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Why is Christianity growing so quickly in mainland China?

By Carl Bunderson

Fort Worth, Texas, Aug 17, 2015 / 05:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News) - Christianity is spreading rapidly in China, and it could be because of how well the faith fits in with modern scientific technology.

According to the renowned sociologist Rodney Stark, the number of Christians in China is growing at an impressive annual rate of seven percent.

Stark coauthored, with Xiuhua Wang, the 2015 work A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China. Stark views himself as a social historian and is co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.

Stark and Wang estimate that in 1980 there were 10 million Christians in the People's Republic of China, and that in 2007 the figure was 60 million. These numbers yield an annual growth rate of 7 percent – which means that last year, there were nearly 100 million Christians in China.

They hold that this large increase in the number of Christians in China is driven by the conversion of the better educated, who are experiencing “cultural incongruity” between traditional Asian culture and industrial-technological modernity, which results in a spiritual deprivation, which Christianity is able to answer.

China's intellectuals, Stark told CNA Aug. 14, “are very convinced they've got to turn West to understand the world they live in … and they're convinced by my argument that eastern religions don't fit the modern world they're engaged in, and that they need to look to the West to find philosophies and religions. It's quite amazing.”

Eastern religions, like Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, Stark maintained, “are all anti-progress; they all proclaim the world is going downhill from a glorious past, and that we should look backwards, not forwards. None of them admit that we're able to understand anything about the universe – it's something we have to meditate on, not something to try and theorize about, as the physicists and chemists do. And that doesn't fit with the world that modern Chinese are experiencing having happened around them.”

“Industrial society, and all the science it's based on, doesn't fit well with those kind of religious views,” Stark reflected.

“But the question of what does the world mean, and how do we live in it, persists – and so that's a major motor in the Christianization of China, and it explains why it's the most educated Chinese who are the most apt to join.”

The spread of Christianity in China, he said, has been possible even “during the worst time of Chinese persecution” under Mao Zedong's cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s because “this process of conversion is invisible; the government can't see it.”

According to Stark, religious conversion occurs primarily through social networks, and so is “invisible” to government officials. He holds that Chinese living in rural areas are more likely than city dwellers to be Christian, because their social ties are stronger, and thus Christianity can be transmitted there more easily.

Revivalist tent meetings, he said, “is not really how it's done…People join things in a much more intimate, a much quieter way.”

Catholic missionaries have been in China since the Jesuits of the 16th century, and in 1949 – when communist forces gained control over the whole of the mainland – there were some 5,700 Catholic foreign missionaries, and a total of nearly 3.3 million Catholics.

The communist government of China expelled foreign missionaries, and later established the “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association,” a government-sanctioned Catholic Church. This has existed in opposition to the 'underground' Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

Stark noted, however, that the Aug. 4 consecration of Fr. Joseph Zhang Yinlin as auxiliary bishop of Weihui is “the most important news from a Catholic perspective to come out of China in years.”

Bishop Zhang was approved of by both the Chinese government and the Holy See – the appointment of bishops has been the two states' most prominent area of contention throughout the past 60 years, so their agreement is of some import.

“That was a very big deal,” Stark said, “because that's been the whole basis of Catholic persecution since the 1950s: that there were to be no trekking with religion that had any external, foreign ties; and the Protestants of course could and did accept that very easily, but for Catholics, the whole business of rejecting Rome wasn't really on, although some Catholic bishops at least pretended to do that – although it's not clear that they really did … I think this is very, very big news.”

The last episcopal consecration before Bishop Zhang's had ended in icy relations between the Vatican and China: in July 2012, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin – who had been part of the Patriotic Association – announced shortly after his consecration that he was leaving the association. He was subsequently confined by the government.

Stark suggested that because of the agreement between Beijing and Rome on Bishop Zhang's nomination “there's no reason now that the Catholics have to be at all be underground; they can now all be part of the above-ground Church.”

“It was also made very, very clear in all the press releases that he had been pre-approved by the Pope. And consequently he violates that part of the Association's rules, and the government is condoning it; which means in a sense, the end of that particular government-controlled, non-standard Catholicism. The fact of the matter is that most of the people in that Church were real Catholics – they just pretended. I mean there was a lot of contact with Rome on the sly, but this is coming right out in the open, and I think it's very important.”

Stark affirmed that the change in the past three years – from the consecration of Bishop Ma to that of Bishop Zhang – is a huge change, adding, “I was extremely surprised by it.”

