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Religious Philanthropy in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong

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The Impact of State Institutional Trajectories

image of Asian Journal of Social Science

This essay argues that differences in religious ecologies, between China and the polities of Taiwan and Hong Kong are necessary but insufficient explanations for their different approaches to the reliance on religious actors for the delivery of social services. I discuss briefly two other explanations for the differences in policy outcomes: the legacies of colonial and semi-colonial rule, and the influence of ruling party ideologies, before I shift to an historical neo-institutional approach, which contrasts the path dependency of past policies of usurpation directed by the CCP at religious institutions between 1949 and 1978, and the policies of cooptation adopted in Taiwan and Hong Kong during the same period. I argue that although the Chinese government has affirmed with increasing clarity in recent years its interest in an approach that encourages the cooptation of religious institutions, the previous approach of usurpation has undermined the resources of religious institutions, left many religious actors distrustful of authorities, and continues to influence many constituencies that could oppose the approach of cooptation. To substantiate this argument, the essay proceeds as follows: it first discusses the different strategies available to states as they accumulate symbolic power, underlining the role of religious institutions in that process; then it contrasts the results achieved by religious philanthropy in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the provision of a wide array of services, on the one hand, with the difficulties faced by their counterparts in the delivery of social services in China, on the other; and finally it reviews some of the explanations for the discrepancies observed.

Affiliations: 1: Ottawa University


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