Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


China is turning Christian

posted by Rod Dreher

chinachristian.jpg
I saw recently a statistic saying that China today exports as much every six hours as it did in all of 1978, when Deng Xiaoping’s revolutionary opening of China to the world started. Thirty years ago, would anyone have foreseen China as prosperous as it is today? And would anyone have predicted that so many Chinese would be turning to Christianity? NPR is reporting all week on China’s Christianity boom. Why are so many Chinese accepting Christ? Excerpt:

In the past, she has left the village to work in Shanghai. She says her belief in Christ was a lifeline in the alien metropolis and her church acted as her family.
“Whether they know you or not, they treat you as a brother or sister,” she says. “If you have troubles, they help out with money or material assistance or spiritual aid.”
As China urbanizes and millions of rural migrants experience the social and economic dislocation of traveling to new cities, Christianity can provide them with an instant community.
Many believers sitting on the hard wooden benches of the village church are older. They tell stories of the rewards of faith and how prayer cured illnesses and ended beatings from husbands.

No one knows for sure how many Christians there are in China, which is still officially an atheist state. But most believe the real numbers far exceed the official estimate. Look at this:

Some recent surveys have calculated there could be as many as 100 million Chinese Protestants. That would mean that China has more Christians than Communist Party members, which now number 75 million.

Can you imagine? This might not technically qualify as a miracle, but it’s miraculous all the same. And Chinese evangelists are growing in strength and boldness:

[Government leaders’] powers to govern religion do, however, seem to be waning. That seems clear in a rural village in eastern China, where young people are openly trying to gain converts in defiance of the laws prohibiting proselytizing in public places. … China’s youth once trundled across the countryside spreading communism. Now, they’re spreading God’s word.

Amazing. The Spirit blows where He wills. By the way, Dr. Fenggang Yang at Purdue leads a scholarly effort to track and to understand what’s happening in China’s religious life (not only Christianity in China), via his Center on Religion and Chinese Society. By the way.2, one of my favorite books is “Christ the Eternal Tao,” a study by an Eastern Orthodox priest-monk of how Taoist themes and concepts in the life and teachings of Jesus.



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Polichinello

posted July 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm


Take any claim to religious numbers with a truckload of salt, especially ones that seem a little too good to be true.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm


Well, I too doubt the 100 million number, but what the heck – here’s hoping that China Christianizes the heck out of itself and turns itself into a pacifistic, agrarian nation of mystics that forsake the pursuits of this world for that of the sort of Christian communalism that Tolstoy might have envisioned.



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John

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:20 pm


Growth of the church in China has been a trend for almost a couple of decades now so this doesn’t surprise me too much. Fifteen years ago I worked in a ministry that helped deliver bibles to China and we were hearing incredible stories of faith and growth. I wouldn’t discount the 100 million figure outright, though it’s impossible to get really accurate figures. What is certain is that God’s spirit is at work. I hope believers inthe West are watching and learning from their Chinese brothers and sisters. We could use that.



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Charles Cosimano

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm


Sounds like just another “Christian statistic,” a false number spread by people with an agenda.



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CatherineNY

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm


I had an encounter with Chinese Christians that may be of interest. My husband, our daughter (who is Chinese) and I went to China in 2007 to bring our second child home. We started the trip in Beijing. It was a Friday evening, and we were leaving the Beijing Zoo, and trying to find a taxi. All of the traffic was streaming out of town, and we were trying to go back into town, so we ended up walking a long way. My husband went into a hotel to see if they could help us find a taxi, and I stood outside with our little girl. Suddenly, a young Chinese woman ran up to us, and said, “Are you a Christian?” Startled, I said yes. She beamed and ran to get a friend of hers, who, she said, was also a Christian. They started to help us look for a taxi, and eventually found one for us. They explained that they assumed we were Christian, not simply because we were Westerners, but because we were Westerners who had adopted a Chinese child. The experience was quite humbling. They were so excited to be able to talk about being Christians!