“But the fact is, the Communist Party is fairly deeply involved in Christian growth, in ways that are not talked about – but out in the villages, many of the local communist leaders are very openly Christian, to the point of having crosses on their doors, their living room walls, which is hardly being discreet about it.”

“In the cities it's more discreet, but still, in all there are enormous numbers of sons and daughters of communist officials who are now Christians, and you go to their elite university campuses, and it's shocking, the Christian feel of the place, in a way that you don't get in American, Christian colleges. You don't get this feeling at Notre Dame, or at Texas Christian, that you get walking around the University of Peking.”

He noted that there are many Christian professors, and that Christianity is strongest at the universities – where the future members of the country's Communist Party are studying.

“This may be part of what's going on behind the scenes,” Stark supposed: “that it's becoming uncomfortable to push Christianity around.”

Stark then noted that this is not the case in one of China's 34 province-level administrative divisions. In Zhejiang province, churches have been ordered to stop displaying crosses, and a number of churches have been demolished. Seven Christians have also been detained in that province.

Stark suggested that this persecution, localized as it is, may be because “the head of that province might be some communist who's in rebellion, if you will, against the loosening of reservations in the rest of the country.”

This loosening of reservations is notable – Stark reflected that “this whole notion of an underground church is very peculiar, since some of these 'underground' churches are four stories tall, and have crosses all over them. They're underground only in the sense that they don't have legal sanction – but they sure aren't hidden.”

In light of this new openness to Christianity across China as a whole, Stark supposed a continued 7 percent annual rate of growth of the religion. At that rate, there will be 150 million Christians in China in 2020; 295 million in 2030; and 579 million in 2040.

“The growth might stop: you never know what's going to happen in the future,” Stark said. “But at the current rate, there'll be a whole heck of a lot of Christians in China awfully soon.”

Past Issues

Dec. 23, 2018

Dec. 9, 2018

Nov. 25, 2018

Nov. 11, 2018

Oct. 28, 2018

Oct. 14, 2018

Sept. 16, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: 2018 Golf Classic; student athletes; physically challenged; Leonard Stegman; Lesson in forgiveness; Sending us on a mission

Sept. 2, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Priest crisis; Scandal; Opioid addictions; Seeds of Suicide; Leightons; St. Anne; Vincke; seminarians; Dominican Sisters; Stewardship Conference; Dead Sea Scrolls; PSR programs; Roe V. Wade

 

August 12, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Prayer and Action; Totus Tuus; Janee Bernal; Diana Ramirez; Heidy Ramirez; Bishop Gilmore honored for 20 years ministry; suicide; contraception and abortion; Dead Sea Scrolls; Humanae Vitae; certification in youth ministry; Chuck Weber; Cathedral rectory chapel; Sister Viola Heichelbech; Adam Urban

July 15, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Immigration Protest/Rally; Faith and Light Fiesta; Seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls; Corpus Christi procession; Prayers for priests; Sisters turn 100; Michael Brungardt; Gerald Vincke; Massacre in San Salvador; Action for Alex 

 

June 3, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Parish Pray for Priestly Vocations; Appeal reaches $10 million; Gangs; Seminarians; Pam Willis; Why I like being a priest; Happy Father's Day; Patricia Lujan; Tyler and Rachel Bennett; Adoption Protection Act.

May 20, 2018
KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Track meet; Beloved Sinners; Benjamin Martin retires; Smiles; Future of Fortune Telling; Hoisington mission; DofI; Getting Equipped; Spring Social; First Communion; Confirmation
KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Track meet; Beloved Sinners; Benjamin Martin retires; Smiles; Future of Fortune Telling; Hoisington mission; DofI; Getting Equipped; Spring Social; First Communion; Confirmation

May 6, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Archbishop Romero; Seeing, Touching, Tasting; Exhortation; Father Patrick Conroy; Happy Mother's Day; A child on your doorstep; Vibrant Ministries Grant; From the heart of a young father; Love Gives Life; Roman Holiday; Smartphone; retirement
Fossil Hunting

 

April 15, 2018

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Easter Vigil; Angelica Village; Colorado woman; The art of anger; Cimarron Couple; Staats; Adoption; 

Father Ultan Murphy anniversary; Coughlan; Spiritual Advisor to Hoodlums; Woman of Courage; Oration contest; Darcy Feist  

 

