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Not so godless Commies
September 5, 2007 8:22 PM   Subscribe

China: the largest Christian nation Via
posted by Abiezer (41 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I see you have reached a considered conclusion about the causes and implications of the spread of a foreign faith in an ostensibly atheist nation, where restrictions on religious practice still remain, flatluigi. If only I could have parsed the wealth of information at the linked article as quickly as you!
posted by Abiezer at 8:31 PM on September 5, 2007


Not just in China, but a good chunk of the ethnic Chinese scattered about SE Asia are Christian also.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:43 PM on September 5, 2007


Also, this is an interesting blog, Abiezer. Bookmarked for further study. Good post.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:44 PM on September 5, 2007


From the link: Nevertheless, that is not going to stop China from soon becoming home to the largest Christian population on the globe, says the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in an excellent and well-balanced article he recently wrote for the Great Britain-China Centre. He estimates the number of Protestants in China to be between 50-80 million at present count (and that's greater than the population of the United Kingdom).

They're soon catching up to Nigeria.
posted by Brian B. at 8:50 PM on September 5, 2007


Interesting post. Demographics is a powerful force and understanding what's making the tides change is important. And the article points out that this is more than just the effect of large numbers. The percentage figures for "religious" Chinese (presumably self-identified as such) are impressive, given the country's Communist history. Good on ya, Abiezer.
posted by JParker at 8:54 PM on September 5, 2007


This is fascinating.

Years ago I had a history professor who spent two years in China as the communists took over. He was one of a fairly small number of westerners who stayed through the transition and when he left he found himself interviewed by the New York Times. How will communism change China? he was asked."I think the real questions is 'How will China change communism?'"he answered

A few hundred million Chinese Christians, fired with the zeal of new converts and backed by the most dynamic economy in the world could change Christendom. This bears watching.
posted by LarryC at 8:56 PM on September 5, 2007


by the end of the century, china could be the superpower and we could be the old has-beens

there will be two world languages - chinese and english
posted by pyramid termite at 9:29 PM on September 5, 2007


I'm having a job getting a handle on the figures here. The poll of 4,500 estimates 40 million Christians and the Archbishop translates it as 'safe guess' of 50-80 million Protestants. Also the article they mention from last year has "China's estimated 20 million to 30 million Muslims may in fact be the second-largest religious community in the country, after the 100 million or so Buddhists."
posted by tellurian at 9:35 PM on September 5, 2007


I think it all gets confused by the underground churches and estimates of their membership, tellurain, then also the offical and underground Catholic churches. (Chinese statistics for almost anything are notoriously dodgy too, even things that would seem uncontroversial and easily quatifiable). There's also some quite out there cults like Eastern Lightning which are nominally Christian. Add that to the at best uneasy stance of officialdom on all this and you're left with guesstimates at best I think.
I wrote something on the revival of traditional beliefs in rural China for a magazine a while back, including the return of clan halls and paying respects to the ancestors. Seems to me it's partly the resurfacing of what was repressed, and partly filling the void left by the failure of ideology post Cultural Revolution.
posted by Abiezer at 9:41 PM on September 5, 2007


I blame Mick Jagger.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:48 PM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]



by the end of the century, china could be the superpower and we could be the old has-beens

there will be two world languages - chinese and english


Growing up in Russia, there was a popular proverb: "The optimists learn English. The pessimists learn Chinese. The realists learn how to assemble an AK-47."
posted by nasreddin at 9:49 PM on September 5, 2007 [9 favorites]


Thanks Abiezer, that 'Lightning from the East' was an entertaining read. I was also amused by the line - "leaders of China's roughly 60 million Christians have mobilized." [story dateline, 2001]
posted by tellurian at 10:01 PM on September 5, 2007


I'm liking Astro Zombie's Jagger theory too, though I think the Stones' gig in Shanghai got pulled because Brown Sugar was deemed too racy their last tour, so he must be working his Jesus vibes through the underground.
What really caught my eye was the thing on a progressive Chinese Islam. I know even less about this than I do about Christianity here, despite having spent some time in Muslim parts of the country. I think Islam gets the authorities even more jumpy than Christianity, because of the ethnic separatist aspect.
posted by Abiezer at 10:25 PM on September 5, 2007


damn red-state fundies.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:33 PM on September 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


According to the article 68.6% of the population are not religious. Maybe there's hope yet.
posted by tighttrousers at 10:50 PM on September 5, 2007


"I see you have reached a considered conclusion about the causes and implications of the spread of a foreign faith in an ostensibly atheist nation, where restrictions on religious practice still remain, flatluigi."

