Will there ever be an East Asian Amish community?
Demographers and demography enthusiasts have always had a deep fascination with communities such as the Amish for one simple reason — they are the prime example of an exclusive and conservative religious sect or community with a high fertility rate unthinkable in most modern societies.
These high-fertility communities offer the exception to the rule in a world that is otherwise familiar with contraception, abortion, liberal sexual attitudes and low fertility rates, and that is particularly true for the Amish, who live in Western countries such as the US and Canada.
Despite the ongoing demographic crisis as fertility rates plunge around the world, these communities continue to maintain much higher fertility rates and long-abandoned social and sexual mores, offering a bulwark of hope for natalists who despair at the triumph of anti-natalism worldwide. And one might be surprised at how many there are and how diverse these communities can be.
However, if one looks further at the list of these religious sects and communities, one will notice that none of them are East Asian, and most of them are European in origin. Laestadians, Hutterites, Quiverfull Calvinists and Mennonites are all Europeans, while Haredi Jews mostly live in the Americas and Europe outside of Israel.
Some communities, such as Latin Mass Catholics, may have more ethnic diversity as the Catholic Church is a global religious force, but the vast majority of its adherents live in just two countries — the United States and France. There simply aren’t any high fertility religious sects predominantly of East Asian origin, despite the plethora of sects, new religious movements and even cults originating from the region in the past centuries.
As anyone who keeps up with current affairs will know, East Asian countries have fallen off the demographic cliff a long time ago. East Asians have consistently had the lowest birth rates of any region in the world in recent decades, and any hope of it ever recovering to levels close to replacement level is all but non-existent. Currently, only Mongolia and North Korea have fertility levels near the replacement level of 2.1, but both countries have small populations and do not affect the main demographic picture of the region.
Therefore, if East Asia had a fervently religious community such as the Amish or the Haredim, it would be of huge demographic value and benefit. For example, the ultra-Orthodox provide vital new blood for otherwise depleting Jewish populations in the UK and the US, as well as Israel. Had this community not existed, the Jewish population would already be in decline in the UK and many parts of America.
If East Asia had a community similar to this, it would mean that the current extinction-level birth rates would have a long-term cure, or at least this faithful core/remnant would offer long-term relief to the ongoing population collapse. But let’s face the truth: such a community does not exist in East Asia or its diaspora communities — why is that so?
As we mentioned above, East Asia is no stranger to religious fervour and sects. South Korea, for example, is home to a plethora of new religious movements, with many cult leaders enjoying a dedicated following, from the Unification Church (Moonies) to Shincheonji.
China has a long history of underground churches, apocalyptic cults and exclusive religious societies, from the Christian house church movement of today, the Taiping sect of the 1800s, which launched China’s bloodiest civil war, to Buddhist-Taoist mishmash eccentricities such as the Falun Gong.
These movements have generated immense fortune and fame for their founders, and shaken the societies to their core. Yet, despite their radicalism, none of them produced any positive demographic yields, unlike other underground, apocalyptic or radical new religious movements such as Mormons, Laestadians or, indeed, the radical Anabaptist origins of the Amish.
That is because, unlike these movements of European or white European origin, these modern-day sect leaders, especially the South Korean cults, are mostly focused on personal gain instead of actual religious principles. None of them were martyred for their beliefs, and many used the prestige to sexually abuse their flock, take financial advantage of their followers, or attempt to gain political power.
Korean cults are particularly egregious in the amount of greed, sexual perversion and abuse of their followers. Therefore, despite the fact that most of its followers are closed off from the rest of society and do not conform to societal norms, just like the Haredi and the Amish, they do not follow the family-friendly, conservative creed that the latter adhere to.
Instead, these cult followers adhere to the exploitative and often nonsensical doctrines of their eccentric founders, which sometimes require them to stay celibate, dedicate everything to only the religious movement, and sometimes offer themselves sexually to the cult leader.
Get the Free Mercator Newsletter
Get the news you may not get anywhere else, delivered right to your inbox.
Your info is safe with us, we will never share or sell you personal data.
Therefore, despite the plethora of religiously fervent sects and cults, none of them are of any actual “demographic value”, as their leaders do not believe or preach in any religious principles that lead to higher birth rates.
Moreover, Korean cults share the same fervour as mainstream Korean Christianity in evangelising or recruiting for expansion and send “missionaries” worldwide, including to countries like Australia, but do not focus on procreation to expand at all. That is partly why South Korea sends the second largest group of Christian missionaries worldwide, and yet Korean Christians do not have any fertility differentials and face the same dire demographic prospects as the rest of the country.
China, in comparison to South Korea, would have had far more potential to produce an Amish-like community. Its vast rural areas provide a lot of potential for an agrarian-based conservative community such as the Amish, and its interior offers mountainous terrain suitable for any sect seeking to run away from modern life. Its religious movements are far more sincere and radical than the financial and sexual scams that Korean cults often are. However, the main obstacle to a Chinese Amish group existing is pretty obvious — the Chinese Communist Party.
The CCP would never tolerate any closed-off religious community to exist. Having crushed religions for the past seven decades, the CCP is instrumental and precise in its persecution. Let’s face it: the Amish only exist because the US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the principle is actually enforced in America. Horse and buggy-riding Amish would be sent off to labour camps, their children forcefully re-educated, or the women simply sterilised en masse if such a community ever attempted to establish a footing in China.
Furthermore, the level of control the Chinese Communist Party has on Chinese society is unprecedented, even in a country with a history of focus on centralisation and unification. During the heyday of enforcement of the one-child policy, village family planning officials knew the menstrual periods of every woman in the village and enforced abortions even in far away mountainous areas thousands of miles away from Beijing. Communist Party cadres are stationed in every village, every factory and every community. Parallel societies with its own rules and laws such as the Haredi and Amish simply do not have the space to exist.
So what about the large East Asian diaspora? Surely there is potential for an East Asian Amish-like community to exist in the United States? The Amish would probably also not exist today had they not moved to America from what was a very religiously intolerant Europe, and the Haredi Jews would also have been exterminated in Europe if they hadn’t spread out to the Americas and Israel. Interestingly, closed-off religious East Asian communities do exist, but once again, the same fallacies above apply.
Ever since he was exiled from China, Falun Gong’s leader has lived in an exclusive compound called Dragon Springs in upstate New York. Mr Li Hongzhi has a dedicated following worldwide and controls a conservative media empire, from the Epoch Times to the Shen Yun dance troupe. Yet, despite Li’s successes, he does not seem interested in one obvious method to increase his flock — and that is to encourage his flock to procreate.
In the plethora of books and teachings which he wrote, very little is written about marriage, sexuality or, indeed, procreation. That in itself is perhaps understandable, as Falun Gong is based on a strange mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religion, none of which focused on sexuality nearly as much the Abrahamic faiths did. Li himself is also father to only one daughter — a perfect example of the efficacy of China’s one-child policy.
Therefore, with one squandered opportunity after another, it seems like East Asia and its diaspora never had the conditions, “the soil”, for a seed to grow into an Amish or Haredi-like high-fertility religious community. But should such a community arise, it would be of immense value and improve the chances of demographic survival. For now, that possibility seems very far off.
William Huang is an avid researcher of China and East Asia’s looming demographic crisis. A product of China's one-child policy, it was only when he went overseas to study that he realised just how much damage this policy has done to the Chinese nation and his generation.
Have your say!
Join Mercator and post your comments.