April 1, 2018

 

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Defending Adoption; Led by the Spirit; Knights; ABC Pregnancy Center;
Memorial of Mary; Homeless; Relics; Down syndrome abortion; Chrism Mass

 

March 18, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: SKYAC; Aleksandr Men; Fasting for Priestly Vocations; Uganda; School for deaf; Rannah Evetts; Oberle; Rachel and Doug Trombley; Oscar Romero; Paul VI; DACA

 

 

March 4, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Fasting for priestly vocations; Father Juan; Fasting and prayer;
Quest Weekend 2018; DACA; With God, anything is possible; Homelessness in our communities; Rhubarb, Kansas;
What's the point of fasting; Rite of Election; same-sex couples

 

Feb. 18, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Catholic Schools Week; Rachel Doll; Ellinwood; Great Bend; Garden City; Ness City; Dodge City; Sister Rita Schwarzenberger; Nigeria; Bishop Hermes; Fasting for Priestly Vocations; World Day for Consecrated Life; 50th Anniversary St. Dominic School; What will life be like in 50 years?

 

 

Feb. 4, 2018

 

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: March for Life; Tracy and Ross Smith; Adoption; Vibrant Ministries; Faith and Light;
Pro-Life; Mortal sin to discard elderly; DACA; Abortion; Dreamers; Human Trafficking

 

Jan. 21, 2018

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Louise Korbe; Anne Frank; Miep Gies; Home Heat; Father Solanus

 

Jan. 7, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Good news and kingdom living; dreamers; Sister Teresa Orozco; Infant Adoption; Elderly; a moral conundrum; seminarian; feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

Dec. 17, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Celebrate Christmas 'unplugged'; Msgr. Matthew Smith; Klan; Catholic Charities Annual Appeal; Fr. Larry Rosebaugh; A Guadalupe Encounter; Laci and Joe Salazar; A Christmas Wish; Adoption; Confession; Advent; EWTN; Christmas Blues; Tilma; Pittsburgh; PSR

 

Dec. 3, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: 2017 NCYC; Wheel of Balance; Marita Rother; Stanley Rother; slavery; trafficking; Windthorst water damage; martyred priests; confession; reconciliation; How to go to confession; recipe for codfish cakes; Catholic schools; appeal

 

Nov. 19, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Saints; Father Kola; Black Elk; Giving Tuesday; velvet Elvis; a Slice of Time; Dani Sandoval; Mexican Village; Father Tim Hickey; New faces at chancery; priests share thoughts on confession; Wheel of Balance

 

Nov. 5, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Matrimony Anniversary Mass, 2017; Riebel; Faith and Light; Scripture Day; Sex in the Bible; Quilt, Mexican Village Story; Finance; Fatima pilgrimage; Fowler church window renovation; Medicare; Crazy Glue


Oct. 15, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Father Francis Jordan; Sister Renee Kirmer; Father Rother beatified; religious liberty; RCIA Kansas; V Encuentro; Bishop Weisenburger; Daughters of Isabella; Bishop Gerber Science Center


Oct. 1, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: De Colores; Rebein; Dreamer; Pies; Kellner; Code Quilts; Sister Crucita; Feezor; Formed.org; Sin and pain

 

 Sept. 17, 2017

 

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Sister Lucy Fidelis; Underground Railroad; Sister Irene Hartman; DACA; new priests; teachers; Volunteer of the Year; Golf Classic; St. Francis Xavier; St. Nicholas Parish Center, Kinsley; seminarians; Knights Lite; Stewardship Day 2017

Sept. 3, 2017

Aug. 13, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Coronado Cross; Masada; Moody Gardens; Elders; Rother; undocumented children; cages; year of mercy; Kumi; Hollywood makeup artist; New Mexico; refugee women.

July 16, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Summer camp; tithing and almsgiving; Bill Baalmann; Nathan Schaller; Jubilarian Sisters; Sister Hortencia Rodriguez; Sister Petrona Stockemer; Sister Denise Sevart; Convocation of Catholic Leaders; Mother talks about her son entering seminary; Arcoiris; Youth group travels to Colorado Springs; Major Phillip Roth

June 11, 2017 (Updated)

Ordination; Mark Brantley; Jacob Schneider; Father's Day; Thanks, Dad!; Appeal; Sister Mary Martin Weaver; Bishop Maralit; Budget; Trafficked women; Deacon Michael Brungardt; Dead Sea Scrolls; softball; Father Urban retirement; Sister Kravec retirement; Father Mazouch retirement; Authentic Joy; Pris Climate Accord; Jack Schramm; Pieta.