Christianity, in one form or another, has been a presence in China since 635 AD or earlier. The current Christianity has its roots in 19th century missionaries, both Protestant and Jesuit.

A friend's family was fourth generation Christian on one side pre-1949 and emigrating from Shanghai to Hong Kong and then to New York. Her grandmother attended Christian school as a child in a village outside of Shanghai and was trained as nurse. This is a similar experience of the grandparents of several of my Chinese-American friends.

Foreign faith? Maybe not. It could be argued the Christianity has had a longer history in China that those of us a variety of other ethnic backgrounds that are now seen as firmly Christian.
posted by msjen at 12:17 AM on September 6, 2007


Well, yes, msjen. That's an undeleted response to a now absent comment, where I was going mostly for rhetorical effect to stave off a derail.
But I'd stand by an assertion that Christianity is still broadly perceived as a foreign faith, even given the Nestorians, Jesuits and the rest. And this in a country where the domestic/foreign dichotomy has traditionally been perhaps even more marked than elsewhere; certainly so it the post-colonial discourse. Think of the "patriotic" churches. That tells us something about the official view, at least.
posted by Abiezer at 12:25 AM on September 6, 2007


There's New Confucians who still deride Buddhism as an alien creed too, come to think of it.
posted by Abiezer at 12:29 AM on September 6, 2007


Apologies for the lack of links, but I remember reading about this Singapore-sponsored study on religion in newly-affluent nations in the Pacific Rim (the so-called Asian Tigers).

Apparently, they found a correlation between increase in affluence in a community and religiousity there, thus explaining, among other things, the sudden growth of cult-like organizations in the region, including but not limited to, Falun Gong, ISKCON, Sathya Sai Baba, Tablighi Jamaat and, indeed, revivalist movements in the Church as well (Korean evangelism as an example) [*]. Something about greater affluence making people find "meaning" in life and stuff. (Personally, I think it's about the middle-classes re-asserting their moral power, but anyway)

So yeah. While I'm not surprised about greater religiousity in China, I am, nevertheless, curious about why it is the Christian movement that has seen such large increases. What about Buddhism or Confucianism?

[On preview] Abizier: Ah yes. Fascinating.
--
[*]- Not to dish any of these groups individually, btw. I have problems with all forms of revisionist theology, if you will, connected with any religion.
posted by the cydonian at 12:40 AM on September 6, 2007


I think that you're right about the general increase in religiosity, the cydonian. I wonder if the apparent burgeoning of Christianity is due to the nature of its congregations and perhaps the way they create recognisable churches? msjen is right that there were many Christians in China pre-1949. They're now free to assemble for worship and do so, and we can notice churches. Whereas despite the higher figure for Buddhist practice, my sense is that for most this might mean as little as offering incense at a temple occasionally. You'll hear of pious lay people taking up a Buddhist diet and meditating, or going to hear Dharma talks, but maybe not in such a coherently organised way. IIRC that was one of the impetuses to the Buddha Light (Foguangshan) movement in Taiwan; to create a Buddhist organisation vigorous to enthuse the laity in the way Christian churches were. Buddhist institutions had been mostly monastic previously, and their revival faced a different set of factors - though you do see that too.
I saw a lot of recently refurbished folk Buddhist and Daoist shrines in rural China, and on inquiry this had usually been paid for by some ad hoc whipround in the community, for a mix of motives both religious and more generally cultural.
posted by Abiezer at 12:59 AM on September 6, 2007


Terrifying. All we need is hundreds of millions of rabid Christians (or other monotheists) in an otherwise largely irreligious (but superstitious) society ... but at least the Confucians never fought crusades or jihads ... and nor do they go about proselytizing to others.

