Monday, April 19, 2010

A Good Communist

What's this—a line in the cafeteria?

And then I remember. I saw the signs for the Marxist Youth Conference this morning. Like old ladies at a church supper, these students of socialism have been inspired to treat their fellow humans with kindness and respect, at least for the rest of the afternoon.

But I am not a good Communist. I cut to the front of the line, grab a tray, set my smart card on the reader and order lunch.

China is a nation of many religions. Here in Shanghai, you see Muslims running beef noodle shops and grilling lamb kebabs on the street. Buddhist monks ride the subways on their daily rounds. Christians talk to you about their religion, invite you to their church. And Communists believe the socialist utopia is but a generation away.

Marxist theory has had profound geopolitical ramifications over the last century. But for the common man, Communism plays the same role as religion. It provides a set of rules for proper conduct in this life, and hope for a better future.

Religion can be an effective political tool. American politicians constantly profess their faith in God, even as their behavior strays from Christian ideals. Mao Zedong used faith in a new socialist order to unify a nation, first against Japanese invasion and then against Nationalist corruption.

Nowadays, most Chinese are secular, as they have been throughout history. They're generally tolerant of religion, but have no need for it in their daily lives. They mind their own business and don't meddle in others' affairs. I find this attitude quite liberating.

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