Da Vinci in China
As we waited outside of the large portico leading to Fudan University in Shanghai, a woman pushed a cart in front of us. It was filled with books. Our host explained to us that these were all published underground and banned by the government. A policeman on a bicycle drew near and waved the woman off. She nodded, moved a few inches away and remained in the portico. I looked down, and there was ain Chinese. You cannot purchase Bibles in any store, though they are allowed to be sold in the Three Self churches, the government-sponsored Protestant Church.
Then I looked over to see several volumes by Dan Brown. Again, our host, a Christian professor at the University, explained that the Da Vinci Code, both the book and the film, were forbidden in China. Well, we did find a nicely bound copy of the book in the Shaghai airport bookstore. So, perhaps the book is not completely banned. Nevertheless, it is certain that the government has made every effort to suppress Dan Brown's worldwide best-seller. The reason? The Roman Catholic Church is featured. The government sees this story as a way to promote the organized church. But, I pointed out, the Church looks very bad in this story. No matter, said the professor, the very fact that religion is featured in a story as the drive behind the actions of various groups, fromto the Priori of Sion to the Vatican makes availability of such a story dangerous. It might give people ideas!
There are enigmas and ironies here. We are currently attending a major conference at Wuhan University, co-sponsored by the University of Birmingham, U. K., on the subject of Secularization and Enlightenment in the East and the West. All the speakers freely evoke religions of all kinds, from Christian to Buddhist to Daoist, organized and informal. Not only are we perfectly free but a couple of high government officials are present, not for censure, but to learn from the assembled scholars. Barbara, bolder than I, asked one of them at the lunch table whether he believed in any religion. No, he said, quite as a matter of fact. Yet he has been participating fully in the discussions, and shows only signs of interest.
The Chinese government declares freedom of religion. And yet it is against the law for any faith not to register. There is a long history here of protection of the governing authorities from any "cults" which could be allowed to criticize them. So, at the least, some 70 million Christians meet underground in the house churches across the land. Many other Christians have decided to register, despite the restrictions on the official "Three Self Church" to which they must belong. Some day there may be consistency between the constitution, which allows the free exercise of religion, and the policy on the ground. In the meantime, The Da Vinci Code is on the index. Ironically, its message is profoundly anti-Christian. True enough, though, the religion promoted in the story is certainly a dangerous cult!
Hubei Province, China