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  • The Church as Safe Haven: Christian Governance in China ed. by Lars Peter Laamann and Joseph Tse-Hei Lee
  • Jeff Kyong-McClain
The Church as Safe Haven: Christian Governance in China, edited by Lars Peter Laamann and Joseph Tse-Hei Lee. Leiden: Brill, 2018. xvi + 330 pp. US$172 (Hardcover). ISBN: 9789004383739.

Many (perhaps most) recent academic studies of the history of Christianity in modern China focus on the question of the religion’s indigenization. How did a purportedly Western religion become a Chinese one? The editors of and contributors to The Church as Safe Haven are very much interested in that question too, but they approach it with significantly more nuance than is sometimes the case. In their introduction, Laamann and Lee raise two important but often overlooked points for consideration with regard to indigenization: first, that “Chinese Christianity” (the supposed end point of indigenization) was and is itself hardly a thing, beset as it was and is by so many differences in terms of theology and practice and, second, that even the often-disparaged “missionary Christianity” always had a variety of points of attraction to many Chinese, and when viewed from certain angles might itself be understood as, in some sense, a type of Chinese Christianity. Relatedly, Laamann and Lee encourage us to focus on Christianity as it was experienced at the local level in China and to use as much as possible local sources, eschewing dominant, homogenizing paradigms in favor of the diversity of local experience. Tellingly, the volume is dedicated to R. G. Tiedemann (also a contributor here), a scholar who has long advocated for this local approach to Christianity in China.

The editors divided the eleven essays into three cleverly conceived groups. Part 1, “Spirit/靈,” contains essays on Christian engagement with Chinese spiritual traditions. In particular, there are essays here on missionaries and exorcism, missionaries and the Chinese Christian search for authenticating spiritual signs, Christian activity at and engagement with Haichuang Temple in Guangzhou, and the ongoing hope of some for a Confucian-Christian synthesis. The chapters in part 2, “Intellect/智,” focus on Christianity as a “gospel of modernization,” with chapters on Presbyterian educational work in Shandong, the professionalization of nursing in Hong Kong church hospitals, Guomindang-sponsored Christian border service during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the efforts of China Bible House to oversee Bible production and distribution. Finally, part 3, “Body/體,” focuses on Christian local activism, with articles on church-led typhoon disaster relief in Chaozhou, Catholic mission stations as centers of local organization, and schism in the [End Page 246] Seventh-day Adventist church in early Reform and Opening Up Era Wenzhou. The volume deals primarily with Protestantism in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century China, with only the chapters on Catholic mission stations and the Adventists falling outside this.

To a scholar interested in the history of Protestant Christianity in China, there is certain to be something of interest in this collection. Space prevents a detailed look at all the essays here, so I rather highlight two particularly strong contributions. John R. Stanley, in his “Mission Education and New Opportunities: American Presbyterian Schools in Shandong,” through meticulous investigation of Presbyterian archives, makes a convincing case for missionary and Chinese Christian cooperation in rural Shandong. Stanley shows that from an early date, Presbyterian missionary educationalists were very receptive to input from their Chinese constituency with regard to curriculum. Without much evident angst, the missionaries routinely revised their offerings in response to local demand. This cooperative attitude continued even when some local Chinese Presbyterians decided to create their own schools outside of missionary control, which nonetheless remained fruitfully engaged with the missionary church. Another particularly strong contribution is R. G. Tiedemann’s “Catholic Mission Stations in Northern China: Centers of Stability and Protection in Troubled Times.” Drawing on a wide array of Catholic missionary sources, expertly interwoven with secondary literature on the violence and disorder in North China at the time, Tiedemann is able to show that, particularly in peripheral areas where Chinese gentry and state were scarce, Catholic mission stations became governing institutions in their own right. Local populations, both Christians and non-Christians, routinely turned to them for...


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