- Reconstructing Christianity in China: K.H. Ting and the Chinese Church
After more than a decade of reviewing books for China Review International at “the interface between religion and scholarship,”1 I savored every page of this 516-page, outstanding piece of work by Philip L. Wickeri, professor of evangelism and mission at the San Francisco Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) at San Anselmo, California.
Why this book is of such personal interest to me comes from its account in great detail of people I had, or have, known and also organizations such as Student Volunteer Movement (SVM), World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), and All-Christian Peace Assembly (Prague) in whose international conferences I have participated. Furthermore, for more than the past three decades, I have been in close touch with the magnificent achievements of the Protestant churches in China under the leadership of Bishop Ting Kuang Hsun (Ding Guangxun), known to his friends simply as “K. H.” The book is also a biography of the renowned bishop with whom Wickeri has had the unique privilege of a close-working relationship and friendship in this three-decade period. Much of it is based on the published writings, speeches, and sermons of Bishop Ting from as early as the late 1930s, as well as formal interviews with him and a few other related people within the last quarter of a century.
K. H. Ting and the Chinese Church concerns the pivotal role of a church leader in his attempts at “reconstructing” Christianity in China that dates back to the very beginning of his Christian participation in defending and saving his country during the Japanese invasion. It was in the International Settlement in Shanghai, where the Ting family resided and where K. H. Ting came into the world in 1915, that he gained Christian nurturing largely by his pious mother and through the community of St. Peter’s Church (Anglican) to adulthood. After graduation from the prestigious St. John’s University (Anglican-related) in the late 1930s, Ting, through his student work in the YMCA, was an integral part of a network of progressive nation-loving Chinese of all ideological stripes (or none), including Communists in their common task of “national salvation.” This was in a Shanghai under Japanese occupation.
Following that Shanghai period was a significant one overseas for Ting and his spouse, Kuo Siu-may, in the late 1940s in student Christian work in Canada, study at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York City, and a stint of service with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in Geneva. All of these influences, according to Wickeri, deeply instilled in them a sense of cosmopolitanism and ecumenicity in Christianity. In 1951 he and Siu-may and their three-year-old [End Page 46] son, Stephen Yanren, returned to a new China, two years after the Communist victory of Mao Zedong over the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975).
Wickeri’s account is not only a history of the church in China, seen through the life and work of K. H. Ting, it is, virtually, also a good history of modern China under Communist rule. In telling about the church in China and its unsurpassed leader, the author atypically roots his religious subjects squarely within the socioeconomic political contexts to show how the former interacted with their given historical realities. In short, the life and work of Ting in the Chinese church cannot be told detached from economics and politics, especially the latter.
From the day he and his family returned to the People’s Republic, Ting has not ceased in walking the tightrope of an emerging new China in its sporadic cycles of political oscillations between fang放, “letting loose” and shou 收, “withdrawing, or tightening.” Wickeri uses this fang/shou cycle as effective signposts in several places throughout the book where bishop and church ceaselessly carve out “space” (an all-important word, which peppers the pages of this volume) for religion within the...