The China Paradox

In April 2007, police in Gansu Province in northwest China arrested pastor Liu Huiwen for allegedly insulting ethnic minorities. How did he do this? After a funeral in a Muslim village, Liu distributed a winsome evangelistic tract, "A Letter to Our Muslim Friends." Local people complained. The police took the pastor into custody and beat him. Last November, a judge sentenced Liu to 18 months in a prison where, according to reliable reports, he is unjustly being deprived of food and medical care.

Christianity in China is "embattled and thriving," to borrow a phrase from sociologist Christian Smith's description of American evangelicals.

The embattled part of the China religion story is relatively well chronicled, whether it's pro-democracy Tibetan Buddhists, underground Roman Catholics, or rural house-church evangelicals. But the story of Christianity thriving in China remains a once and future mystery. Scholars don't agree on when Christianity first blossomed in China. Experts dispute how many Chinese are Christian. And analysts differ on the Communist government's true attitude toward Christianity.

Last fall we sent Rob Moll, an award-winning writer and now a CT editor at large, and Gary Gnidovic, a gifted photojournalist and CT's design director, to China to explore how and why Christianity is thriving. The answers they provided bring fresh light to the phenomenon. So we agreed to devote a major portion of this issue to communicate the Chinese (not the Western) answers to our questions. The cover story package, "Great Leap Forward," begins on page 22 and includes two related articles. The fourth article (page 71) is an interview with evangelist Luis Palau and former Chinese state official Zhao Qizheng.

During their travels, ...

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