Christianity in Contemporary China #2

Today I would give the summary according to the order the talks were presented:

1. The keynote speech: On the necessity of talking about ‘Chinese Christianity’ (or, Chinese Christianities) rather than ‘Christianity in China’ which was unfortunately heavy with past imperialistic baggage. The speaker gave an historiographical example of this modified perspective by re-telling and re-visioning the story of the 1910 Edinburgh conference from the Chinese perspective. A Chinese representative at the conference, arguing for independence national Chinese church, said, “Denominationalism has never entered the Chinese mind. He finds no delight in it, but sometimes he suffers for it.” At that time, the Chinese church was still under the Western rule. The conference did not recommend independence.

2. Panel 1.1: On overseas Chinese Christian entrepreneurs (who invested heavily in China) and how they do their businesses in China. Three models were found: (1) Business as mission, where the bosses run their companies like a church, complete with prayer meetings, devotionals, etc. (2) Separation of business and faith, which is basically the opposite of the first model. (3) Business infused with Christian values, which differs from the first model by not explicitly imposing Christian faith to the employees but rather implicitly applying the Christian principles for their businesses.

3. Panel 1.2: On Tibetan Catholicism and the construction of ‘religio-ethnicity.’ It was fascinating as it forced us to think the determining factors in construing ethnicity, ways of being ‘ethnic’, and ethnic consciousness. The state tried to impose ethnic identification in a top-down manner, which could be seen on how it delineates the borders of the provinces, particularly on the areas occupied by non-Han people. However, this effort might miss how the people constructed their ethnicity, as shown by the ‘Tibetan’ Catholics, who, the speaker argued, formed a kind of ‘religio-ethnicity’. They differed from the Tibetan Buddhists (the default religion for the Tibetans) and yet they consisted of other peoples as well like the Lisu, Nu, and Miao. Thus they also resisted the geographical boundary delineated by the State and constructed their own religio-ethnic boundary.

The church could not avoid the discourse of ethnicity as it is engaged in translating the Gospels into vernacular languages. For practical reason, it might brush aside the minor details of dialects within the community, although it might end up creating boundaries between different groups of community. It unites, and divides. Luther managed to unite the whole Germany by his German Bible, but as an effect the Germans are now distinct of being a German. It creates ‘us’, but it creates ‘the other’ as well.

Ethne in the New Testament simply means the Gentiles, and I think it is a useful reminder that all of us are Gentiles and hence strict ethnical difference is always contigent and can never be final. The exception, the Jews, proves the rule.

4. Panel 1.3: On the religiosity of popular Chinese cinema. This is interesting, as the speaker discussed two recent popular Chinese movies: Assembly (2007) and Aftershock (2010), and particularly paid attention to how these movies portrayed attitudes toward death. They were utilized then as resources for conversations with contemporary Christianity. For example, how does the devastating effect of (supposedly) death in Aftershock inform the usually more serene response to death by Christians? Or, that death has a communal aspect as shown in Assembly?

5. Panel 2.1: On why the house-churches are still the most common form of Protestant churches in China, even after the end of Mao era when Three Self Protestant Movement is more or less sanctioned by the state. For the independent Christians, TSPM is a symbol of state control and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Thus they adopted the house-church model, which was previously more associated with Pentecostalism. These house churches, then, adopted the Pentecostal style of congregation without adopting Pentecostal beliefs and practices.

6. Panel 2.2: On independent factors in determining state-church relations today. (1) Location: in urban areas, the churches are more easily detected as the population is larger and the officials are larger as well. In rural areas, they are more invisible. However, in urban areas, the authorities play by the book, while in rural areas treatment might vary. Pick your poison. The situation might be more favourable for the churches in the Eastern coast. (2) Personal relationship (guanxi): whether the local church has some relatives in the authorities, relationship with the TSPM, relationship with foreign human rights agency. (3) Temporal factor: the officials might want to extract some money every end of the quarter, when they need to fill the quota, or before Chinese New Year, where they want to have extra money for celebration, and so on. (4) Behavior of the church members: whether they try as best as they could to worship invisibly and quietly, whether they insist on evangelizing everyone they could meet, etc.

Interesting story: praying in a public place (e.g., restaurant) is not permissible. Thus a story about a kid who has migrated to the U.S. with her family and when she saw her mother praying in the restaurant, she cried in tremble reminding her mom that she was not supposed to pray in public, but then her mother told her that they were now in the U.S., no more in China, where they were permitted to do so. A total slap to my attitude towards saying grace before meal.

7. Panel 2.3: On the rise of self-conscious Christian civic activism in China. Well, I just knew that the majority of volunteers in Sichuan earthquake were Christians (locals and NGOs) — but it is difficult to find the reference, though, so perhaps it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

8. Panel 3.1: On Sino-Christian studies in Chinese academia and its particular influences: (1) theological methodology (prolegomena) and (2) inter-disciplinarian studies.

9. Panel 3.2: On the role of the Catholic church in building a civil society in contemporary China. Civil society is defined as a space of shared values which borders familial space, marketplace, and the state. The hypothesis of the author is negotiating freedom of assembly contributes toward building a civil society. It was a case study of three dioceses and how they negotiated religious freedom with the state. A following discussion neatly distinguished the difference between negotiating general religious freedom and particular confessional freedom. The author conceded that what they were fighting for was Catholic freedom. From the Protestant side, interestingly, many of the house-church leaders do not want religious freedom, as it would imply freedom for occults, sects, and so on. They choose to remain persecuted rather than seeing people turn into all kinds of sects and occults. In some churches, preparation for baptism includes preparation for martyrdom.

10. Panel 3.3: On how the churches in Wenzhou, the so-called Chinese Jerusalem, deal with the migrant workers who came from the rural areas and other provinces. Interestingly, it was found that the relationship between these churches and the migrant workers was poor. The churches could not bridge the perceived cultural/economical/social class ditch with the migrant workers. I was immediately reminded of the more or less same fact with the churches in Singapore, which, in general, are still doing very little with respect to the huge community of migrant workers here.

That’s all folks!


2 thoughts on “Christianity in Contemporary China #2

  1. duca™

    3. in wuxia/film silat terms, ethne is “bangsa di luar tembok besar”? =p but after the war they became emperors anyway. so much similarity.. diaspora, $_$, and all..

    7. another wall is the great firewall of middle kingdom! of course you cannot find any reference.

    1. septian Post author

      7. it still bothers me that the speaker mentioned that “it was commonly acknowledgement among scholars…” while i couldnt find any hint on that. another west vs. china battle, i guess.


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