China’s Great Leap Outward

China’s internal migration has indelibly altered the demographic and geographic landscape of the country. Today, for the first time in history, more Chinese live in cities than in the countryside.

China’s massive migration–the largest in the history of the planet–is not only internal, however. Since China began reopening to the outside world in the early 1980s, a growing flood of Chinese migrants has managed to reach literally every corner of the globe. This migration is also of historic proportions, as Mainland Chinese are quickly outpacing those from all other traditional sources of Chinese migration, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia, combined.

Statistics drawn from the diverse locations surveyed in this issue of ChinaSource Quarterly help to tell the story:

  • There are at least 40 million overseas Chinese outside of greater China (Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao). Among them, there are at least 20 million Mainland Chinese migrants who began to emigrant from China since the 1980s.
  • Less than a decade ago, Vancouver had only a handful of Mandarin speaking congregations or churches. Today, close to seventy percent of Chinese churches are Mandarin speaking or have some sort of Mandarin ministries.
  • The Chinese population in Japan has increased four-fold since 2000. Today, one-third of all foreigners and two-thirds of all foreign students are Chinese.
  • It is estimated that 750,000 Chinese have immigrated to Africa to work.
  • Presently, about 500,000 diaspora Chinese are residing in the Middle East.

As several writers have suggested in this issue, China’s “leap outward” has two clear implications for the expansion of the gospel among and through the Chinese. This outward migration comes at a time when Christians in China are increasingly zealous to take the gospel beyond China’s borders. The “Back to Jerusalem” vision has animated much of the church with a sense of mission. Providentially, the growing ability of Chinese believers to go abroad, including to countries that do not welcome traditional Christian workers, provides a means of putting feet to this vision.

Meanwhile the growing presence of millions of Chinese in diverse locations across the globe hastens the call for the “other boat,” as one author in this issue puts it, referring to the great numbers in his own region who are potentially open to the gospel messageif the church had sufficient resources and equipping to reach out to them.

The common denominator in both these opportunities is the great need for more cross-culturally trained workers. These are needed both among Chinese believers who find themselves–intentionally or through various circumstances–living abroad, as well as among Christians in these “host” countries where more and more Chinese are settling. Where Chinese congregations already exist, leadership needs to welcome the reality that the future growth of their churches will likely be due to the influx of new members from China. Where Chinese Christians are currently few in number, local bodies will need to be challenged with the God-given opportunity before them. Language learning and much cultural adjustment on all sides will be necessary steps in ensuring that China’s outward migration becomes both a great ingathering as well as a great blessing to the nations to which the Chinese are now going.

Image Credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr

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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio