Young Chinese Embracing Buddha More, Enrage Communist Party

Young Chinese Embracing Buddha More, Enrage Communist Party

By K Shangith

China is witnessing a surge in temple tourism as hundreds of young people flock to Buddhist temples each weekend to unwind from daily pressures. Data from travel platforms in recent months showed that bookings for temple visits have more than tripled year-on-year, with young people accounting for half of those orders. According to data from Ctrip, an online ticketing platform in mainland China, since February, nearly 50 per cent of the people who booked tickets for temple spots are young Chinese born after the nineties becoming the main force of temple tourism. The data shows that ticket bookings for temple-related visits have increased by 310 per cent yearly.

According to local media reports, many believers among young Chinese are seeking a temporary escape from personal or professional worries as they have found a new way to unwind from the daily grind in these religious sites. On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok searches for temple visits has surged by 580 per cent this year, according to Ocean Engine, an online marketing service provider. On the lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, there have been over 820,000 temple-goers posting anything from travelling tips to worshipping etiquette and deeming the tour a “heart-cleansing experience”.

According to domestic media reports, the Lama Temple, a Buddhist worship site in Beijing, witnessed a daily average of over 40,000 visitors last week. The capital’s Wofo Temple has also gone viral, primarily due to its similar obeisance to the word “offer,” as students and young professionals flock to pray for school admissions and career advancements.

However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official media recently issued a statement criticizing young people for visiting temples instead of “struggling for communism”. The CCP’s official media, “Beijing News”, published a commentary on March 21, saying that young people are facing much pressure nowadays, such as taking postgraduate entrance examinations, finding a good job, and getting rid of being single. Under pressure, the young people sought a channel to release stress and transfer anxiety and chose a temple full of incense and solemn treasures. The article concluded that “it is unreliable to pray to gods and Buddhas after all”.

Netizens slammed the official media comments by saying there is no quality of life in the country for young people who struggle to get a decent job and stable life. “When the belief is shattered, you must change to another belief. You cannot force others to believe in yours, right? Do you really think you can control everyone’s thinking?” a netizen asked on WeChat, China’s popular social media service.

Another wrote, “if it’s really useful to go to school, what’s the point of offering incense? Instead of thinking about why young people lie down and why they are passionate about gods and Buddhas, they criticize condescendingly. Are you embarrassed?”

The so-called “lying flat” by netizens is an online term that has become popular in mainland China since 2021. It refers to the young people born in the 90s and 2000s who, under the background of the continuous economic decline in China, the difficulty of social class mobility, and the intensification of social conflicts caused by the CCP’s extreme containment measures against the epidemic, made out of disappointment with the real environment. It is better to choose the attitude of “lying flat” and “having no desires and demands” instead of following social expectations and persisting in striving.

“Lying flat” is regarded as a way to fight against the “involution” of society. Its specific connotations include not buying a house, not buying a car, not falling in love, not getting married, not having children, low-level consumption, maintaining the minimum standard of living, refusing to be a money-making machine for Chinese capitalists and an enslaved person exploited by Chinese capitalists.

Although, the Chinese Communist Party has banned retired officials and cadres from believing in any faith at all. China’s constitution may technically uphold religious freedom, but party faithful -even retired ones – are out of luck. The Pew Research Center, which surveys religious belief worldwide, estimates some 245 million Buddhists in China, around 18 per cent of the total national population. Another 21 per cent of Chinese adhere to folk religions that often incorporate Buddhist beliefs, according to Pew.

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