Tens of millions of new Christians in China—the figures boggle the mind. To understand the state of the church in modern China, Mark Galli, editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY's sister publication CHRISTIAN HISTORY, spoke with Kim-Kwong Chan, coauthor with Alan Hunter of Protestantism in Contemporary China (Cambridge).
How do Chinese Christians explain their religious heritage?
They know foreign missionaries brought the gospel to China, but their evaluation of the missionaries is ambiguous at best. Christian missionaries, they believe, were often the agents of Western imperialism. Then again, in spite of their imperialism, they brought the gospel to China.
What happened to the church after the expulsion of the missionaries in 1950?
Until recently, the church remained relatively static. In 1950, there were about 4 million Christians (3 million Catholics and 1 million Protestants) in China. In 1982, according to the government, there were 3 million Protestants and about 3 million Catholics. I suspect another million or more could be counted if you add "secret Christians," those who were never baptized but were believers in all other ways. The church grew slightly faster than the growth of the general population, which doubled during that time.
Was this static growth due to government persecution? Yes. From 1949 to 1980, hostility was directed against Christians and other so-called bad elements of society, including intellectuals. People lost their jobs, others were thrown into jail, others still were sent to labor camps. During persecution, many Christians stopped going to church. Many churches closed. But the church didn't shrink, it just went underground into what have been called "family churches," which originally were ...1