Jesus in China




The New York Times: "Backgrounder: Religion in China"
This May 2008 article covers recent religious trends in China, set against a backdrop of rapid economic growth and an increasingly liberal social atmosphere. The article includes surprising new statistics on the rise of religion in China and on legislation applying to China’s five state-accepted religions - - Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.

Time: “The War for China’s Soul”
Correspondent Simon Elegant reports on the Chinese government’s demolition of an unauthorized and inhabited Christian church in the city of Hangzhou, near Shanghai. Financed by local Christians, the church was to serve a community of 5,000 parishioners.  The article examines the Chinese government’s odd relationship with Christianity and other growing faith groups in China, who often are forced to both defy and compromise with the state government in practicing their beliefs.

Footage of the demolition was broadcast in a CBS News piece, “Christianity in China”.

The Guardian: “Chinese factory to supply one in four Bibles”
In May 2008 Amity Press, a Bible-printing press based in Nanjing, opened another press to speed up its production of the world’s bestselling book. With a new capacity of 23 Bibles a minute, the factory will provide the Bible in 10 languages, including Chinese.


Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power by David Aikman The former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine chronicles the rise and suppression of Christianity in China over the past 400 years, beginning with Jesuit missionaries in the 1500s and moving through the Christian-led Taiping Rebellion in 1850 and the repudiation of Christianity in the 1899 Boxer Rebellion. Most of the book, however, focuses on modern Christianity in China, especially the fine divide between official and unofficial Protestant and Catholic churches, and on the political possibilities of a Christian majority in China -- including major alliances with Christian nations in opposing radical Islam.

Nongovernmental Organizations:
China Aid
A Christian advocacy group, China Aid was established in 2002 to investigate and report on the treatment of Christians in China, which it does through individual abuse cases and larger reports. They recently reported that the Chinese government has increased its persecution of unregistered Christians, including the detainment of "house church" Christians who were helping victims of the quake.

Voices of the Martyrs
Voices of the Martyrs is a nonprofit established to aid Christians who are persecuted for their faith. VOM keeps a list of Christians detained for religious activity around the world and organizes-letter writing campaigns and other actions on behalf of the prisoners.

Human Rights in China
An older Chinese NGO, Human Rights in China was founded in 1989 by Chinese scholars and students after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Their approach includes advocacy, research and publications, and outreach at the UN and the World Trade Organization.

Modern Chinese Culture: He Qi

Artist He Qi is a well-known Chinese Christian, whose art often depicts Biblical scenes. He got his start painting portraits of Mao Tse-Tung after the 1966 Cultural Revolution. On his Web site he claims that, in order to address the “foreign image” of Christianity in China, he blends “Chinese folk customs and traditional Chinese painting techniques with the western art of the Middle and Modern Ages.”
A youthful Shanghai-based urban perspective on China, reports on everything from Chinese trade relationships with Africa, to music trends in China and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With DanweiTV, they also produce a series of video pieces with titles like “Graffiti Shanghai,” “Gay Shanghai” and “Female Filmmakers in Yunnan.”

Time: “The China Blog”
The magazine’s Web site hosts a blog on Chinese events written by five China-based Time correspondents and editors. The blog features news and cultural trends culled by Western journalists living in the country. -- Zoe Woodcraft

In A.D. 781, a Christian monk named Jingjing composed an inscription of roughly 1,800 Chinese characters on a large stone tablet, called a stela, which would become one of the richest sources of information ever discovered about early Christianity in China.

According to the stela, unearthed in the early 1600s, Christianity came to China in A.D. 635, when a Nestorian monk named Aluoben entered the ancient capital of Chang’an -- now modern-day Xi’an -- in central China. His arrival must have been the source of some excitement because the e mperor sent his minister of state to greet the guest and bring him to the palace. Although we do not know where Aluoben came from or why he visited China, some scholars believe that he arrived from Persia and was part of an important foreign delegation. Whatever the case, the Tang emperor issued an imperial edict three years later allowing Aluoben to build a monastery in Chang’an and to settle there with a handful of missionaries. 


A Protestant church in Lushan, a mountain resort in the central Chinese province Jiangxi. The resort, now a UNESCO registered Geopark, was founded by a Scottish Presbyterian missionary turned property developer early in the last century as a summer retreat for Western missionaries and their families. Photo © EPA/Adrian Bradshaw

By the time Aluoben’s story was commemorated in stone almost 150 years later, the Old and New Testaments had been translated into Chinese, and monasteries had been founded in several cities throughout China. But in 845, an imperial edict limited all foreign religion, including Christianity. The edict triggered a period of persecution, and, by the end of the Tang Dynasty in 907, Christianity had all but disappeared from China.

A significant presence did not reappear until the 13th century, when Mongols conquered China and founded the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongol court was open to Christian missionaries and even turned over the administration of parts of northern China to Christian tribesmen from Central Asia. From Rome, the pope also sent Franciscan missionaries in an effort to establish ties with Eastern Christians and to form an alliance with the Mongol empire. Italian merchants also founded some Catholic communities in major trading centers; among them were two brothers from Venice, Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, who brought along Niccolo’s son, Marco. China’s second period of Christian growth came to an end when its protectors, the Mongols, were expelled by the armies of the Ming Dynasty.

Toward the end of the Ming dynasty, a new wave of Jesuit missionaries came to China. They established schools and hospitals, and more or less openly proselytized. The most prominent among these new missionaries was the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who learned to speak and write Chinese and managed to become the first Westerner invited into the Forbidden City. 


Today, there are an estimated 10 to 12 million Chinese Catholics and 25 to 30 million Chinese Protestants.

Christianity’s presence in China grew in the 19th and 20th centuries as the country was subject to greater influence by the Western powers. One of the bloodiest episodes in recent Chinese history involved a charismatic Christian convert named Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ and believed it was his mission to spread Christianity in China. By the mid-1800s, Hong Xiuquan had gathered a large band of followers and began an armed rebellion against Qing Dynasty rulers. The Taiping Rebellion lasted 15 years and cost an estimated 20 million lives, due to the warfare and the resulting starvation. The Chinese imperial army eventually put down the rebellion with the aid of Western military advisers. 

After World War II, China turned to communism, and atheism was promoted as part of the Marxist ideology of the Chinese Community Party. Religious suppression was particularly severe during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). To regulate Chinese Catholics, the government created the Catholic Patriotic Association, expelled missionaries and forbade interference from the Vatican. For Chinese Protestants, the government created the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which requires churches to be registered with the government and subjects them to state monitoring and restrictions involving personnel, preaching topics and congregational composition. 

Many Christians -- both Protestant and Catholic -- refused to cooperate and formed unofficial, or underground, churches. Today, there are five major government-sanctioned religions: Daoism, Buddhism, Islam, Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. However, since the 1980s, as Chinese citizens have gradually come to enjoy greater social and economic freedoms, religious practices of all types have experienced a revival. Today, there are an estimated 10 to 12 million Chinese Catholics and 25 to 30 million Chinese Protestants. Daniel Bays, one of the pre-eminent Western scholars of Chinese Christianity writes, “Today, on any given Sunday, there are almost certainly more Protestants in church in China than in all of Europe.” Many of these believers belong to “house churches,” which are unofficial, unregistered churches that remain vulnerable to punishment by the state.

-- Serene Fang

Sources: Handbook of Christianity in China (Brill, 2001); China Quarterly Essays -- 2003 Special Edition; The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence (W.W. Norton and Company, 1991) ; The New York Times; Britannica Online; Time magazine.