Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions(CISMOR)Doshisha University

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Public Lectures

Open Lecture by Project 1

Christianity in Contemporary China: How do Christians live in the Atheist Society?

Date: 2011/08/01 13:00 − 15:00
Place: Divinity Hall Chapel, Imadegawa Campus, Doshisha University
Lecture: Xue Enfeng, Director of the Kansai Activity Center, Nippon Christian Academy
Christianity in Contemporary China: How do Christians live in the Atheist Society?
The lecturer, Mr. Xue, was born to a pastor’s family and experienced the Cultural Revolution in his childhood when Christian churches were being persecuted. He studied at the School of Theology of Doshisha University and now serves as director of the Kansai Activity Center, Nippon Christian Academy, and as a pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan. In this lecture, he discussed the situation surrounding Christianity in China under the communist regime from the perspective of the religious policy of the Chinese government, while referring to the history of Christianity in China.
When addressing religious issues in today’s China, we must first pay attention to the ideologies held by the Chinese Communist Party—namely, the Marxist-Leninist ideology based on historical materialism and Maoism. These national ideologies have exerted substantial influence over the country’s religious policy. It should be noted, in the first place, that socialism is the very basis of today’s Chinese society, and that the Chinese government takes an atheistic stance. Though religion stands opposed to this stance of the government, religion was part of the lives of citizens before the establishment of the socialist regime. For this reason, Chinese religious leaders have been pressed to adapt themselves to socialism. Today, religions are regarded as having social and political power, and religious organizations are obligated to register themselves with the government and to be placed under the government’s control.
Historically, the current relationship between Christianity and China has been developed through four intermittent stages. The first contact between them took place in the 7th century when the Nestorian sect of Christianity was introduced to China, which was called Jingjiao (Religion of Light). In the 13th century, the Nestorian sect and Catholicism were brought to China, and in the 16th century, Matteo Ricci of the Society of Jesus came to China to preach Catholicism. Then, in 1807, Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society, who worked for the East India Company as an interpreter, began his missionary service in China, and in 1823, he published the first Chinese translation of the Bible. After that, many missionary groups, mainly from the U.S., were active in China in order to spread Christianity.
However, in the wake of the Opium War that broke out in 1840 and with the invasion of Western powers that followed, China became increasingly skeptical of Christianity, which they referred to as “Western religion.” While Chinese Christians worked to localize Christianity, the control of churches was in the hands of foreign missionaries. After 1920, Chinese people grew more hostile to Christianity, as it was tightly woven into the invasion strategies of Western powers, which eventually led to an extensive anti-Christian movement and thus made missionary activities in China increasingly difficult. Recently, however, the benefits brought to Chinese society through medical, educational, and charity services provided by Western missionaries are beginning to be recognized among intellectuals.
A turning point for Christianity in China came in 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party seized control of the country and when the People’s Republic of China was founded. Under the leadership of Mao Zedong, who declared Christianity to be a tool for the invasion of China by Western powers seeking to propagate Western thought and culture, the Communist government set out to expel foreign missionary organizations. Accordingly, Chinese Christian churches were forced to be disassociated from foreign missionaries and thus lost their financial backing. As a result, Chinese Christians found themselves isolated within society, experiencing difficulty even up to now.
Faced with such an attitude of the Communist Party toward Christianity, Chinese churches began to recognize the connection between imperialism and Christianity, and took action to eliminate the imperialist influence. In 1951, major Chinese Christian organizations met and resolved to completely cut off their links with foreign missionary organizations. They also adopted the principles of “self-governance, self-support and self-propagation,” and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee was established, with its network extending nationwide. In 1958, Chinese Protestant denominations were unified to ensure survival under the socialist regime. Accordingly, institutional “denominations” no longer exist in China today. Another blow was dealt to this situation by the occurrence of the Cultural Revolution. Under the belief that “religion is the opium of the people,” the Chinese government severely persecuted Christians and deprived them of churches, while Chinese Christians secretly gathered to worship and never abandoned their faith. In 1978, the Chinese Communist Party declared the failure of the Cultural Revolution, and in 1982, an article guaranteeing freedom of religion was added to the Chinese constitution.
Characteristically, Christianity in today’s China has no denominations, due to unification under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. On the other hand, Chinese Christians are forced to practice their faith in a manner that complies with the national socialist policy, despite the freedom of rights enshrined in the constitution. For example, in China, the Bible is sold only in churches, not in general book stores.
After freedom of religion was granted to the Chinese people in 1982, a Christianity boom occurred in China, resulting in a rapid increase of the Chinese Christian population. In this light, we may say that “Resurrection” is a term that also relates to the experience of Chinese Christians.

Souki Yamashita
(Research Assistant, Graduate Student of School of Theology, Doshisha University)
*This lecture will be given in Japanese.
*Admission Free, No Reservation Necessary.

Hosted by: CISMOR
Co-hosted by: School of Theology, Doshisha University
Program (Japanese)