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December 1, 2014

Could Buddhist values help China curb pollution?

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In China, religious and environmental values are converging to address the pollution problems that affect millions of lives.

China has been politically dominated by the Communist party, which de-emphasizes religion and endorses atheism, since 1949. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, China’s Red Guards destroyed many places of worship.

The effects of those actions linger today; according to a report from the Pew Research Center, about half of China’s population does not associate with any particular religion, numbering about 700 million people, or more than twice the U.S. population. Over 60 percent of the world’s religiously unaffiliated people live in China.

At the same time, China is the ancient seat of Eastern religious philosophy and has the world’s largest Buddhist population. Buddhists in China make up about 18 percent of China’s population and account for half of all Buddhists in the world.

The Buddhist outlook could provide a new gateway to conservation for Chinese citizens, who live in one of the most air-polluted countries in the world. Air pollution from burning coal, one of China’s biggest energy sources, has caused major problems for China’s cities, contributing to millions of premature deaths and lowered life expectancies.

Conservation is more than a political undertaking—it is also spiritual, requiring a fundamental respect for all lives, according to Chinese journalist Liu Jianqiang.

Tibetan monk Tashi Sange echoed this sentiment. “No matter if you are a newborn or an 80-year-old, you are all protectors… All life should be protected,” he said.

China’s Communist Party, though officially atheist, has stated its support for traditional Chinese culture and its role in conservation.

“Traditional Chinese culture promotes harmony between man and nature in a simple way of life. We support this,” Chinese politician Dai Binnguo said.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is China?
  2. What are the major world religions?
  3. What is Communism? How is it different from a democracy?
  4. Which countries do you think produce the most pollution and why?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why might it be difficult for Chinese adults who lived through the Cultural Revolution to adopt Buddhism or any religion?
  2. Do you think that using religion to help solve an environmental crisis is a good idea? Why or why not?
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