Monday, 28 October 2013

China & the Papacy Are… Similar?

Pope-Francis-and-Xi-Jinping

Credit: The Guardian

This evening, a rather interesting link from The Economist popped up in my inbox. It’s from their Analects blog, and the piece is a comparison between Chinese leaders and the Vatican. The article, as the writer(s) notes, is borne from a number of “amusing if inconsequential parallels between the leaders of China and the leaders of the Catholic church.” It’s a theme the blog has returned to a couple of times (fun with a headline for example, and again when the papal conclave met at the same time as the Chinese leadership pageant). It’s a playful theme, but it’s also an interesting one.

“… [N]ow that Pope Francis and Xi Jinping have had time to settle in at their respective helms, it turns out there are rather more substantial comparisons to add to the superficial ones. Any China-watcher who pays attention to recent news from the Vatican cannot help but notice them.”

The most recent example of a parallel is the German “Bishop of Bling”, who spent millions of dollars/euros to pimp out his residence and other church buildings. The pope, naturally decided to suspend the felonious monk. The ostentation exhibited in this bishop’s spending was certainly against all church teachings, and especially the current pope’s focus on frugal living. Longtime China watchers should have no trouble seeing how Analects drew a parallel to the Chinese leadership – after ten years of researching and studying Chinese politics and international relations, an almost constant thread is official corruption. Analects points to new Chinese President Xi’s crack-down on the lavish lifestyles of Chinese officials – fancy banquets and frivolous junkets have been ruled out for Party members, and have been admonished to be frugal, and to “resolutely curb hedonism and extravagance”. Another example that the Analects writer could have pointed to was the New York Times exposé about Wen Jiabao’s family’s incredible wealth, which was amassed largely as a result of family and political connections. Chinese history is littered with examples of this – indeed, part of the whole reason for Mao Zedong’s revolution was the decadence and corruption of the regime he eventually toppled. Both the Catholic Church and Chinese Communist Party have preached frugality and sacrifice. The leadership of neither can really be said to have practiced what they’ve preached.

“Pope Francis and Mr Xi both claim to stand for the cause of transparency. So far the pope seems to have done more about it, ordering a clean-up at the secretive and scandal-ridden Vatican bank, which this month published its accounts for the first time in its 125-year history. But China in its own way is experimenting with measures aimed at increasing transparency. There are pilot schemes under way that would require officials to disclose their personal assets.”

“With all they seem to have in common, it is a pity that Mr Xi and Pope Francis are unable to get together for a chat,” Analects writes. Given that there are no official relations between the world’s most populous nation and the West’s most populous religion (is that right? I’m not 100% sure – although, the population of China is roughly the same as the number of Christians in the world).

The article, while perhaps flippant at the start, finishes on a strong point, regarding the CCP’s treatment of Chinese Christians (and religious persecution as a whole). The Guardian’s Nick Spencer offered a similar article, comparing the two leaders as well. It’s another good article, and well-worth reading.

“Of course, there are a few differences. Xi Jinping is married to a celebrity singer, Peng Liyuan, whereas Pope Francis isn't. Xi Jinping is an atheist whereas one presumes Pope Francis isn't. However, surely the most significant difference is that one of the men has power, whereas the other has authority. The division isn't quite as clear as that, of course. Pope Francis has the power to promote and to sack within clerical ranks, whereas Xi Jinping, despite having no democratic mandate, has a certain authority in that de facto he speaks for a billion of his countrymen.”

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