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Six Trends Shaping China (and What They Mean for the Church)

Jeffrey Towson and Jonathan Woetzel, both professors at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management in Beijing, claim you can understand China in an hour. An excerpt from their new book on the McKinsey and Company website says getting a handle on China is a lot less about politics and a lot more about a handful of major economic and social trends that are shaping the country's future.

Here they are, along with some comments of my own (in italics) on what they mean for China's Christians.

Urbanizing a billion people. 300 million people have already moved from the countryside to the cities, and 350 million more are coming. Along the way, China has managed to lift more than 300 million people out of poverty.

The Church's center of gravity has shifted from the countryside to the city. How Christians will live out their faith in this rapidly evolving urban environment is the primary challenge facing the church today.

Huge manufacturing scale. China continues to be "the world's factory floor," producing more goods than any other country. Yet, as the authors point out, China has little track record in establishing globally recognized brands that can fuel ongoing demand into the future.

As the workforce ages and as China moves toward a more services- and information-oriented economy, the church will find itself ministering to those who are moving out of factory life and into more stable jobs in the cities.

Rising Chinese consumers. "Urban Chinese are shopping to meet emotional needs, driving a skyrocketing demand for middle class goods, services and entertainment," report Towson and Woetzel.

Amidst growing disillusionment with China's "get rich" paradigm, the church has an opportunity to teach biblical stewardship as an antidote to rampant materialism.

Money and lots of it. China foreign exchange reserves total $3.5 trillion, and its $15 trillion in bank deposits grows by $2 trillion each year. However, excessive state intervention, the rise of a "shadow" banking system, and high levels of local government debt call into question the stability of China's financial sector.

As they practice biblical stewardship, China's Christians could lead the way in setting standards in the areas of philanthropy and financial management that provide an example to the rest of society.

The brainpower behemoth. The number of college graduates in China has skyrocketed, as has China's spending on research and development. Yet there is a disconnect between education, jobs, and innovation.

China's Christians are actively seeking alternatives to the current test-based education system, exploring holistic approaches to learning based on a Christian worldview. Expect this trend to continue and to take off considerably in the event China enacts real education reform.

The Chinese internet. China's "netizen" community continues to grow exponentially, with sixty percent of China's more than 600 million internet users coming online only within the past three or four years.

China's vibrant online Christian community is one of the biggest untold stories of the current internet boom. Recent research indicates Chinese microblogs mention Jesus much more often than any of China's leaders, past or present.

Can you understand China an hour? Check out The One Hour China Book and let us know what you think.

Image credit: Factory, Guohong, by Fairphone

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource.  Prior to assuming his current position, 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 US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio