A paper presented at the August meeting of Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York, attended by Religioscope, examined four cities of greater China-Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, and Macau-to determine the varying social effect of the Catholic Church in this region of Asia. The sociologists Zhidong Hao (University of Macau), Shun Hing Chan (Hong Kong Baptist University), Wen-ban Kao (National Taipei University), and Yik Fai Tam (Hong Kong Baptist University) found that the church has high rates of social service provision, such as health care and education, in all these cities, although with some differences. As for social activism and political participation, it is only in Hong Kongg where the Catholic Church has been strongly involved in such activities.
The sociologists conducted surveys of 299 parishes and church-related organizations, which they say is representative of the parishes and organizations in these four cities. They also conducted in-depth interviews with 49 bishops, priests, nuns, and laity in the four cities. They found that 96.5 percent of the church or church-related organizations had engaged in providing social services in Hong Kong, 78.9 percent in Macau, 74.5 percent in Taipei, and 78.4 percent in Shanghai.
But while participation in civic activities ranked as high as 47.4 percent in Hong Kong, it was considerably lower in the other cities-23.7 percent in Macau, 12.4 percent in Taipei, and 7.8 percent in Shanghai. While state regulations by the Communist Party against religious social services and especially civic involvement by the Catholic Church may explain the lower rate of such activity in Shanghai, It does not account for the cases of Macau and Taipei.
The researchers note that the Hong Kong’s church involvement in political affairs and advocacy of democracy stems from the influence of Vatican II and the local civil society culture. Church leaders, such as Bishop Zen, and laity have also moved the church in an activist direction in the Hong Kong diocese. While the Macau and Taipei dioceses have the same opportunities and tools in an open society, they have not used them to the same extent, either because of the particular church leadership or other cultural factors.