China taps faith to curb rising unrest

BEIJING - President Xi Jinping believes that China is losing its moral compass, and he wants the ruling Communist Party to be more tolerant of traditional faiths in the hope these will help fill a vacuum created by the country's breakneck growth and rush to get rich, sources said.

Mr Xi, who grew up in Mao Zedong's puritan China, is troubled by what he sees as the country's moral decline and obsession with money, said three independent sources with ties to the leadership.

He hopes that China's "traditional cultures" or faiths - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - will help fill a void that has allowed corruption to flourish, the sources said.

Sceptics see it as a cynical move to try to curb rising social unrest and perpetuate the one-party rule.

During the early years under communism, China's crime rate was low and corruption rare. By contrast, between 2008 and last year, about 143,000 government officials - or an average of 78 a day - were convicted of graft or dereliction of duty, according to a Supreme Court report to Parliament in March.

Mr Xi intensified an anti-corruption campaign when he became party and military chief in November last year, but experts have said that only deep and difficult political reforms will make a difference.

Meanwhile, barely a day goes by without soul-searching on the Internet over what some see as a moral numbness in China - whether it's over graft, the rampant sale of adulterated food or incidents such as when a woman gouged out the eyes of her six-year-old nephew in August for unknown reasons.

"Mr Xi understands that the anti-corruption (drive) can only cure symptoms, and that reform of the political system and faiths are needed to cure the disease of corruption," one of the sources said, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing elite politics.

Government agencies would moderate policies towards Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, in the hope that these faiths would also help placate the disaffected who cannot afford homes, education and medical treatment, the sources said.

"The influence of religions will expand, albeit subtly," another of the sources said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "Traditional cultures will not be comprehensively popularised, but attacks on them will be avoided."