Ghosts of China past and future seem to loiter over Shanghai's Peoples' Park. Students practice international English, and old men sing Beijing opera. Go east toward a traditional Chinese garden and you see the pale red glow of the cross atop Mu En ("Bathed in Grace") church.
One day on a knoll above this garden, I met a college teacher of Muslim ancestry who researched comparative religion. I asked if his studies had led him to any conclusions. "The world needs the Chinese spirit," he told me with conviction. "And China needs the Western spirit, especially the Christian spirit. For Christianity to become Chinese, this will be the salvation of China."
In a remarkable book, former Time magazine Beijing correspondent David Aikman suggests that, with millions turning to Christ, the "Christian spirit" may well regenerate China. Aikman begins by recounting the long, winding route Chinese Christianity has followed ("like a sheep's intestines" as the Chinese describe a path with many switchbacks): from 7th century Nestorians who arrived over the Silk Road, to Jesuit astronomers, gunboat-riding Protestants, and the miraculous reemergence of the church after the Cultural Revolution.
Aikman also describes confrontations with sometimes ambivalent government agents and the intellectual challenge of relating a "foreign" gospel to an ancient and beloved paganism—one that sometimes finds its way into the Chinese church. At times, Jesus in Beijing reads like Acts of the Apostles in modern journalistic prose.
"Understand two men, and you will understand Chinese Christianity," Aikman notes: Ding Guangxin (by his own preference known as K.H. Ting in the West), who headed China's official Protestant church for most of the Communist period, and ...1
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