More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

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CorruptUser
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More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby CorruptUser » Mon Sep 12, 2011 3:38 pm UTC

From the Beeb (which is why it's "practising").

Spoiler:
More people go to church on Sunday in China than in the whole of Europe.

Many of China's churches are overflowing, as the number of Christians in the country multiplies. In the past, repression drove people to convert - is the cause now rampant capitalism?

It is impossible to say how many Christians there are in China today, but no-one denies the numbers are exploding.

The government says 25 million, 18 million Protestants and six million Catholics. Independent estimates all agree this is a vast underestimate. A conservative figure is 60 million. There are already more Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe.

The new converts can be found from peasants in the remote rural villages to the sophisticated young middle class in the booming cities.
Driven underground

There is a complexity in the structures of Chinese Christianity which is little understood in the West. To start with, Catholicism and Protestantism are designated by the state as two separate religions.

The Haidian Christian Church in Beijing was completely re-built to cope with rising numbers

Throughout the 20th Century, Christianity was associated with Western imperialism. After the Communist victory in 1948, the missionaries were expelled, but Christianity was permitted in state-sanctioned churches, so long as they gave their primary allegiance to the Communist Party.

Mao, on the other hand, described religion as "poison", and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s attempted to eradicate it. Driven underground, Christianity not only survived, but with its own Chinese martyrs, it grew in strength.

Since the 1980s, when religious belief was again permitted, the official Churches have gradually created more space for themselves.

They report to the State Administration for Religious Affairs. They are forbidden to take part in any religious activity outside their places of worship and sign up to the slogan, "Love the country - love your religion."

In return the Party promotes atheism in schools but undertakes "to protect and respect religion until such time as religion itself will disappear".
House Churches

Protestants and Catholics are both divided into official and unofficial Churches.
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The old have seen the old certainties of Marxism-Leninism transmute into the most visceral capitalist society on earth”

The officially sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association appoints its own bishops and is not allowed to have any dealings with the Vatican, though Catholics are allowed to recognise the spiritual authority of the Pope.

There is a larger Catholic underground church, supported by the Vatican. Inch by inch, the Vatican and the government have been moving towards accommodation. Most bishops are now recognised by both, with neither side admitting the greater sovereignty of the other.

Yet in the past few months, the Chinese government has again turned tough, ordaining its bishops in the teeth of opposition from the Vatican which has in turn excommunicated one of them.

Even so, it would be wrong simply to dismiss the official church as a sham.

In the mountains West of Beijing, I visited the village of Ho Sanju where a Catholic Church has stood since the 14th Century.
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Find Out More
Tim Gardam is the Principal of St Anne's College, Oxford.
He is pictured here with the Catholic Sisters of Sanju.
God in China, Christianity and Catholicism will be on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on Monday 12 September.
Read more about the programme
Read more about Tim Gardam
Catch up on iPlayer

The tough faith of these old people had withstood the Japanese invasion and the Cultural Revolution. The village clinic was run by nuns, one from Inner Mongolia, a Catholic stronghold.

It is from such villages that the Catholic Church recruits its young ordinands, to undertake training for the priesthood.

The official Protestant Church is growing faster than Catholicism.

On Easter morning, in downtown Beijing, I watched five services, each packed with over 1,500 worshippers. Sunday school was spilling on to the street.

However, these numbers are dwarfed by the unofficial "house churches", spreading across the country, at odds with the official Church which fears the house churches' fervour may provoke a backlash.

What the authorities consider non-negotiable is the house churches' refusal to acknowledge any official authority over their organisation.

The State fears the influence of zealous American evangelism and some of the House Church theology has those characteristics, but, in many other respects, it seems to be an indigenous Chinese movement - charismatic, energetic and young.

An educated young Christian described her church to me: "We have 50 young professionals in this church. Everyone is so busy working, you don't have time socialising, and even if you are socialising, you are putting on a fake face.

"But in church people feel warm, they feel welcome… they feel people really love them so they really want to join the community, a lot of people come for this."
Alpha marriage course

A Chinese academic close to the government told me that the government would prefer to ignore the house churches, as unlike the Falun Gong they are not seen as a threat. But where a church oversteps the line, as happened in Beijing this year, taking its worship on to the streets, then the authorities will crack down.
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The worship of Mammon… has become many people's life purpose”
Professor He Guanghu
Renmin University, Beijing

In some areas the state has sought to enlist Christianity into its "big idea" of a "harmonious society" - the slogan that dominates Chinese public life. There has been official interest in the Western evangelical Alpha Marriage Course, because of alarm at the escalating divorce rate among young Chinese.

What must unsettle the authorities most is the reason why so many are turning to the churches.

