China, strong government, free society, India, weak government, strong society

By Razib Khan 33 Comments

In our discussion on the podcast, Abhinav talked about China and India in relation to society vs. government. I stumbled on this chart from Pew that illustrates it.

China’s government controls religion much more than India’s government. But on a personal level, the Chinese have much more freedom in their religious identity. Indians are simply not equipped to understand how religion does not have corporate power as an identity in the same way in East Asia, which means the stakes for individual religious experimentation are far lower.

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33 Replies to “China, strong government, free society, India, weak government, strong society”

  1. On a related note, some personal anecdotes from observing Indian-Chinese intermarriage patterns in Singapore and other expat-heavy metro first-world cities:

    In nearly all marriages, the couple and by extension any children end up taking the Indian parent’s religion. Primarily because the Indian side of the family cares a lot about religion while the Chinese side doesn’t care much, if at all.

    The mixed-progeny are more likely to be accepted by (foreign-based) Indians than by the Chinese. In the former case there is a possible overlap in phenotype with existing Indian groups, a mixed kid can often pass as Assamese in an Indian college dance troupe. They’ll stand out more if they’re in a Chinese group, especially if they have darker skin.

    There’s the English factor too, the children settled anywhere except either home country will speak in the language, and have a wider base to connect with their Indian relatives (probably multi-lingual) if they forget their native tongue, compared to their Chinese relatives who’d prefer speaking Mandarin or another Chinese dialect, unless they’re Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese or some other Anglo-Chinese variant. Allows for the passing on of cultural habits to a greater degree.

    The only mixed group I’ve observed who’re somewhat well accepted in East Asian societies are the Asian-White mix, because they often fit the beauty standards like what you’d see in Korean dramas. For a mix with a darker group, esp. Indians and Africans there almost seems to be a one-drop rule w.r.t. societal acceptance for the offspring. When I say social acceptance it means they won’t necessarily treat you badly, but will always see you as different. E.g. the tennis player Naomi Osaka even after winning multiple grand slams has trouble with this.

    1. this seems right. but probably depends partly on how dark. e.g., the half bangladeshi 1/4th japanese 1/4th russian actress rolla has done OK (though broken barriers) in japan. but she’s very very light brown

  2. I have very low confidence in the alethic modalities of Western assertions about Eastern religious freedom. This is after reading and listening to several white commentators, a mix of believers (in Hinduism) and proselytizers (against Hinduism).

    To dive into this particular study, it was conducted by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project (a title that is suspicious enough, I will park it for now).

    https://www.pewforum.org/2019/07/15/methodology-26/

    The methodology used is indexing – which take their primary inputs from a mosaic of over 20 sources (half of which are funded by White Christian bodies and exclusively situated in the US or Europe). There is not a single Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim thinktank as a source. They then use a double coding process to extract info from these sources to eliminate bias. That their primary sources do not contain any database from the Eastern hemisphere, is highly suggestive of selection bias.

    This manifests rather glaringly in the results – the list of countries whose governments place apparently low restrictions on religion. This list consists overwhelmingly of countries where the major religion is Christianity, with very small exceptions (like Mauritius). Those were the modal criticisms of this particular study.

    Now on to the qualitative part – how does one explain the higher heterogeneity of Indian religious practices if the scope and experimentation of Indians is very low. This is the time tested pitfall of classifying every Indian practice as Hinduism – which then becomes a misfit for the actual phenomena underneath.

    Is a fasting Prayopavesi the same as a animal sacrificing Amman worshipper?

    No, Indians experiment in religious modes and thoughts as much or more than the Chinese do. The success of Hinduism in harmonizing all these modes under a Grand Narrative has become its alethic Achilles heel.

    Bonus question – The current CM of Andhra, Jagan Reddy, belongs to a Catholic family for more than 3 generations now. They also practice endogamy, exclusively marrying into Reddy families only. The only exception was when one of the members married a Brahmin. Is he a Catholic or a Hindu in spirit?

      1. Quite frequent, if you look at Jagan’s close kin. A lot of them are Hindus. Jagan’s maternal uncle, YV Subba Reddy is a Hindu. He is also the chairman of TTD, India’s richest temple board at Tirupati.

        It’s a situation similar to the Nadars in Tamilnadu. About 30% of them are converted Christians, but they exclusively marry within the community always. Nadar Christian is now a denomination.

        1. That’s why I prefer seeing Caste as an Indian thing, not necessarily a Hindu thing.
          Hinduism in Southeast doesn’t have caste in my reading.

