Chuanmei Zhu

Monsanto Company/Dr. Norman Borlaug Corporate Fellow

Arts & Sciences: DBBS, Plant and Microbial Biosciences | PhD


Cohort 2011


Graduated 2014

Partner University:

Tsinghua University


Career: Researcher | St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Scholar Highlights

Rebuilding Our Faith: An Urgent Challenge China Faces

Every day I receive news from China that shocks and saddens me, such as people selling fake “lamb” that is actually made from mouse meat, a school principal raping young students and a college student poisoning
his roommate to death. I can’t help but wonder: What’s wrong with China?

Let’s look at the social reality in China’s decades of economic development. In the early 1980s, China started “Reform and Opening-Up” program and set economic development at the center.

While China has experienced very rapid economic growth during this period, the Chinese people have become correspondingly more materialistic and “money-worshipping.”

According to an online study by Reuters in 2012, 70 percent of the Chinese people equate money with success and 80 percent of people from all over the world see China as the number one money worshipping country. Almost all the Chinese are trying to pursue as much money as he or she can, trying every possible means. In this context, many challenging and urgent social and moral problems have emerged, such as food safety, corruption, a break.down of corporate ethics, the collapse of marital ethics, unbearable work pressure, increasing income gaps between rich and poor, and urban and rural disparity.

How do the Chinese feel living in such a country? I will give you just two examples. First, families routinely fortify their houses with thick iron bars on windows and big iron doors to prevent robbery, which to me makes houses look like prisons. Second, consider the little Yue-Yue incident in China in October 2011. This two-year-old girl was hit by a big truck on the street. While 18 people passed by, no one gave her any help. Finally an elderly woman trash collector offered aid. The injury was so severe that little Yue-Yue died after a week in the hospital.

This is not an unusual thing in today’s China, and you can see how it makes me think the Chinese feel indifferent, confused, empty and insecure. China lacks love, trust, higher moral standards and forgiveness. Many scholars claim that these problems are results of an imperfect legal system, education and political institutions. I agree that these external factors matter, but I believe the key reason for this crisis lies internally. That is, we Chinese people don’t have a mature spiritual faith that can guide our mind and behavior.
In my view Wu Fa Wu Tian, which means having no fear of law or God, is the reason why people tend to commit immoral acts and why so many social problems occur. Indeed, China has been living in a
faith vacuum for the last several decades. Chairman Mao, who founded the New China, described religion as a “poison,” and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s almost eradicated all religious belief in China. After the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party promoted one central belief system in China, namely, atheism based on Marxism and Communism.

However, this political belief loses its charm especially in today’s society when corruption and autocracy of the Community Party pervade Chinese society.

The religions of Confucianism and Buddhism have existed in China for hundreds of years but people rarely take time to seriously consider them because they are so busy earning money. Hence, even recent Premier Wen Jia-Bao used the phrase “faith crisis” in China.

Chinese people nowadays have started to look for a faith. There are more people who believe in Confucianism or Buddhism. In addition, other religious beliefs have spread into China and grown rapidly in recent years, one of which is Christianity. Christianity, which was once thought to be a Western faith, is gaining popularity in China. It is especially appealing to the Chinese because of its message about love, righteousness and forgiveness, which are all longed for.

Despite the obvious need for some sort of faith to guide people’s lives, the Chinese government has taken strict control and sometimes even oppressed the development of religion. Stories of police preventing believers from worshipping in church are reported. Also, there are still many Chinese people who resist having any faith in an environment of atheism and materialism. I believe human beings not only have material needs but also spiritual needs. Rebuilding faith is an urgent challenge that China faces today, and it is a key solution to the many social and moral problems in China. The Chinese government and people need to work together to build faiths that are good for the nation and people. Appreciating and welcoming faith is the first step!

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