New Age’s rebound in China takes a Sinicist turn

New Age concepts, teachings, and practices from the West are increasingly being “psychologized” and used as a way of controlling the population as they are popularized and translated in China, writes Anna Iskra in the journal Nova Religio (25:4). What is called the Body-Mind-Spirit (shen xin ling) movement has expanded throughout China since the early 2000s, comprising teachings that ostensibly originated in Asia, were Westernized in the New Age movement, and then returned to China, often via Taiwan and Hong Kong. Body-Mind-Spirit practices have shown up in the increasingly prevalent prosperity teachings in the workplace, life coaching, and other forms of “self-realization,” often catering to inward-turning urban dwellers. But these Western-based teachings have been supplemented by China-specific concepts and techniques from Chinese traditional medicine and Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

While Body-Mind-Spirit was seen a decade or more ago as enhancing business and capitalism and curing psychological ills and stress, mainland Chinese business and government leaders have more recently criticized its practices and ideas, writes Iskra. There is a concern about fraud and cult-like behavior, especially since shen xin ling is at the intersection of religion, education, and business. The fear of being labeled a dangerous cult by the government, as was the case with Falun Gong, has led Body-Mind-Spirit entrepreneurs to engage in “creative translations” of these teachings and practices. For instance, the concept of God has changed into the less offensive (to the government) and more vague idea of “Phenomenon,” while the concept of spiritual energy has been translated into the concept used in describing energy in physics. Iskra writes that from 2018 to 2020, there was a rise in the state’s intervention in the Body-Mind-Spirit milieu. There have also been several attempts to crack down on Indian spiritual movements, such as Oneness University, as they have made their way into China. “Facing a growing suspicion of the state toward their teachings and practices, especially in their Indian-derived form, some Chinese New Agers attempt to incorporate them in the discourses of the ‘great resurrection of Chinese culture’…that are circulated by the Communist Party of China,” Iskra concludes.

(Nova Religio,

Source: Alamy | BBC.