As an occasional contributor to ChinaSource (CS) publications, I feel slightly self-serving in commending the ChinaSource Quarterly (CSQ). Despite this reservation, I think the effort is worthwhile.
How does one get reliable information? The development of information and communication technologies, particularly the Worldwide Web, has made massive volumes of data readily available to a large proportion of the world’s population. Yet, this has not helped the challenge of gaining reliable information and has indeed exacerbated the problem, as highlighted by recent controversies over “fake news.”
When it comes to information about China, the problem becomes even more difficult. It is not hard to find ideas, opinions, theories, and arguments about the world’s second largest economy, with the perceived challenges it brings to the rest of the world as well as its own complex domestic issues. Much of this information, however, comes through the lens of Western prejudices or Chinese propaganda. Though the sheer scale of China defies simplistic interpretation, the fact is that abundant stereotypes and narratives abound: human rights abuses; benevolent friend of developing countries; church in revival growth; church as communist party tool; massive environmental pollution; leadership in global greening; religious persecution; religious tolerance; repressive censorship; regional predator; benign soft power; and many more.
Much of this information comes from a Christian perspective, yet often focuses on a single issue, such as publicizing instances of persecution, meeting the needs of orphans, or supplying Christian literature for a growing but often under-resourced church. Worthy though such initiatives are in their own right, in campaigning for their own specific area of concern, they inevitably give readers only a partial picture of China which does not do justice to the complexities of society, government, and church.
The challenge of finding reliable information is further complicated by the dynamic nature of Chinese society. While rapid change is a worldwide phenomenon, the last forty years since “opening up” have seen an unusually rapid period of change for China. Yesterday’s realities may be long past, yet some perceptions of China, particularly for Western Christians, are dominated by events and attitudes of twenty or thirty years ago, or even more.
In such conditions, how can Christians serving in China, or concerned for China, find reliable and timely information to guide their work? This is where CS publications, and particularly CSQ, have an important role to play.
The mission of CS is promoting “…the flow of critical knowledge and leading-edge research among the Christian communities inside China and around the world and engaging them in collaborating to serve the Chinese church and society.” In particular, CSQ provides “accurate, timely, and strategic analysis of the issues affecting the church and Christian ministry in China.”
Each edition of CSQ is a collection of feature-length articles on a single theme, supplemented by book reviews and resource recommendations. Themes tend to recur over an extended period, allowing a longitudinal picture to emerge. For example, “education” was a theme in autumn 2001, summer 2011, summer 2014 and winter 2018.
As a regular reader and occasional contributor to CSQ, my observation is that this publication does indeed achieve its aims, through an ABCD of qualities: accuracy, balance, commitment, and depth.
CSQ aims to bring accurate information from a variety of sources. Not focusing solely on single interests, it covers many different aspects of current Chinese life and Christian service with sufficient nuance to allow for the ambiguities and sufficient detail that permit a careful analysis. Careful editorial oversight aims to ensure that factual information is as accurate and reliable as possible.
By tackling many different issues, CSQ gives, over a period, a balanced picture of China. Moreover, since it does not represent a single perspective, it is able to present varying, and sometimes conflicting, viewpoints in any one edition. In addition, responses to each edition are published in other CS outlets. Though these often affirm what has been written, they may also add nuance or even directly challenge what has been written in CSQ articles.
The great majority of CSQ writers have lived in China for many years. Their commitment to serve China’s people motivates what they write, making the articles of much more than academic significance as well as ensuring that their ideas are substantially rooted in the realities of life and work in China.
The focus on a single theme for each quarter, approached in different ways by multiple authors, allows for a thorough examination of the issues involved. Many authors have an academic background which brings a substance to the publication, hopefully keeping the rigorous approach of formal study without the obscure language and conventions that sometimes make academic publications inaccessible.
Inevitably, the ABCD qualities are imperfectly attained. Nevertheless, by consistent editorial oversight, by the use of expert and experienced guest editors, and by attention to detail throughout the extended process of preparing a CSQ edition, a good outcome is achieved. As a guest editor of CSQ, I found that the whole process of preparing an edition, over several months, was rigorous and showed a commitment to integrity.
I have been reading CSQ for many years; any contributions I have made are minor compared with the benefits I have received, both while living in China and since.