- Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-cultural Perspectives ed. by Francis Khek Gee Lim
This is a very successful collection of sixteen chapters adapted from papers given at a conference with the same title as the book, held at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in January 2011. The editor, Francis Khek Gee Lim, and the individual authors are to be congratulated for the speed with which they revised, edited, and completed the entire production process. The book appeared in only about eighteen months, which must be one of the fastest times ever. Yet it appears to me that the editing was conscientiously done. The editor seems to have imposed a common structure on the chapters; that is, each makes clear in the first few paragraphs its scope, theoretical perspective, and hypotheses and identifies the case studies or empirical data that will be used.
As to the content of this work: I think it is extremely successful in conveying through specific examples and localized research projects important features of the political, social, and economic realities of China today and how they intersect in many complex ways with the practice of both Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity. This volume goes well past the modest horizons of scholars working in this new (fifteen or twenty years ago) field of Chinese Christian studies. Major questions, such as church-state relations and, in particular, the important question of Christianity and civil society, are here dealt with on the basis of extensive concrete research, including field research and participant observation. There is also a nice balance between older, established scholars and those early in their careers; a few are still in graduate school or freshly out.
An overall theme central to several chapters is the role of enchantment, that is, signs and wonders, in Chinese Christianity. Richard Madsen’s chapter on this topic is superb; the supernatural pervades the consciousness of a huge number of today’s Christians. Madsen has written on this before, but seldom so convincingly. Here he uses very effectively the concept of hybrid modernity and the mixing of a modernizing Christianity with elements of traditional popular religion. Other authors, including Kristin Kupfer and Chen-yang Kao, also deal with this issue.
The second section of the book, “Nation and History,” contains five chapters. One excellent chapter, by Joseph Tse-Hei Lee and Christie Chui-shan Chow, is on the survival of Seventh-Day Adventism in China from the 1950s to the present. I believe this is the first substantive scholarly piece on the Adventists, who, like a small number of other groups including the True Jesus Church and the Little Flock (Watchman Nee), have managed to maintain a distinct identity within the general spectrum of Protestantism. Carsten Vala, in his chapter, examines the effectiveness of Party-state ideological guidance represented in the slogan Aiguo aijiao (Love the [End Page 458] nation [i.e. the Party], love the faith [i.e. one’s religion]). He finds it not terribly effective. Christians, after all, are called to love God ahead of any state or party. Indeed, the next chapter, by Tobias Brandner, deals with the historical self-image of Christianity in relation to some “Christian traditions of countercultural belief ” (p. 78). He deals with the appeal to some Protestants of the controversial Back to Jerusalem Movement, a scheme of world evangelism that gives the Chinese church a key role. Brandner then considers the ideas of Christian leaders Yuan Zhiming and Ren Bumei, both participants in the spring 1989 reform movement, in making recent history sensible to the Chinese. Section 2 also contains interesting chapters by Yam Chi-keung, on the religiosity of today’s popular culture as seen in the cinema, and by Francis Khek Ghee Lim, on Christianity and ethnicity in China’s border areas, where many minorities have been converted during the last century.
The last nine chapters deal, in one way or another, with church-state relations, civil society, and/or...