I heard people talking again and again of a "spiritual crisis" in China - a phrase that has even been used by the Premier Wen Jiao Bao. The old have seen the old certainties of Marxism-Leninism transmute into the most visceral capitalist society on earth.

For the young, in the stampede to get rich, trust in institutions, between individuals, between the generations, is breaking down.

As one of China's most eminent philosophers of religion - Professor He Guanghu, at Renmin University in Beijing put it to me: "The worship of Mammon… has become many people's life purpose.

"I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied... will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly."

God in China, Christianity and Catholicism will be on BBC Radio 4 at 20:00 BST on Monday 12 September 2011 and afterwards at the above link.


I wonder why Protestantism is more popular?
Last edited by CorruptUser on Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:31 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby Dauric » Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:06 pm UTC

Catholicism has a central European authority, where Protestantism is a catch-all for a variety of "Non-Catholic" beliefs. To have an "official" Catholic church you have to have some degree of communication with the Vatican, where many varieties of Protestant churches all you need is a stack of bibles and somewhere to meet.

Also Protestantism, being a catch-all, is where you would find Chinese-ified variations on Christianity that incorporate aspects of local cultural and/or religious traditions.
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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby johnny_7713 » Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:28 pm UTC

I also assume the prevalence of Protestantism is linked to colonialism. Spain and Portugal (the major source of Catholic Christianity in South America and e.g. the Philipines as far as I know) never had a strong presence in China, unlike protestant countries like England, Germany and the US.

By the way, are there really less than 60 million Christians in Europe? I find that hard to believe since AFAIK large portions of the population of Poland, Spain and Italy still consider themselves catholic for example.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby CorruptUser » Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:29 pm UTC

More practicing at least; more people go to Church on Sunday in China than in all of Europe, according to the article.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby IcedT » Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:53 pm UTC

johnny_7713 wrote:I also assume the prevalence of Protestantism is linked to colonialism. Spain and Portugal (the major source of Catholic Christianity in South America and e.g. the Philipines as far as I know) never had a strong presence in China, unlike protestant countries like England, Germany and the US.
Portugal had Macau, one of the first European holdings in China. And if we expected religious leanings to mostly be a product of colonial influence, we should expect Orthodox Christianity to be doing better than either Protestantism or Catholicism because of the Russian Empire.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:41 pm UTC

johnny_7713 wrote:I also assume the prevalence of Protestantism is linked to colonialism. Spain and Portugal (the major source of Catholic Christianity in South America and e.g. the Philipines as far as I know) never had a strong presence in China, unlike protestant countries like England, Germany and the US.

By the way, are there really less than 60 million Christians in Europe? I find that hard to believe since AFAIK large portions of the population of Poland, Spain and Italy still consider themselves catholic for example.


A lot of Europeans are probably best described as cultural Christians. They still keep some Christian traditions (eg. baptism, godparenting, Christmas, weddings, funerals), but don't attend regular--or any--church services, or read the Bible, or, in many cases, even believe in God. For example, in Sweden, 73% of the population are officially members of the Church of Sweden; however, only twenty-three percent of Swedes believe in God.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby nasalhernia » Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:58 pm UTC

Someone in my family occasionally travels to China to teach seminary classes. He says that Christianity is flourishing in urban areas of China in spite of government efforts to stop it. The acceptance of Christians is also rising in China, evident in the fact that even local police are tired of clamping down on fellow Chinese who aren't really doing much else on Sundays besides going to church.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby Arrian » Mon Sep 12, 2011 6:13 pm UTC

IcedT wrote: Portugal had Macau, one of the first European holdings in China. And if we expected religious leanings to mostly be a product of colonial influence, we should expect Orthodox Christianity to be doing better than either Protestantism or Catholicism because of the Russian Empire.


How aggressively did the Russian orthodox church send out missionaries, though? That's a question I honestly don't know the answer to. But, assuming colonial times impact religious choices now, I would expect a pretty heavy catholic influence in the areas Portugal had access to since the Catholic church was Very aggressive with the missionaries.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby PeterCai » Mon Sep 12, 2011 8:04 pm UTC

nasalhernia wrote:Someone in my family occasionally travels to China to teach seminary classes. He says that Christianity is flourishing in urban areas of China in spite of government efforts to stop it. The acceptance of Christians is also rising in China, evident in the fact that even local police are tired of clamping down on fellow Chinese who aren't really doing much else on Sundays besides going to church.