          1. I meant South east Asia. Obviously caste like divisions – Esp Varna divisions exist in SE Asia but not the Indian Jati – nor I presume the tight endogamy. SE asian societies r more flexible than Indian I presume.

  3. How are they defining and measuring “social hostility”? To the naked eye, there appear to be at least a 100 dots in that graph. India has the worst social hostility out of a 100 countries? What does that mean exactly?

    And why is India in the “high” bucket when it comes to governmental restrictions? What restrictions does the Indian state impose on religious practice or affiliation?

    And Rwanda seems to have “low” social hostility. Have all the problems between Hutus and Tutsis been resolved? (Venezuela has low social hostility too; Chavez must be singing in his grave!)

    1. “And why is India in the “high” bucket when it comes to governmental restrictions? What restrictions does the Indian state impose on religious practice or affiliation?”

      Usually the governmental restrictions refer to anti-conversion laws. Some people find proselytization an important part of their faith, so anti-conversion laws affect their freedom to go out and ostensibly save souls by proselytizing. The anti-conversion laws, in their wording and application, can be murky to navigate. Ostensibly they only go after ‘harmful’ types of conversion (through coercion or bribery) but in reality it has a chilling effect on some people’s religion / faith.

      Sometimes they are also referring to things like restrictions on cow slaughter, which some argue is an important part of some religions. Particularly Islam, where during Eid they traditionally slaughter cows (among other animals), but in India they face some restrictions in terms of being able to faithfully slaughter cows en masse.

      At other times they refer to statements by politicians and government officials that vilify religions; or state complicity in religious riots, etc., although these things aren’t official restrictions.

      1. i have an uncle who wrote a pamphlet on the cow slaughter thing. he thinks that it’s s asian muslims fucking with hindus. in the middle east it’s usually goat or sheep. at our multiethnic mosque in new york it was always goat.

        1. Ambedkar in his book, Ambedkar.org/Pakistan, writes that all other Muslims sacrifice sheep and goats, but South Asian Muslims deliberately sacrifice cows to irritate off Hindus

        2. Yup; Sacrificing Cows – Especially Milk cows isn’t something most non fanatical would indulge in even if it’s for meat – Bulls a different thing altogether.

          There is this book however which pts to Muslim Cow Slaughter ( non Elite/soldier) being a post British and especially post 1857 thing. It claims its Brits who brought large scale cow slaughter not Muslim invaders – ofcourse HRW would dismiss these as Biased Sickular histories but that book is interesting nonetheless. Available freely online I guess – it’s a very old book.

  4. And Rwanda seems to have “low” social hostility. Have all the problems between Hutus and Tutsis been resolved? (Venezuela has low social hostility too; Chavez must be singing in his grave!)

    this is about religion. not ethnicity.

  5. This makes a lot of sense in South Asia, where conformity to some form of identity or cultus are extremely important. Individual religious belief isn’t as important as a certain sense of orthopraxy and outward pietas.

    You can be a twenty-something non-religious urban Hindu/Muslim/Christian/Sikh who rarely thinks about religion, but you have a strong sense of “how to be/look religious” when the time or situation calls for it. In South Asia, a beef eating Brahmin can look positively Rtvij when it come to religious occasions, a shaven Sikh can “Waheguru” like a Gurudwara elder, a closet-atheist Goan Catholic can make the face and gestures of deep prayer at midnight mass, and a pork-eating and drinking Muslim can move with perfect precision during their prayers. You don’t stick out when playing that part, in a way that secular westerners have never quite managed when it comes to “faking” religion.

  6. i once met a kerala xtian background guy who basically took up the hinduism of his wife. in india ppl kept saying he was a kerala xtian and assuming so even though he was more religious hindu than his wife. it really bothered him and he told me he thought about changing his name or something. but they immigrated to USA and it was all fine. his white friends thought he had an interesting life and experience, and didn’t care. ‘of course people convert religions.’

    1. That is a really interesting case. I have not encountered anything like that, even in mixed marriages. In most cases, I haven’t seen conversion, but instead two sets of religious practices that are invoked (usually by grandparents.) One parent looks like they can act the part, while the other just looks like a tourist watching a documentary.

  7. yep. depending on how you define it 30-50% of americans change their religion in their lifetime.

    did you know that 22% of americans raised as muslim say they’re not muslim as adults? https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/26/the-share-of-americans-who-leave-islam-is-offset-by-those-who-become-muslim/

    of those, 22% are christian, so about 4% of americans raised as muslims are christians as adults

    these sort of facts are almost impossible for a lot of ppl from s asia and MENA to fathom. otoh, the numbers for korea are similar. lots of ppl going from christain to buddhist or buddhist to christian, or from buddhist/xtian to no religion. etc

    1. 1. Is conversion not a big deal in the US because it is still so overwhelmingly Christian?

