The Lantern

Watching China

This month we take a look at the history and nature of China watching. Here at ChinaSource we watch China to learn better how to pray for, serve, and partner with the Lord’s church there. In a world climate that mainly offers reasons why not to care, we are compelled by the Holy Spirit not only to care, but to engage, and collaborate, however he leads. Thanks for watching, praying, and serving with us!

Kerry Schottelkorb

The term “China watching” became a thing during the Cold War, when foreign diplomats, academics, and journalists were unable to observe and report first-hand what was happening in China. Like bird watching, it had to be done from afar—from outside of China. This was also, and perhaps particularly, true for those interested in what was going on with the church in China.

Following the Reform and Opening policy that was launched in the late 1970s, China watchers were slowly allowed back in to see for themselves what was happening in China. Foreign Christians returned as well, taking advantage of opportunities for legitimate work in business, education, and the service sector. This made it easier to see, experience, and report on the situation for Christians in China. No longer confined to “reading the tea leaves from Hong Kong,” foreigners could attend church services, meet local believers, and find ways to serve churches in China.

Since its beginning in 1997, ChinaSource has been a leading player in the “Christian China watching” space. With our extensive network and history of collaboration, we have been able to tell stories that take us behind the headlines, giving global Christians a chance to see the multi-dimensional nature of Christianity in China.

One of the biggest changes in China watching that has taken place in recent years is the access provided by the internet. With the proliferation of social media in the 2000s, Christians, like everyone else in society, went online to write, allowing us to hear first-hand what Christians in China are thinking about and what issues they are dealing with. What we discovered is that many of these were outside of the common narratives of Christianity in China.

One of the main difficulties in China watching is the size and complexity of a nation of 1.4 billion people. The political, social, and religious environments vary greatly from region to region; what happens in one place is not necessarily representative of the whole. That is very difficult for outsiders to grasp. In writing about China and the church, we take great care to highlight this reality. Any particular story is merely a piece of the puzzle; looking at an individual piece, or a group of pieces does not necessarily reveal the entire picture.

Effective and meaningful China watching requires a long-term perspective, historical knowledge, language proficiency, as well as language and cultural awareness. No one has the whole package; we tend to specialize according to discipline or areas of interest. This is why collaboration is so important. Within ChinaSource we have a limited set of eyes with unique experiences and skills. In collaboration with others, however, we are able to expand the scope of what we can pay attention to and offer a broader range of perspectives and insights. Increasingly, these collaborative efforts are with Chinese thinkers and writers, giving us more access to insider perspectives. Our blog column Chinese Church Voices is an example of this—by listening to what Chinese Christians are themselves saying about their experiences, we all become better watchers.

The ChinaSource Team of China Watchers

Ways to Pray

  • Thank God for the quality leadership he sends to serve and steward ChinaSource. Give thanks for the faithful service of our outgoing board chair Victor Hou and pray for Scott Rodin as he takes over that role in September.
  • Pray for the ChinaSource team and board meetings August 31-September 4—for fruitful discussion, prayerful planning, and patience for all in a virtual setting across four countries and seven time zones.
  • Join us in praying for our brothers and sisters in China that the Lord will strengthen and give grace as they hear his call and follow him.
  • Pray that we may be listening to what Chinese Christians are themselves saying about their experiences and that we all become “better watchers.” (See above).

News and Notes


How Relevant Is the Gospel for the Chinese?

Among Cultural Chinese everywhere, the Christian faith is often perceived as a foreign or Western religion. Hence, many do not see how it is relevant for them.

In this upcoming webinar, I’Ching Thomas will talk about how we can articulate the gospel in terms that are attractive and significant to our Cultural Chinese friends. We will also see how a Cultural Chinese can be a follower of Christ without having to shed his ethnic identity— one can be Chinese and a Christian with honor.

I’Ching is the author of Jesus: The Path to Human Flourishing. The webinar will include insights drawn from the book.

  • Date: Thursday, September 10, 2020
  • Time: 7:00pm US Central Daylight Saving Time (DST)

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested.

ChinaSource Staff News

Role Update

As China and its church is growing and changing, ChinaSource is doing the same. We want to ensure that our team is poised and prepared to best serve those serving the church in China. As such, in this coming season, we’ll be fine tuning the roles of our team members and where needed, adding new members (see Opportunities). 

To start off, we’d like to announce a revised role for Joann Pittman. Joann is now Vice President of Partnerships and China Engagement. She is primarily responsible for building and strengthening strategic partnerships, developing and implementing China engagement strategies, and overseeing education and training opportunities for ChinaSource. She also serves as a senior advisor to our President, Kerry Schottelkorb, and is one of our in-house China analysts.

If you are interested in opportunities for partnership or China engagement, feel free to reach out to Joann at

Other Staff News

Joann Pittman was interviewed by Bill Arnold of My Faith Radio on July 27. You can listen to the broadcast here.

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ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

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