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Surviving the State, Remaking the Church: A Sociological Portrait of Christians in Mainland China

Studies in Chinese Christianity Series


Selected by the editor of the International Bulletin of Mission Research as one of the ten outstanding books of 2017 for Missions Studies.

This sociological portrait presents how Chinese Christians have coped with life under a hostile regime over a span of different historical periods, and how Christian churches as collective entities have been reshaped by ripples of social change. China’s change from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, or from an agrarian society to an urbanizing society, are admittedly significant phenomena worthy of scholarly attention, but real changes are about values and beliefs that give rise to social structures over time. The growth of Christianity has become interwoven with the disintegration or emergence of Chinese cultural beliefs, political ideologies, and commercial values.

Relying mainly on an oral history method for data collection, the authors allow the narratives of Chinese Christians to speak for themselves. Identifying the formative cultural elements, a sociohistorical analysis also helps to lay out a coherent understanding of the complexity of religious experiences for Christians in the Chinese world. This book also serves to bring back scholarly discussions on the habits of the heart as the condition that helps form identities and nurture social morality, whether individuals engage in private or public affairs.

Li Ma and Jin Li have written an unusually valuable book on the recent history of Christianity in China.  Unlike too many others (often speculative or ill-informed), they support their general narrative with extensive ethnographic research.  The individuals they have interviewed provide fascinating insights into conversions in prison, the Christian "harvest" from the Tiannamen Square massacres, effective evangelism at McDonald's and Starbucks, the emergence of Christian NGOs, ongoing tensions between believers and the Chinese Communist Party, the surprising emergence of self-conscious Chinese Calvinist theology, and much more.  The result is extraordinary insight concerning perhaps the most important scene of Christian development in the world today.
Mark Noll, McAnaney Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, is the author of The New Shape of World Christianity.

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Mary Li Ma

Mary Li Ma

Mary Li Ma (MA Li) holds a PhD in sociology from Cornell University. Currently a research fellow at the Henry Institute of Christianity and Public Life at Calvin College, she and her husband Li Jin have coauthored articles, book chapters, and are the authors of Surviving the State, Remaking the Church:... View Full Bio


LI Jin

LI Jin

LI Jin is a PhD student at Calvin Theological Seminary. Prior to seminary he was a PhD candidate in economic history at a Shanghai university. He writes on Christian thought for both public and Christian media outlets in mainland China and Hong Kong. He is a columnist on social and economic issues for China’s largest financial... View Full Bio