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FEATURES Daniel H. Bays, editor. Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. xxii, 483 pp. Hardcover $55.00, isbn 0-8047-2609-4. Over three decades ago I published a book that attempted, building on the prior effort ofJohn K. Fairbank, to move the study ofthe history ofChristian missions in China from the missions-centric approach that had long been dominant to an approach focusing on the part taken by missions in the evolution of Chinese history .1 That was a step forward at the time. But the focus was still on missionaries, their behavior, and Chinese reactions to it. For some years now a further development has been in progress, as more and more scholars in the West (mostly historians but also some anthropologists) have shifted the emphasis from foreign missionaries to Chinese Christians and their experience over time.2 A pioneer in this development has been Daniel Bays, and when the Henry Luce Foundation in the mid-1980s decided, on the urging of Fairbank, to fund a major project on the history of Christianity in China, Professor Bays was the obvious person to head it up. The Luce grant funded over thirty individual fellowships; it also underwrote the costs of two symposia (in 1989 and 1990) at which fellowship recipients presented the results of their research. Most of the twenty essays comprising the volume under review emerged out ofthis process. Collectively they establish a new baseline for research on the history of Christianity in China. The book takes on added importance in light of the startling improvement in Christianity's position in recent years—a development, sometimes referred to in China as "Christianity fever,"3 that was completely unforeseen as recently as two decades ago and promises to force a major reconsideration ofthe significance of Christianity in Chinese history. As of the mid-1990s, in Bays' estimate, there were "at least twenty to thirty million Chinese Christians ... a number perhaps ten times the number ofbelievers in 1949" (p. ix).4 Several things about this development are especially noteworthy. First, although we don't have exact figures, it appears that, for the first time in the history of Christianity in China, there are at present many more Protestants than Catholics. Second, the phenomenal expan-© 1998 by University s^on sulce around 1980 has taken place in the complete absence ofWestern miso /Hawai'» Presssionary activity. Indeed, much ofthe growth appears to have been experienced by independent Chinese Christian groups, some ofwhich, ever since their inception in the first half ofthis century, have been militantly antiforeign and hostile to 2 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. i, Spring 1998 missionary control. Third, the expansion of the Christian community in China has been part of a broader phenomenon that is global in reach and has seen the aggregate number of Christians in the non-Western world exceed the number of Christians in the West. "The fact is," Bays observes, "Christianity is now more non-Western than Western in its worldwide makeup," and scholars at the close of the twentieth century are finding it increasingly "profitable to 'explore Christianity as a world religion rather than as a uniquely Eurocentric one'" (p. viii). For students of China one consequence of this sea change is that the common Chinese characterization of Christianity as yangjiao (the Western or foreign religion) has become increasingly inappropriate. More broadly, there is a growing sense that the older understanding of Christianity as a product of the West, brought to China by Westerners in close association with the whole apparatus of Western imperialism, and fiercely resisted by the force either of antiforeignism or of militantly anti-imperialist nationalism, needs to be fundamentally rethought. Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Presentmakes an impressive start at this rethinking process. Although in a few instances the focus is still on the foreign missionary, the great majority of the contributions address the interactions of Christianity with Chinese society and history. Extensive use is made of Chinese sources, mission archives, and in some cases oral-history materials . Also significant, as a sign of the coming of age of this subfield, many of the contributors are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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