One of my college roomies was off to China right after graduation, to ostensibly 'teach', but in fact to convert the natives to Jesus-ism ... this, after he tried to convert me. And I say Jesus-ism, because like most born-agains, for him a 'Christian' was only someone who believed that Jesus had been sent to earth to take upon all the sins of humanity.

What really troubles me is that a lot of governments support their citizens who try and proselytize in other countries when then get into trouble for breaking laws against proselytizing. South Korea is one recent example, and the same question, has fortunately, been asked by plenty of South Koreans.
posted by Azaadistani at 1:35 AM on September 6, 2007


The poll of 4,500 estimates 40 million Christians and the Archbishop translates it as 'safe guess' of 50-80 million Protestants.

Somehow I don't think the Archbishop of Canterbury is what you'd call an unbiased observer.
posted by languagehat at 5:35 AM on September 6, 2007


For a country with a reputation for religious oppression, China has been possibly the single most generous country ever to Jewish refugees.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:54 AM on September 6, 2007


Terrifying. All we need is hundreds of millions of rabid Christians (or other monotheists) in an otherwise largely irreligious (but superstitious) society ... but at least the Confucians never fought crusades or jihads ... and nor do they go about proselytizing to others.

Because those who adhered to monotheistic religions were the ones who killed tens of millions in the 20th century? [/sarcasm]

Please.

China is getting religion. This is a good thing.
posted by Atreides at 7:42 AM on September 6, 2007


For a country with a reputation for religious oppression, China has been possibly the single most generous country ever to Jewish refugees.

WTF? You're comparing apples and oranges: the "reputation for religious oppression" followed the Communist takeover, the generosity preceded it. I direct your attention to the following quote from your link:

After World War II and the establishment of the Communist regime in 1949, most of these Jews emigrated to Israel or the West
posted by languagehat at 7:54 AM on September 6, 2007


The Chinese are still very intolerant of the underground church.

Someone I know (who I will not identify for security reasons) has been over there several times meeting with the leaders of the underground church and more than once has had to hide for HOURs while the secret police were trying to find them. (I'm talking outside literally holed up somewhere.) It isn't so bad for a westerner to be caught but it is dangerous and deadly for a native Chinese person to be caught WITH the westerner-or for that matter caught in a church meeting. We know folks who have....disappeared.
posted by konolia at 7:55 AM on September 6, 2007


There's a suspicion of civil society in general, konolia, and particularly if links to overseas organisations are involved (foreign labour activists are in a similar boat). This is one aspect of the religious revival I'm pleased to see: voluntary self-organised groups outside of the official sphere. That's something China needs more of in my view.
I do have issues with pretty much all I've seen of missionary work here, though, but I'll maybe save those for another discussion.
posted by Abiezer at 8:41 AM on September 6, 2007


Because those who adhered to monotheistic religions were the ones who killed tens of millions in the 20th century? [/sarcasm]

Sort of, yes ... Of the 3 most murderous leaders (Mao, Stalin and Hitler) of the 20th century, both Stalin and Hitler had Christian upbringings.

Please.

China is getting religion. This is a good thing.


I am not persuaded. Your saying it so obviously doesn't make it so, but I am open to your making an argument. Do you have a preference regarding what kind of religion the Chinese people should adopt? How would you react if they were all becoming Hassidic Jews or Wahhabi Muslims or Seventh Day Adventists?

Remember, converts are typically over-zealous and more holier than the Pope ... and in my experience, inherently less stable individuals than those who do not adopt new religions.
posted by Azaadistani at 10:19 AM on September 6, 2007


Remember, converts are typically over-zealous and more holier than the Pope ... and in my experience, inherently less stable individuals than those who do not adopt new religions.

