America has always been fascinated with China. This started very early on, or not long after America’s independence. Even when the relationship between the two countries soured, America’s interest in China never seemed to diminish. For me, Americans’ fascination with China is so deep and everlasting that it is a bit hard to explain.
Without question, one of the manifestations of the American fascination with China is that American missionaries sailed to the country even prior to the First Opium War (1840-42). As the activity of American Christian missions grew, the missionaries quickly emerged as perhaps the most important agents for informing the churches and general public in America—and the entire Western world—of that ancient and exotic land. Out of all the platforms the missionaries created to communicate with America and the West, such prominent journals as The Chinese Repository, The Chinese Recorder, and the more recent Bridge, stood out as best known.
In my opinion, the China Source Quarterly (CSQ) belongs to this great tradition of Christian communicators and bridge builders between China and America—and even the entire West. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, there has been a proliferation of media platforms aiming to keep the Christian and general public informed of contemporary Christianity and overall religious life in mainland China; however, CSQ has distinguished itself as perhaps the most recognized and respected one. From my point of view, there are four things that are behind this publication’s excellence and prominence.
First of all, CSQ clearly knows that there is more than just persecution and suffering when we come to the Christian story in contemporary China. Due to a variety of reasons, Western discourses on Christianity and other religions in contemporary China have been overwhelmingly dominated by concerns such as religious freedom, ethnic human rights, and even geo-political struggles. Consequently, international Christian news coverage tends to disproportionately highlight governmental crack-downs on the church and the subsequent suffering of Chinese believers more than anything else. Without denying the importance of all these issues, CSQ constantly reminds us of the centrality of pastoring and witnessing as part of the experience of Chinese Christians. Put another way, CSQ’s approach to Chinese Christianity is more pastoral than political, more theological than ideological.
Second, reporting to the world about Christianity in China is always a controversial and divisive business. Not a small number of international media come with their own preset agenda or self-interests. Not surprisingly, their portrayals of Chinese Christianity tend to be simplistic and biased resulting in a distorted image of the Chinese church being presented to the world. In contrast, CSQ is fully mindful of the complexity of Chinese Christianity and the diversity of China observers’ opinions; it always strives to provide balanced and objective narratives and assessments. Therefore, CSQ’s presentations of the Chinese church’s story are more faithful to what is really happening on the ground, and, thus, definitely more creditable.
Third, CSQ is one of the rare platforms that brings thinkers and practitioners, professionals and amateurs, global churches and the general public together. With keen awareness of differing backgrounds and the interests of various audiences, it effectively appeals to a wide range of people who care about the church in China. The results are its unique products that are both thoughtful and practical. It is fair to say that CSQ is quite successful in bridging the chasm between scholarly and practical approaches to Chinese Christianity. In it, you find not only cutting edge discoveries of top-notch scholarship but also difference-making suggestions for strategy and policy.
Finally, in CSQ, you hear Chinese as well as Western voices. As an English news medium, this is quite an achievement. As we all know, it is always a huge challenge for any overseas-based, Western-language media to present an authentic Chinese story rather than a Chinese story filtered through Western lenses. CSQ makes commendable and very strategic efforts to deliver reports and analyses of not just Western observers but also Chinese church leaders and academia. Thanks to CSQ, authentic Chinese voices from Chinese contexts can now be heard loud and clear by international audiences.
Not surprisingly, CSQ has established itself as a brand name that global churches and the general public can rely on. With full confidence in its determination and ability to continue its amazing work, I am sure churches worldwide and international communities will continue to be captivated by the stories of Chinese Christians and the many issues, the joys and the challenges, that face the church in China found in the pages of the ChinaSource Quarterly in the decades to come.