May 28, 2017 (Updated)

 

Grateful Hearts; MSFS Provincial; Reddy; Reif; Opossum; Dead Sea Scrolls; Our Lady of Fatima; Jorge Herrera, Jr.; Cursillo; Kough; First Communion; Confirmation

May 14, 2017

Esteban Hernandez; citizen; Lilly Ann Rein, Amberly Jimenez, Mother's Day; peacock; Quattrocchi; President Kennedy; Teen Moms; Junior High Youth Rally; Encounter With God's Call; granny/nanny; seniors' contributions; tornado anniversary; harvest; healthcare; Mr. Brown; Store-bought teeth; Louis and Zelie Martin; Father John Sullivan; Irish priest whose prayers could heal; Mexican beauty queen; Esmaralda Gonzalez; religious life

April 30, 2017

   KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Easter Vigil; bully; TEC; Father Marvin Reif; Bet'sie; What makes a hero?; St. Mary of the Plains; tornado

Easter, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: SKYAC; Honorable courtship; footsteps of migrants; CHRISM Mass 2017; honoring priests; Encuentro Cross blessed; Daughters of Isabella State Convention; Fatima pilgrim statue; Mary Sharon Moore interview; Senate advances pro-life measures; love must be at the core of family life; Father John Forkuoh's car story; Confirmations; Sisters of Concordia; CNN hero Father Khalil Jaar

March 26, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: From the heart; kidney; Rother; Friar Carmelo; Schnauzer; Lauren Seachris; Lauren's Treat; fire; Guatemala; immigration; Lenten Regulations 1888; Hot Cross Buns; budget; Trump; Forkuoh; Seiwert; South Sudan; hot ashes

March 12, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Refugees; immigrants; Gilbert Herrman; When you give alms'; Lent; Call to Continuing Conversion, Rite of Election; Charell and Jeremy Owings; adoption; Our Growing Church; Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia; water; creation; Sudan; Darlow Lampe

Feb 26, 2017

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Night to shine; Immigration; immigrants; Knights of Columbus; Pete Gomez; this foreign mission; Creole; Robin Doll; Eagle Scout; Quest

Feb 12, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Catholic Schools Week; March for Life; Pro-life; Executive Order; Secular Franciscan Order; teachers; Down Syndrome; Eagle Scout; Bronze Pelican

Jan. 29, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Thank you, religious; SEEK 2017; homeless man to priest; Fourth Sunday; Secret Service to Sacred Heart; Dr. Gerard Brungardt; Martin Luther King; 110 year old nun; Toddler miracle; Letter from undocumented immigrant; health care; immigration

Jan. 15, 2017

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Mary helps us share; Tighe donates home to Birthright; Pro-life billboard; Theobald Hattrup; Helen and Steve Eck; Pearl Harbor; Reigning Grace

Dec. 18, 2017

KEYWORDS: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 2016; Pope Francis Christmas schedule; 2016 high school youth rally; Aerospace engineer; Father Stanley Rother; Radio station; Dying girl's letter; Scout nominations; 12 days of Christmas

Dec. 4, 2016

KEYWORDS: Vocations Day; Pope Advent advice; Ex-prostitute; Spearville mission; Pilgrims v. Zombies; Face of God; Mission bazaar; Ness City fall festival; Rural health care; Archbishop Gomez; Bishops congratulate Trump

Nov. 20, 2016

Nov. 6, 2016

Oct. 23, 2016

Oct. 9, 2016


Sept. 25, 2016


Sept. 11, 2016

 
Aug. 7, 2016

July 10, 2016

June 12, 2016

May 29, 2016

May 8, 2016


 April 24, 2016

 April 10, 2016

 March 27, 2016

March 13, 2016

Feb. 28, 2016

 

Feb. 14, 2016


Jan. 31 , 2016

Jan. 17, 2016

Dec. 20, 2015

Dec. 6, 2015

Nov. 15, 2015

Nov. 1, 2015

Oct. 18, 2015

Oct. 4, 2015

Sept. 20, 2015

Sept. 6, 2015

August 9, 2015

July 12, 2015

Jun 14, 2015

May 17, 2015

May 3, 2015

April 19, 2015

Easter, 2015

 

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