Multiplication Center

What Does China’s Rise Mean to Western Churches?

May 28, 2010

It’s hard to go a week without seeing a news headline about China’s growth as a nation, major economy and world influence. Christians in particular have heard amazing accounts of explosive growth in both the unregistered house church movement and the official registered church.

Church circumstances in China are changing as well, such as a recent ruling that churches in China, along with other religious institutions there, must hire accountants and submit annual financial reports to the Chinese government starting in 2011. The March statement from China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs also lets the government audit an institution if its leader leaves. Chinese law recognizes churches as public organizations, and officials say the new rules will help the government supervise finances at the nation’s 130,000 religious organizations. China is on a U.S. list of nations whose governments repress freedom of religion. “March statement from China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs”

Last year I went to one of the largest “official” church buildings in China and was very moved by their free access to Bibles and their boldness in proclaiming Christ. See my blog about it here.

I’m also creating a list of global megachurches, still in beta, but my section on China is still rather thin. I welcome reader suggestions about large, growing churches in China – or even about leads to who might know.

Great Resources on Knowing China

In the meantime, I’m trying to learn more about Chinese culture. I want to understand the landscape and context where God is bringing such a spiritual harvest. Over the last year I’ve read or watched a lot of material on China. These are the ones I found most helpful:


China road China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power by Rob Gifford. National Public Radio’s Beijing correspondent recounts his travels along Route 312, the Chinese Mother Road, the longest route in the world’s most populous nation. He uses the experience to draw from his 20 years of observing first-hand this rapidly transforming country, as he travels east to west, from Shanghai to China’s western border with Kazakhstan. His commentary takes the reader through China’s past and present while he tries to make sense of this complex nation’s potential future. He covers social, economic, political and even religious developments, always probing: If things continue this way, what will it mean for the rest of us?


Wild swans Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. This gripping narrative recounts the evocative, unsettling, and insistently gripping story of how three generations of women fared in China’s political maelstrom during the 20th century. Chang’s grandmother was a warlord’s concubine. Chang’s mother struggled with hardships in the early days of Mao’s revolution and rose, like her husband, to a prominent position in the Communist Party before being denounced during the Cultural Revolution. Chang herself marched, worked, and breathed for Mao until doubt crept in over the excesses of his policies and purges. Although the book covers only three generations, it begins with the warlords’ regime and overthrow of the Japanese occupation, recounts the violent struggles of the Communists to carve up China, and also the vicious cycle of purges orchestrated by Chairman Mao, and ends with the present. What a radical transition most Chinese have experienced!


The man who loved china The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom by Simon Winchester. This is a biography of an eccentric and controversial Oxford scholar named Joseph Needham who discovered that China has been for centuries at the forefront of human civilization. More than anyone else his discoveries and writings dramatically changed global perceptions of China. Needham arrived in China in 1943 during World War II, and his biography includes many fascinating insights about the development of China during that era.


The last emperor Finally it took me two viewings to follow the history and traditions depicted in the movie “The Last Emperor,” winner of 9 academy awards. It tells the story of the Pu Yi, emperor of China, whose reign experienced the horrors of two world wars and several internal political upheavals, including those of Chang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung. Viewers follow Pu Yi’s upbringing in the protective walls of his kingdom in Beijing’s Forbidden City’s and then his forced exit from it as he became puppet ruler in Manchuria and then eventually a lowly gardener. It’s based on the book by Pu Yi’s tutor Reginald Johnston, Twilight in the Forbidden City, which also is worth a good skim for understanding China’s ancient governmental system, which heavily colors today’s system.

ADDED LATER: I read portions of Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng, a woman who describes and interprets the horrors of her experiences in Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966. She writes as a Christian, but only minimally brings out faith elements or church.


What books or resources help you understand the context of China and its current spiritual state of affairs in particular?


Warren Bird small Warren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 21 books on various aspects of church health and innovation.

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