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John in Austin

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm


Rod, I was just listening to Krista Tippett’s interview with Mayfair Yang on “China’s Hidden Spiritual Landscape” when I saw your post. I’ll have to check in with the NPR reports this week.
Glad to see that “Christ the Eternal Tao” is selling for a more reasonable price now. I’m sure that the last time I looked it up on Amazon, it was listed at more than $100. I’ll have to pick up a copy soon, as the title has been nagging at my brain for quite some time.



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Polichinello

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:31 pm


The 100 million number is a relatively old one. I remember reading it in one of Rodney Stark’s books a while back.
…here’s hoping that China Christianizes the heck out of itself and turns itself into a pacifistic, agrarian nation of mystics…
Err, well, a Chinese official was once reported as saying one of the things he’d do to make China a greater power would be to make Christianity the state religion. That would, of course, conflict with China’s communism, which is explicitly atheistical, so don’t hold your breath waiting for that ruling. Still, a Christian China would be still China, a country with its own national interests that would conflict with its neighbors’.



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Abelard Lindsey

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:36 pm


Roughly 10% of Chinese people in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore identify with Christianity. Assuming this rule of thumb holds true for mainland China, which is Occam’s razer, the number of Christians in China will increase to about 150 million before plateauing.



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viggo

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm


I do wonder if “The Spirit blows where He wills” or “miraculous” would be used to describe China if it was rapidly becoming Muslim. I have a feeling the stories would be a bit more, er, alarmist?



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Christopher

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm


China’s neighbor Korea has seen an explosive growth in its Christian population over the past few decades. I think christians make up 30% of the population. Perhaps China will follow suit.



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Allen

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:59 pm


China’s not “turning Christian”, and it’s simply misleading to say so. What is happening is the development of a more open and public Christian minority (unlikely to exceed 10 or 15% without some unforseen massive cultural sea-change). Those getting their hopes up about a new major Christian power should also consider the fact that many (possibly most) of these Chinese Christians are simply syncretizing existing Buddhist, Taoist and folk-religion practices into their Jesus-love.
captcha: yodellers stretched (title of my forthcoming collection of Neo-Alpine punkpop)



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Jon

posted July 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm


Allen,
You are probably right abouit the syncretism, but that happens eveywhere unless a rigid church stops it– and then that also stops Christianization. It isn’t even necessarily bad: Christianity as a whole was heavily syncretized with Hellenic ideas in its early centuries; it would be an aberrant Jewish sect if this had not happened.



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Spambalaya

posted July 21, 2010 at 7:07 pm


This story put me in mind of one in this month’s Saudi Aramco World which discusses the inroads that Islam is making among ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. It might be of interest in considering the myth of Chinese resistance to religious belief:
http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201004/finding.a.balance.htm



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Abelard Lindsey

posted July 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm


There is one significant cultural issue about this that most American Christians over look about this. Those of you who have either lived in China or have done business with Chinese people will understand first hand that corruption and self-dealing tends to be an ingrained feature of their business culture. I have know more than one Chinese person who has told me that the greatest benefit of Christianity is its emphasis on honesty and integrity in ones’ dealings with others. This is the feature of Christianity that Chinese people value the most about it. One of the reasons why Singaporean Chinese tend to be honest and forthright, compared to most other Chinese, is that Christianity has played a significant (if not well recognized) role in the development of Singapore.
I think a more Christian China is likely to have an even greater rate of economic growth and development because the people will be more honest in their dealings with each other and the culture of corruption (which is very endemic to China) will diminish.



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Peter Hoh

posted July 21, 2010 at 10:24 pm


My recently deceased father-in-law was born to Christian missionaries serving in China. Though his life’s work took him to another mission field, he spent much of his later years trying to piece together what he could of his father’s work in China. I would have enjoyed hearing his perspective on this article.



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