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The Social and Political Status of Christianity in China: Ten “Take-aways”

Is Christianity transforming Chinese society? The Brookings Institute China Center recently hosted two panel discussions exploring that question.

Here is the description of from the Brookings website:

As Chinese leaders forcefully pursue an anti-corruption campaign and work to overcome an emerging moral and spiritual vacuum, Christianity continues to flourish. Having spread rapidly throughout Chinese society since the government began to relax restrictions on religion in 1979, Christianity is now estimated to have more than 33 million followers in China. According to Italian media, even Xi Jinping developed a relationship with Pope Francis after they corresponded while assuming their respective leadership positions only three days apart.

As more Chinese turn to Christianity and others flout government sanctions on church activities, will the government allow for increased church autonomy? Consequently, will civil society be able to more fully reap the benefits of this increased Christian activity?

On June 3, the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings hosted two public panel discussions about how Christianity has transformed Chinese society, and continues to do so. For the first panel, Senior Fellow Richard Bush moderated a discussion on the social and political status of Christianity in China with Liu Peng, Carsten Vala and Reverend Zhang Boli. In the second panel, David Aikman moderated a discussion on the ways Christianity impacts Chinese civil society with Jiexia Zhai Autry, Richard Madsen and Zhao Xiao.

Brookings has posted the complete audio, and is in the process of adding the accompanying PowerPoint presentations. If you are interested in an in-depth look at Christianity in China from a variety of perspectives, do your best to carve out 3 hours to listen in on the discussion.

Here are ten key “take-aways” from the first panel:

  1. Christianity in China is no longer considered a religion of old women; the churches instead are increasingly filled with those who are younger and more educated. (Liu Peng)
  2. While the government proclaims that there is religious freedom, there are no laws to actually protect that freedom. (Liu Peng)
  3. More opportunities mean more challenges. (Liu Peng)
  4. A Blue Book Report on religion in 2009 indicated that 70% of Protestant Christians had become Christians since 1993. (Carsten Vala)
  5. Part of what drove the ’emerging urban church movement’ was the realization by urban house churches that, since the government knew everything about them, they were only hidden to society. That’s why they decided to step out of the shadows. (Carsten Vala)
  6. Party historiography still links Christianity with Imperialism. However, there is a counter-narrative among Christians that has great affections for early missionaries and their contribution. (Carsten Vala)
  7. While there is reason for optimism about the continued growth and spread of Christianity, there is little reason for optimism about any changes in government policies towards religion. (Zhang Boli)
  8. Islam will never take root among the Han people in China because they will never give up eating pork! (Liu Peng)
  9. It is still too early to know if the crackdown on churches in Wenzhou is a localized event or is the opening salvo to slow the growth of Christianity. (Carsten Vala)
  10. Anti-Christian campaigns in the 1950’s targeted people, but left in place the church buildings. This one is targeted against the church buildings, not the people. (Liu Peng)

As they say, listen to the whole thing!

Image credit: The Real China, Anyang City, by V.T. Polywoda

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio

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