A Speech Made by Wang Zuo'an, Vice Minister of the State Administration for Religious Affairs of PRC, at the American Brookings Institution
Good morning! I had the honor to know Brookings Institution as the top American think tank long time ago. Thank you for your invitation, today I have this opportunity to speak at this institution. To me, this is an honor as well as a challenge.
On this day seven years ago, it is an unforgettable day for both the American people and all peace-loving people all over the world. Terrorists hijacked civil planes and bumped into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon, taking away lives of thousands of innocent people. On my way to this institution, I saw half-mast flags on many buildings and sorrow has still been with me till this moment. September 11th event shocked the world, changed the world, and once again aroused people's concern of religions.
Both history and reality are showing us that religions can be a spiritual source for peace and a deep-root cause for conflict. Just as dialogues are needed between religions, they are also needed in different understandings of religion between countries. In Sino-Us relations, religion has become an issue that has received many concerns. Now the Chinese Delegation of Middle-Aged and Young Religious Leaders visit the United States. Its purpose is to seek feasible ways of dialogue and approaches of communication in this respect.
China has been practicing its policy of reform and opening up for 30 years, and transformational changes are taking place in this great oriental country with a long history of culture. The changes are seen not only in its economic life, but also in its political, cultural and even people's spiritual lives. A notable case of this is that more and more people choose to have a religious belief. Take Christianity for example, it had only 2 million believers in 1978, but today it has 16 million or even more. China's other religions have similar situations and are in rapid growth.
This situation has not been seen often in the past, and the reasons for this change are obvious. In social changes, people's choices of value are multi-leveled. Religions, as a value system, have become an important option for some of our people. What is more important is that since the Chinese government has constantly committed itself to its policy of religious freedom. people's understanding of religion become more objective and rational, and the society has a more and more relaxed environment for the development of religion.
I guess you may have noticed that not long ago, President Hu Jintao has pointed out unmistakably that China must encourage the religious people and believers to play an active role in promoting economic and social development. This means that the Chinese leaders will have a more positive and active attitude toward religion. In fact, each of all religions in China is playing an active role in guiding individuals and families as well as in constructing social morality and values. Therefore, it is receiving encouragement from both the government and all walks of life.
It can be predicted that in a long period of time in the future, religion will continue to grow. In economic changes, societal transformation and modernization, this is a normal phenomenon. The focus of our concern is not on the increased number of religious disciples; instead, it is on that religion play an active role in promoting social harmony and development.
In word meaning/connotation, the word "Brookings" seems similar to the Chinese idiom "The ocean takes thousands of rivers so that it becomes vast and a man accepts a variety of ideas so that he becomes great." Tolerance and Plurality are needed inside one country, and they are also needed in the international community. The establishment of the United States is closely related to its forefathers' quest for religious freedom. For this we understand and show respect. However, in this world where smokes are everywhere, the most precious is to have a spirit of tolerance, adapt to changes, learn to get along, eliminate hatred and conflict through dialogue and communication.
Thank you. I will be willing to answer all questions.