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Search and Research

From the series Research and the Indigenous Chinese Church

We continue our series on research and the indigenous Chinese church with part three—a look at some of the publically available resources for research in China.

No one likes doing research. Research is hard work. And yet it is a necessary evil if one ever wants to publish anything. Many cross-cultural workers serving in China are finding the need to pursue a higher degree; which requires a good grasp of research techniques and understanding of available resources and data.

Unfortunately, there has been a proliferation of research that is not of the quality that was once the hallmark of advanced degrees. I recently came across a PhD dissertation that proposed to find church planting strategies for a sizable unreached people of several million strong. Yet the only input was from as few as two hundred survey questionnaires. It certainly reflected the pursuit of an advanced degree within the ivory tower.

There are, however, many resources and data that are available but hidden. These gems are the treasures that are available openly if you know where to look. Some can be found in the local government’s open data bank and files. Others are in the private sector.

The Chinese central government conducts a comprehensive population census every ten years, an exercise that costs hundreds of millions of RMB. It is a major undertaking, employing as many as six million surveyors to complete the task. This census is supplemented during intervening years by annual updates from smaller scale censuses. Lots of demographics are available in the database, including data such as the percentage of a people group that has an urban hukou (户口). This can be roughly interpreted as a measure of the degree of urbanization of a people group.

If cross-cultural workers know how to tap into such hidden treasures; it will save them much time and effort as they do research to map out ministry strategies.

Another area of openly available data is the sociological research arm of local provincial and regional governments.  Local printing presses from the various self-autonomous regions in China all publish titles that cover the people groups in their areas. For example, Ningxia People’s Press publishes over 50 titles on various aspects of the Hui people. The Gansu Research Base of the United Front Theoretical Research Branch of Nationality Religious Theory regularly hosts study forums and publishes conference proceedings.

In specific urban and rural centers, data such as population demographic change, salary surveys, allocation of government resources to specific groups (such as age groups) will give solid indications of the needs of the community.  If the local government is projecting a steady aging of the population, then a church planting strategy that addresses the felt needs of retirees is certainly a wise move.

Information is available not only in the government sector; it is also available in the private sector.  Every time I have the chance, I spend a few hours in the local Xin Hua (新华) bookstore browsing through sections to buy books on social and cultural issues relating to the local people groups.  I have found all kinds of interesting readings that are useful for ministry purposes, for example the biography of the scholar Ma Jian (马坚) who translated the entire Koran into Chinese. Such titles often are not available in Beijing but only in local bookstores where there is a concentration of Muslims. More often than not, only a small print run is made. The Ma Jian biography print run was 5000 copies and is almost impossible to find in bookstores outside of Yinchuan.

This also points out the need for successful cross-cultural workers to be fluent in the local language, not only in oral communication but also in reading and writing.

There are wise ways to do research—if one knows how to look and search in the right directions. There are also unnecessarily difficult ways to do research—which waste precious time and effort repeating what others have already done.

Image credit: Anna FrodesiakOwn work, CC0, Link
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WU Xi (pseudonym) began serving China during the mid-70s, just before China’s Open Door policy was implemented. He served in many different capacities including working with Chinese scholars studying in the West, front-line evangelistic work, and church mobilization for China. He now focuses on developing China’s mission ecosystem.View Full Bio

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