Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, and Michael Jackson. Fusion of music is occurring in Chinese culture where Rap music is combined with  Chinese sounds and rhythmns. I am waiting for the day when western music is creatively combined with Peking Opera.

Medicine which blended western Christian and Arab contributions during the Tang Dynasty is happening again in the Neo Tang China. Acupuncture is  practiced side-by side with Western industrial medicines. This has occurred in the western faster than it is occurring in China. More openness in China  through the development of a consumer middle class will speed up this medical syncretization.

On the military level China is sharing resources and  with other militaries in the Asian region. This was unimaginable a few decades ago. It is happening now because of the increasing need for China to extend its reach on a global level. This is driven in the same way that Dunhuang in the Tang era drove cooperation and regional expansion by the desire for foods and services beyond its borders. It will also make it less likely for war to develop as the cost of attacking a neighbor rises and increases harm to China.

During the Tang era Asian Christians shared sacred space with Daoists in the royal court.  Mandela squares where sacred ritual was performed displayed social and religious cooperation in a political environment. This has happened recently with the Olympic Games and the World Expo. This will forever alter Chinese consciousness of itself. The secular spaces of the Olympic aquatic center and Olympic stadium saw universal space shared by peoples of vastly different politics, economies, religions, and abilities. All were celebrated. The opening and closing ceremonies celebrated a tolerance and inclusiveness that is the highest expression of syncretization. I see the effects of this dramatic fusion spreading across Chinese media on TV shows and political celebration.

Syncretization gives me hope for the future of China as long as it keeps its doors open and allows the process of cultural, religious, and artistic fusion.


About daleinchina

Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences.
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