Well, since we're just generalizing here, most of the Chinese Christians I've seen have a philosophy that is an amalgam of the Quan Yin goddess reverence, superstitious Mahayana Buddhism, and good ol' fashioned Chinese hard work/penny pinching. They're not particularly dangerous compared to your socio-economic group, whatever that may be.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:22 AM on September 6, 2007



Sort of, yes ... Of the 3 most murderous leaders (Mao, Stalin and Hitler) of the 20th century, both Stalin and Hitler had Christian upbringings.


I'm not going to get into this again, but this is idiotic. Everyone in Europe since the fifth century AD has had a Christian upbringing. For whatever reason, only two of those were directly responsible for the slaughter of tens of millions of people.
posted by nasreddin at 11:03 AM on September 6, 2007


Gad. I won't even address the implications you're casting about Christianity being the fault for the Communist and Nazi massacres.

When I said religion, I meant religion. While Protestant Christianity is my personal favorite, I wouldn't be upset if main stream China went Buddhist or Mormon or Catholic, as its better than the present alternative.

Most religions instill a sense of moral grounding, of what is right and wrong, with abhorrence towards murder and other societal cruelties. There will always be extremists, but for the majority of history, extremists have always been the minority despite the level of violence they might try to incite or cause. Religions also tend to teach people to place value in others, to help and have empathy.

China tried to replace religion with ideology and it was a disaster.

I regret that your own personal encounter with an over zealous Christian has had such negative ramifications, but it was by no means representative of the whole. In my opinion, a good Christian is someone you won't know is a Christian, but who leaves you with a sense of admiration for their acts, gestures, and behavior.
posted by Atreides at 11:09 AM on September 6, 2007


nasreddin: What is idiotic is your statement: "everyone" in Europe has not had a Christian upbringing. There have been plenty of Jews and Muslims (Albania, the Balkans, Russia) there as well ... the former for millenia, and the latter for less. What is troubling is the knee-jerk notion that Europe=Christianity. That is not true and is increasingly going to be less true.

I realize that you were speaking generally, so here is the more substantive response: The reason that killers of the scale of Stalin and Hitler emerged in the 20th century is only because technology was not advanced enough prior to that to efficiently slaughter tens of millions. However, many place the human cost of European colonization at 50 million (see, e.g., : ), which was explicitly driven by God (and gold and glory), as the axiom goes. So, while spread over more time, it's not as though Christianity has been particularly peaceful, even in times when technologies were less efficient (not to mention internecine Christian slaughter).

I was responding to Atreides who was saying that China's getting 'religion' is a good thing, as he was alluding to the Cultural Revolution. I'm sorry, but I'm not persuaded that more people believing in exclusionary, self-righteous monotheistic faiths is a good thing. Perhaps you can respond on his behalf.

As a non-Christian, from a non-Christian background living in the West, from my perspective the most terrifying religious movement is Christianity, and its alarming increases in Asia and Africa. Islam is second on the terrifying scale, because Muslim countries are less powerful.

The world for the last 7 years has had a 'leader of the free world' who is a born-again Christian ... who has invoked the language of the Crusades to illegitimately invade a country and basically destroy it and de-stabilize a whole region ... who is itching to invade a neighboring country if the first invasion would settle down a bit.

I do not think that in this world we need more religion ... and if we must have more religion, let's at least have more religions so that there is more diversity and consequently more impetus for tolerance. Therefore, to my mind it is alarming when tens of millions in China are converting to the world's already most widespread religion ... rather than being a good thing.
posted by Azaadistani at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


sorry, first sentence should read: "everyone has had a Christian upbringing"
posted by Azaadistani at 11:40 AM on September 6, 2007



One of my college roomies was off to China right after graduation, to ostensibly 'teach', but in fact to convert the natives to Jesus-ism ... this, after he tried to convert me. And I say Jesus-ism, because like most born-agains, for him a 'Christian' was only someone who believed that Jesus had been sent to earth to take upon all the sins of humanity.


Oh no! Not someone trying to convert you! How horrible! I hope you got him to pay for your therapy!
posted by nasreddin at 11:40 AM on September 6, 2007



nasreddin: What is idiotic is your statement: "everyone" in Europe has not had a Christian upbringing. There have been plenty of Jews and Muslims (Albania, the Balkans, Russia) there as well ... the former for millenia, and the latter for less. What is troubling is the knee-jerk notion that Europe=Christianity. That is not true and is increasingly going to be less true.


