The growth of a Taiwanese Buddhist association in China: Soft power and institutional learning
This article looks at the presence of the Taiwanese Buddhist charity Ciji in China since 1991, a remarkable occurrence considering the outbreak of several crises in relations across the Taiwan Strait during the period, and the religious identity of that organization. I argue that we should not look into the recent decision by Beijing authorities to accept Ciji's permanent presence in China as an example of Taiwan's soft power to influence religious policy towards a more liberal approach. Ciji is independent from the government in Taibei, represents a transnational organization, and the Chinese government has its own reasons to see an advantage in religious charity. To illustrate these points, the paper first addresses the issue of Taiwan's soft power in its relation with China and sees the possibility that Ciji's development in Taiwan could show China how the benefit of a liberal policy towards religion can complement the government's social policies. The second section chronicles Ciji's presence in the PRC since 1991 and shows that local governments have their own reasons to welcome the presence of volunteers from that association. The third section compares and contrasts the state approaches in China and Taiwan toward the provision of social services by religious organizations and notes that even if local governments in China are learning from their experience with Ciji the benefits of a more open policy, the central government has not adopted the liberal approach of Taibei's government to the regulation of religions.