      71% of the population seems to be Christian and 23% unaffiliated, who’d mostly be culturally Christian (correct me if my assumption is wrong).

      No other religion commands more than 3% of the population.

      I wonder if things would be different if say a solid 15% of the population were Muslim. Or if Mexico were a Muslim country.

      2. Regarding India, religion is an important part of an individual’s identity. Not just culturally but also legally. So there’s more inertia.

      Also, I think it is possible for Hindus to generally change their favourite Gods without changing their religion.
      My paternal grandmother was from a Vaishnav leaning background. But my father has over the course of his life become more of a Shiv bhakt.

      I don’t know if this qualifies as a conversion but it serves a similar purpose spiritually.

      1. 1. Is conversion not a big deal in the US because it is still so overwhelmingly Christian?

        you guys combine christians together, but that is not how americans see it. america comes out of a radical protestant dispensation where individual religious choice is paramount and denomination switching has been normative in much of the nation for centuries. baptists, america’s largest protestant denomination, think 70% of americans are going to hell (they publish a map of county by county who is going to hell).

        1. “you guys combine christians together”

          I agree we do. But outsiders combine Hindus together as well.

          The cult of Osho has less in common with Vaishnavism than say Baptism with other Protestant sects. But becoming an Osho follower is not considered conversion for a baniya in Madhya Pradesh.

          My point was that Indians don’t care for your theological leanings. They experiment enough within certain ritualistic bounds (mainly vegetarianism).
          They do care where you stand from a legal or corporate identity point of view.

          Official stats only capture change in these latter as conversions.

  8. (i’m not talking about indian immigrants; they do not convert and really high retention. i’m talking about brownz born/raised in USA like jindal haley)

    1. 20 percent seems about right. Though I have never heard/met any desi who grew up in the states as a Christian, and has converted to something else. My group is small.

  9. i see. well, i have a friend who grew up in a malayali catholic family. he’s atheist. wife theistic hindu. i assume if the kids have a religion it’ll be hinduism

  10. I think this Malyali thing is really odd. It happens in India too. Actually the only area where it happens, where u see some well off catholics and even muslims also converting to Hinduism, even though there is no real benefit socially or otherwise. That;s the only state i have seen this happening.

    1. “It happens in India too. Actually the only area where it happens, where u see some well off catholics and even muslims also converting to Hinduism, even though there is no real benefit socially or otherwise.”

      Might have to do with prosperity. Self-actualization and stuff becomes more important than material considerations.

      The physicist EC George Sudarshan left Christianity to become a Vedantin.

  11. No other religion commands more than 3% of the population.

    religious switching is normal in a lot of africa where muslims and christians are balanced. e.g., nigeria. ppl in the same family belong to different religions. it is also normal in south korea where 25 and 25% of the population is buddhist and christian (catholic is seen as very different from protestant).

    again, you guys need to just think more widely than MENA and india, which take a very ‘corporate’ view of religion. europe is somewhat similar, tho lowkey

  12. In India we had partition on basis of religion, and the persecutions that followed later, even now . So that experience skews peoples view . If changing faith does not change constitution and rights of the people, well, that would be different and is the case in America. I would say that west has been untested yet, because its different denominations of Christianity together that are in majority and there has over time evolved a certain set of norms . If a fundamentalist version of another evangelical religion gains 20% , that would be a test to see how things would change, if furthermore they demand certain changes in constitution, laws etc. We would have some empirical evidence of how things are changing.

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/07/macron-wants-to-start-an-islamic-revolution/

    France is where some experiments are going on. Loss aversion is the thing in India due to bad experience of partition.

  13. The indian pre-occupation with religion is immediately obvious if you talk to Indians beyond pleasantries. I’ve had discussions where my Indian interlocutor casually dismissed the racial tensions in the US with the throwaway line “they’re all Christians anyway”. This was before this summer’s BLM/Antifa riots.

    The only other region that is as preoccupied with religion is probably MENA. There are religious tensions in Africa too, but most countries are not like Nigeria but often have ethnic conflicts instead (Ethiopia being a classic example and of course Rwanda).

    Given Hindutva’s focus on de-emphasising caste distinctions, religion as the primary faultline within Indian polity is in all likelihood only going to increase.

  14. “But on a personal level, the Chinese have much more freedom in their religious identity.”

    Tibetans? Uighurs? Falun Gong? Christians?

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