As a European Jew, I am well aware of this, but it is entirely irrelevant to your Stalin/Hitler argument.
posted by nasreddin at 11:44 AM on September 6, 2007


I'mma roll up wit a Jihad up yo AZZ, bitches.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:45 AM on September 6, 2007


Coming into this a little late, and late at night here in China (well not that late, but I gotta get the kids to bed soon, and myself).

The article says that 31.4% of Chinese 16 years old or older are religious. No way. Unless you count religious as burning paper (symbolic money) for their ancestors and having Buddhist funerals and stuff like that. I have run into college students who kind of consider themselves Christian, but when I ask them about it they tell me that they once met some evangelizer (usually another student) and they professed their new faith in some kind of brainwashing meeting, but that was more than a year ago and they haven't really thought about it lately.

Having lived in China for more than five years working in a profession which gives me a chance to have personal conversations with large numbers of people from every walk of life, I think that percentage is ridiculous. I would put it at maybe 2-3%.

But the new Christian converts that I have met have a lot in common with new Amway converts. Missionaries come in and brainwash them.

There is an American missionary "base" (disguised as an English school) just outside of Jilin City (where I live). They have all sorts of plans and hopes to convert thousands of students from kindergarten through college. They are funded by the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana (megachurch).

I've been aware of them for about four years, and have been able to observe quite a lot. They're very persistent, but thankfully not as successful as they initially envisioned. They've even attracted the attention of the Chinese Secret Police, who I hope will make things very difficult for them.

I expect that their whole purpose for coming here is the same purpose that the megachurches have back home -- to gain political power and control.

In my opinion, China does not need this kind of Christianity. It's not a good thing.

But seeing the relative lack of success that the missionaries here have had, it's not a significant movement. The Chinese government has a keen eye on the movement, and if things go in a way the government doesn't approve of, they can wipe the movement out very quickly.

Thank God for atheism! : )
posted by strangeguitars at 5:48 AM on September 7, 2007


But the new Christian converts that I have met have a lot in common with new Amway converts. Missionaries come in and brainwash them.

God forbid people make a rational decision to pursue a faith. :)
posted by Atreides at 8:14 AM on September 7, 2007


They've even attracted the attention of the Chinese Secret Police, who I hope will make things very difficult for them.

Like torture and murder them?

I heard the stories from a man who lived them. How dare you wish that on ANYONE.
posted by konolia at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2007


Most religions instill a sense of moral grounding, of what is right and wrong, with abhorrence towards murder and other societal cruelties.

All dogmatic institutions instill a sense of firm belief over knowledge and reason, then instill a sense of right versus wrong belief, or correct thinking. Even communism did this. This is a fundamental error in its own way because it leads to self-righteousness when it can proven wrong or unknown. But, more subtly, any excellence that exists freely without any reward or punishment to motivate it often discouraged, replaced with the self-serving goodness that justifies the belief. For example, feeding the poor to get into heaven is deemed a great sacrifice to the religious, although it is ultimately self-serving (and often demands a starving person as a prop). Conversely, getting people to reconsider overpopulation in order to prevent poverty is often considered very evil to the overtly religious.

It all goes back to the mistaken idea that God must be directing affairs on the planet. If so, then human disasters are his punishments (and this is the mislabeled human cruelty that blames the victim). So, to salvage the concept of God, there needs to be a declared "knowledge" (belief) of good and evil, although by faith, because if there isn't, then the activist God's wrath would be an evil force objectively speaking.

Atheists are kind to religion when they discount the belief in God, because the alternative is an evil-doer God.
posted by Brian B. at 4:06 PM on September 7, 2007


Great post and comments, thanks!

Tangentially related, CBC's Dispatches had a story on China's Uygur/Muslim minority (Scroll down to the November 16/06 show, unfortunately .ram) that I found interesting.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:11 AM on September 8, 2007


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