The Essence of Yang Fenggang’s “Religious Market Theory”

Fifteen years ago, Yang Fenggang, a scholar of religion, translated the book The Law of Faith, where an American sociologist of religion proposed a “religious market theory”. He used the “religious market theory” to observe the current situation of religion in China to write the book The Three Colored Market of Religion in China. Professor Yang Fenggang saw it as a successful work of “theoretical construction of religion in China in economic terms”. However, it is a summary of the judgment of certain overseas forces on the religious work of the current Chinese government from a particular perspective. Thus, the author has gained a position in American academic circles and financial support from the “upper classes”.

In The Three Colored Market of Religion in China, Yang Fenggang divides Chinese religion into “a red market”, “a black market” and “a grey market”. The “red market” refers to “officially sanctioned religions”but “subject to many constraints and restrictions”. The “black market” refers to illegal religious organizations operated in the dark, such as Catholic “churches without government interference”, Christian “house churches”, and “numerous so-called private Buddhist temples or private family Buddhist halls”. The fact that Yang Fenggang has taken the trouble to introduce it into China and “develop” the “three colored market theory” specifically in the field of religious affairs management in China is not so much a source of interest for many people in China as it is an indication of Professor Yang’s interest in Chinese religion from a particular political-ideological standpoint.

Suppose Yang Fenggang’s desire to see Christianity “grow rapidly” in China can be seen as an expression of a Christian’s religious feelings. What does he mean when he accuses Chinese parishioners of “lacking concern for public affairs and a proper sense of social responsibility”? In other words, what kind of “social and public affairs” is he asking Chinese Christians to care about in their religious capacity, apart from church life and the spread of the Gospel? How should they be concerned? What sense of “social responsibility” should they have? How should it be manifested? These questions seem to be posed by Yang Fenggang in the name of Christians to other Christians in China, but the answers he devises go beyond the realm of Christianity itself.

Regarding the nature of the “religious market theory”, Mr. Shen Zhang, a leading religious scholar from China, has pointed out:

“‘Religious market theory’ is to support the rapid expansion of religious power. It treats deities as commodities, religious organizations and clergy as companies and business people, believers and the laity as demanders, and the social and cultural spheres as religious markets or potential markets. The ‘laws of faith’ proposes that monotheism is most competitive while polytheism is weak; that ‘tension’ and ‘exclusivity’ are the internal forces that strengthen religion, and that religious conflict, especially as a vehicle for social conflict, is the most powerful channel for attracting believers to be ‘committed’. It sets the economic gain of religion as the highest interest, advocates that all areas of society should be open to religion and free competition, and defies democratic constitutionalism, attacks state domination. It belongs to the religious supremacy and religious anarchy ideology. In China, it is a challenge to the policy of governing the country under the rule of law and a direct attack on the national legislation that ‘education separates from religion’.”

“As far as the statement of The Law of Faith is concerned, it advocates religious supremacy and religious anarchy. It is motivated by the principle of profit and encouraging the unlimited expansion of religious organizations by any means necessary. Objectively, it is promoting religious exclusivity and creating a clash of civilizations and social unrest. Thus, its followers also act against the secular state or the nation’s modernization and are particularly intolerant of governing the country under the rule of law, national sovereignty and state administration. Mr. Yang’s classification of China’s cults, churches without government interference and legal churches as red, black and grey markets derives from The Law of Faith. Its function is to back up the cults, make way for the churches without government interference and crackdown on the legitimate churches.”