China’s Catholics increasingly embrace cyberreligion

The Internet in China currently plays a role in the lives of nearly 700 million people, and for some of them, it is used for religious purposes.

By the Herald Malaysia Online

The Internet in China currently plays a role in the lives of nearly 700 million people, and for some of them, it is used for religious purposes.

“Want to listen to the Buddha’s teachings but find no time to go to a temple? It doesn’t matter. We have a public WeChat account,” says a article published by the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

The article was about how a Buddhist temple in Wuxi city in eastern Jiangsu province integrates religious life with the Internet through mobile messaging, mostly via the hugely popular WeChat smartphone app.

The percentage of Chinese Internet users who use smartphones to browse the web reached 90 per cent by 2015, says a report by the China Internet Network Information Centre.

Catholic webmaster Pius Chen says smartphone apps enable the Church to deliver its messages instantly. He also believes such forms of communication can help strengthen the Christian community.

Chen has joined 35 QQ chat groups and more than 20 WeChat groups which are all related to the Church. Both the QQ and We- Chat offer similar functions as Twitter and Facebook. Users can also set up private chat groups.

Chen says he spends almost 10 hours a day on the Internet.

“I’m checking and replying to emails every day, interacting in online chatrooms, browsing the web to find social and Church news, and discussing online with others on matters related to faith,” Chen says.

As cloud storage capacity increases and the quality of electronic devices improves, many Catholics in China are also grasping the broader opportunities that digital multimedia can offer.

Videos of Church feastday celebrations can be uploaded and shared via Tudou, a Chinese equivalent to YouTube, and audio recordings of a Mass homily can be listened to via “Changba,” a mobile app for audio recordings, are just a few examples of online possibilities.

“Recent Internet developments do affect people’s lives,” Chen says. “It makes communication faster and geographical distance isn’t an issue anymore,” he says.

“For instance, news about the cross-removal campaign in Wenzhou was known in real time. It helps Catholics know about the situation and offers timely information.”

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