Last week a curious article appeared in the pages of People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. Titled “Seek the Power of Faith in Marx,” the piece is framed as a review of a newly published book, written by a professor at the Central Party School in Beijing, on the subject of “Why to Believe in Marxism.”
Oddly, for an article published by the largest officially atheist organisation on the planet, it seems to get rather, well, religious. Bubbling over with enthusiasm for the book’s alleged ability to convey to readers “the significance of belief in Marxism,” it celebrates Marx’s ability to serve as “the fire of the spirit, the fire of hope,” and exults in the apparently self-evident fact that “belief in Marxism indicates that the Chinese nation is destined to a bright and beautiful future.”
Recalling the “warmth” he still feels after finishing this study of Marx, a “warmth [that] comes from spiritual excitement, spiritual joy,” the reviewer concludes with an account of the “deep sense of inner satisfaction and happiness” he has gained, before declaring himself, with the cry of a convert, “a Marxist believer!”
At this point, you might be wondering why Communist Party media apparatchiks now sound a bit like mid-2000s American Evangelicals. But it’s worth knowing that the CCP recently discovered — to its shock and horror — that many of China’s people have been gripped by a deep sense of nihilism about their society rather than by boundless love and appreciation for the Party’s leadership. Among the online youth, for example, “sang culture” (roughly the equivalent of “doomerism” in the West) has proliferated. This has kicked off a scramble, led by top Party political theorist Wang Huning, to “create core values” to fill this uncomfortably God-shaped societal hole with the comforts of a synthetic ideological alternative.
The Communist Party has of course long held a deep antagonism toward religion. This drove Mao’s ruthless campaign to eradicate it (including killing an estimated 500,000 believers of Christianity, whose influence in China he likened to “poison”), as well as Xi Jinping’s more recent attempts to forcefully suppress it. All this, however, has only left a void for the many seeking spiritual meaning in their lives — one that the Party continues to struggle desperately to fill.
Hence why the article’s author takes the time to gravely note that, “For a nation to thrive, it cannot for a moment be without ideals and beliefs,” and to enthuse that, “Under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era, we will build a solid foundation of faith” for the nation.
Meanwhile, it is perhaps not coincidental that the estimated 97 million Chinese Christians currently preparing to celebrate Christmas (above or below ground) not only represent potentially the fastest growing flock of religious believers in the world, but now outnumber the ranks of the Party itself.
N.S. Lyons is the author of The Upheaval on Substack.