it's a bit more complex than police getting tired.
the current administration noticed the lack of spiritual comfort amount chinese, which they believe led to the rise of cults such as falungong and various new sects of buddhism and daoism; they believe that an organized, uniform spiritual belief may be integral to the stability of the country; and they are unnerved by what they see as an erosion of traditional values in recent years. the solution was to experiment with a state-sponsored religion, and christianity was looked into for this role. there are major dissents about the decision, mainly from the marxists and nationalists within the leadership, which is why the government gives contradictory signals regarding christianity. but as of now, the consensus is that christianity is allowed to freely develop in china so long as it is freed of foreign influence and completely under the control of the central government.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby Viae » Mon Sep 12, 2011 9:10 pm UTC

Most of that has been pushed by large American-Evangelical super-church type buggers. They are almost universally protestant, hence the imbalance.
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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby Lazar » Mon Sep 12, 2011 9:26 pm UTC

Viae wrote:Most of that has been pushed by large American-Evangelical super-church type buggers. They are almost universally protestant, hence the imbalance.

Yeah, Evangelical/charismatic churches have made huge inroads in developing countries - even in places like Brazil where Catholicism used to be supreme.
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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Sep 12, 2011 9:45 pm UTC

IcedT wrote:
johnny_7713 wrote:I also assume the prevalence of Protestantism is linked to colonialism. Spain and Portugal (the major source of Catholic Christianity in South America and e.g. the Philipines as far as I know) never had a strong presence in China, unlike protestant countries like England, Germany and the US.
Portugal had Macau, one of the first European holdings in China. And if we expected religious leanings to mostly be a product of colonial influence, we should expect Orthodox Christianity to be doing better than either Protestantism or Catholicism because of the Russian Empire.


Catholicism was the first post-medieval branch of Christianity to enter China, via Jesuits coming through Macau in the mid 16th century. The effort was notable because, in true Jesuit fashion, missionaries made an effort to understand Chinese culture and history in an attempt to frame Christianity in a way more palatable to the locals. Protestant missionaries didn't come to China until a little after 1800.

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby johnny_7713 » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:50 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:
IcedT wrote:
johnny_7713 wrote:I also assume the prevalence of Protestantism is linked to colonialism. Spain and Portugal (the major source of Catholic Christianity in South America and e.g. the Philipines as far as I know) never had a strong presence in China, unlike protestant countries like England, Germany and the US.
Portugal had Macau, one of the first European holdings in China. And if we expected religious leanings to mostly be a product of colonial influence, we should expect Orthodox Christianity to be doing better than either Protestantism or Catholicism because of the Russian Empire.


Catholicism was the first post-medieval branch of Christianity to enter China, via Jesuits coming through Macau in the mid 16th century. The effort was notable because, in true Jesuit fashion, missionaries made an effort to understand Chinese culture and history in an attempt to frame Christianity in a way more palatable to the locals. Protestant missionaries didn't come to China until a little after 1800.


My knowledge of Chinese history is clearly lacking. Fortunately I have the XKCD fora to educate me :).

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby Lazar » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:56 pm UTC

johnny_7713 wrote:XKCD

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Re: More Practising Christians in China than in Europe

Postby Zamfir » Tue Sep 13, 2011 11:18 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:A lot of Europeans are probably best described as cultural Christians. They still keep some Christian traditions (eg. baptism, godparenting, Christmas, weddings, funerals), but don't attend regular--or any--church services, or read the Bible, or, in many cases, even believe in God. For example, in Sweden, 73% of the population are officially members of the Church of Sweden; however, only twenty-three percent of Swedes believe in God.

I think there is a risk to read "cultural christianty" as somehow less real, less deep than more explictly practising forms. Which I suspect would be a serious mistake.

New members of a religion go to church,a nd otherwise tend to be pretty explicit about their religion. If they didn't, they wouldn't consider themselves members of the religion at all, not part of the community, and others would not see them that way. But if you are a Swede from a vaguely christian Swedish family, that is not necessary. If you say you are a christian, you are. You won't doubt it yourself, others won't doubt it. And the basics of christian tradition, morality, worldview have been ingrained in you before you could pronounce three-syllable words. In fact, when Swedes don't call themselves christian, they'll still have lots of that christianity in them anyway. They or their children are just a little switch away from being a full-fledged christians.

Even asking people whether they believe in god is not as hard a measure as it may seem. The answer doesn't tell you what people believe, it tells you what they want to say they believe. There's a lot of people who go to church because they lose their faith without constant pressure to keep it, or even just for the sake of appearances. While other people will say all of their life that they do not believe in god, but when they die they still pray to go to heaven. Counting the first group as christians but not the second will give a very distorted picture.

So it's possible that China is really becoming a more christian country than Sweden. But I doubt that church visits or even questionaires about believe in god are the right way to determine that.


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