by N.S. Lyons
Monday, 7
February 2022
Spotted
07:00

China’s new plan to fill the God-shaped hole

The CCP is building 'civilisation centers' to create a 'collective soul'
by N.S. Lyons
Credit: Getty

New structures have been seen sprouting up in towns and cities across China. But these aren’t the usual overproduced apartment blocks. They are “New Era Civilization Practice Centers,” hubs from which a vast army of volunteers will host movie nights and vocational education classes, sort trash, visit the elderly, and generally inculcate more “civilized behavior” in Chinese citizens. Their stated mission: to “solve problems for the masses, so that every family can feel the warmth of the Party and the government.”

As detailed in a new report by the website ChinaFile, thousands of these centres have appeared and started providing social services since they first began being trialled in 2018.

Conceived by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization — devoted to fostering “ideological, moral, and cultural” progress in the population — the centres represent an attempt to develop an alternative approach to social control. If they can only help nudge the masses toward a new era of self-monitoring and self-regulation, the thinking goes, traditional heavy-handed “stability maintenance” measures may someday no longer be required at all.

So the Party is not slacking on implementation. At least $110 million is estimated to have already been spent on pilot projects by the centres since August 2018. And government directives propose each county centre enlist 10-13% of the local population as “volunteers” to carry out their mission — a figure suggesting at least 140 million such conscripts if the programme were to be expanded to encompass the whole of China.

The Civilization Practice Centers therefore reflect a growing determination by the Party to expand into every corner of everyday life in China. But why does the Party believe this is required? Because, as the report notes, “The Party remains obsessed with the state of the country’s collective soul.”

The great fear of the regime’s chief ideologist, Wang Huning, is that “there are no core values in China’s most recent structure” because economic liberalisation and the eradication of traditional beliefs has left only individualistic nihilism at the heart Chinese society. Or as the Guidance Commission quoted Xi Jinping in explaining the need for the centers: “a nation without spiritual strength will struggle to stand on its own feet; a cause without its foundation in culture will struggle to sustain itself over the long term.”

For the CCP, apathy is ultimately almost as terrifying as resistance.

The hope that these centres will come to “occupy a central position in people’s spiritual lives” may prove elusive — no matter how much they are encouraged to “practice civilization,” it remains to be seen whether people can be commanded by the state to find meaning.

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Warren T
Warren T
7 months ago

I prefer the actual quote by Pascal:
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God….” 

John Pade
John Pade
7 months ago

I don’ know, but I think the CCP is trying to fill a vacuum in all places where markets and freedom are present or, especially, predominant. That vacuum is the place left by vanished duty. Great Britain and its Commonwealth may have been the last holdout of duty during World War I , when it was epitomized by Lord Kitchner’s “Your Country Needs You” recruitment poster and the response to it. In truth, that was but a rear guard action against the advancing forces of atomization released by who-knows-what many, many, years earlier.
Everyone wants to be free. Free people will do whatever is pleasing to them. What is pleasing to one will be hurtful in some way to another. Free people will become indifferent to each other. Society will be impossible.
Duty, whether felt or coerced, is the only remedy to impose society on freedom.

Anne Torr
Anne Torr
7 months ago

I think we’ll get a better idea when such centres start sprouting up here, starting in our Universities already in hock to Chinese money

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
7 months ago

If you read the book ‘Free’ by Lea Ypi, the author describes her coming-of-age in communist Albania.

Big houses, which might have been owned by pre-communism ‘decadent’ people, are used as social clubs or charity centres. As a schoolchild your only possibility for entertainment on evenings/weekends is to go to one of these centres and help to look after orphan children, to join in maths games or to have communal singing.

Despite having no freedom to think, despite having to queue all day for milk, despite having no hope for the future except as a Party slave, the author makes this seem to be a warm and cuddly existence. Well written and informative as long as you don’t fall for the Marxist propaganda.

Last edited 7 months ago by Chris Wheatley
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

That’s interesting. It did occur to me that the Chinese have at least identified there is something deeply meaningful missing from our societies. Western governments don’t even seem to be aware of the hole.

Whether true community spirit can be generated from the top down is doubtful, and coercion seems to be built in with participation targets, but identifying there is a problem is a useful start point.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

That does sound like an interesting read!

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
7 months ago

The left scraping the barrel again.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 months ago

I’m not sure the CCP can really be ascribed a left or right tag. While they call themselves Communist, their rise has come about through hardcore right leaning Capitalism, especially the neoliberal reforms of the West. The only description that fits is authoritarian

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
7 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I suppose, strictly speaking, “fascist” is the term that fits most closely. The state does not own the means of production, but it does control it. Of course, fascism is also a doctrine of the left.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
7 months ago

CCP: doctrine of racial supremacy, check. Nationalistic ideology, check. Crackdown on ethnic and religious minorities: check. Irredentist foreign policy: check. Corporatism, with close links between industrialists and governing party: check. Authoritarian system of government: check. Control over sources of information: check. Cult of personality: check. Yep, definitely fascist. Only don’t tell the wolkies, they think that only white people can be fascist.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
7 months ago

Coming soon to somewhere in the West!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
7 months ago

Zuckerberg is putting them into every Metaverse town square as we speak.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
7 months ago

The CCP is a theocracy. This is the first thing needed to understand it.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
7 months ago

The story refutes that totally. Theos in Theocracy = God, and as they are an atheist group they have none of that. Mao did push the ‘Cult of Personality’, but that was totally discredited after he died by the ‘Gang of Four’ and Mao’s wife who had committed all manner of excesses with out his cult status so they would be tolerated. Future leaders decided to not go that way either.

CCP is an obedience-autocracy with is based on nothing but obedience, and therefore is existentially Nihilistic. In the West the Academics have created an Atheist Postmodernism Nihilism belief system which worships minorities. I doubt that would work in China though, it is just not their thing, so they are trying this plan.

Ed Cameron
Ed Cameron
7 months ago

“For the CCP, apathy is ultimately almost as terrifying as resistance.”
Really? I’d wager that the CCP would be more likely to run a column of tanks over the resistant than the apathetic.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
7 months ago
Reply to  Ed Cameron

Just because there was one such incident in the past does not mean it is contemplated again by the CCP. If this were true, would they not have put down the Hong Kong campaigners with tanks?
The West badly misunderstands China because they think Chinese people are like us and that the CCP is a dictatorship in the style we have seen in the West.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
7 months ago

You can’t understand China unless you know a bit of history. Some important dates:

  • Waring States period
  • Century of Humiliation.
  • China united by Mao
  • Communism doesn’t work.
  • Deng Xiaoping reverts China not only to capitalism, but also revives traditional values (Confucius etc)
  • China develops into consumerist society.
  • CCP seeks to counter hyper-consumerism
Christian Filli
Christian Filli
7 months ago

Probably the most important (and most terrifying) post by UnHerd this week. However, the title is very misleading, as this obviously has nothing to do with spirituality. The same phenomenon is already happening in the West – brainwash the masses and you create a very efficient bottom-up authoritarianism.