Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

By Wiest, Jean-Paul | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present


Wiest, Jean-Paul, The Catholic Historical Review


Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Edited by Daniel H. Bays. (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1996. Pp. xxiii, 483. $55.00.)

This pathbreaking volume is one of the latest products of the History of Christianity in China Project. Launched in 1985, this postdoctoral project encouraged studies of Christianity that paid special attention to Chinese materials and Chinese participants. Made possible by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, Inc., it was inspired by the late Dr. John K. Fairbank and directed by Dr. Daniel H. Bays, professor of history in the University of Kansas.

During the four years of awards, 1986-1989, thirty-four papers were written and presented in two symposia, held in Lawrence, Kansas.The result has been a number of significant studies, some having already appeared as monographs, for instance, The Forgotten Christians of Hangzhou, by D. E. Mungello (reviewed ante, LXXXII [October, 1996], 747-748).

Of the twenty chapters in this book, all but one were part of the History of Christianity in China Project. Bays has grouped them into four sections, each preceded by a short introduction in which he highlights what are, in his opinion, the significant themes brought out by the authors.

Part I offers a more complex and less rigid explanation of the links between Christianity and Chinese society than the interpretative schemes put forward in 1963 by Paul Cohen in China and Christianity and in 1982 by Jacques Gernet in Chine et Christianisme. Contrary to Gernet, who argued that the Chinese were basically unable to understand the essential concepts of Christianity because of their cultural predispositions, the authors in this section, reinforcing the findings of other recent studies, describe Chinese communities that were able to internalize Christianity by imbuing it with their own cultural flavor of belief and behavior. Similarly these authors modify Cohen's interpretation by showing that, in the countryside in particular, conflicts between Christians and non-Christians had often less to do with the local elite trying to uphold their status and prerogatives than with the disruption brought by Christian conversions and beliefs to the traditional social and cultural integration of the village. …

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