March 24, 2011
Why Christianity is Thriving in China Today
Christianity has been growing rapidly in China despite government restrictions. Chinese government policy on Christianity has changed from “suppression” (1949-1966) and “eradication” (1966-1979) to “controlling to weaken” (1979-1995) and “controlling to contain” (1995-2010). The number of Protestant Christians has multiplied from fewer than 1 million in 1949 to 30 to 60 million today. Catholic Christians have persevered as well. In addition to Christians in rural areas, several new categories of urban Christians have emerged, including the so-called “cultural Christians,” “boss Christians,” transnational Christians, Christian lawyers, and Christian artists. A leading expert on Christianity in China based at Purdue University, Fenggang Yang argued that the fundamental reason for Christianity’s growth in China is its perceived compatibility with modernity. During the rapid modernization process, Christian beliefs, rituals, and organizations appear to meet the economic, political, social, and cultural needs of the people. Unless China abandons her endeavor of modernization, he argued, Christianity will continue to thrive in the foreseeable future.
Fenggang Yang is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society (CRCS) at Purdue University. He is also a Commissioned Scholar on China for the Christianity and Freedom Project at the Berkley Center. A leading scholar of religion in China and of immigrant religion in the United States, he is the author of Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities (1999), Asian American Religions: The Making and Remaking of Borders and Boundaries (co-editor 2004), and State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies (co-editor, 2005). His Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communism (Oxford University Press) is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. Yang received his Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.