Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

China Goes to Church

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

China Goes to Church

Article excerpt

Seventy per cent of the world's Christmas decorations are produced in China, and many Chinese now view the festival as an unofficial holiday. On 25 December, in cities across the country, shopping malls are festooned with Christmas trees. In the new China, Christianity is a source of fascination, almost a craze, yet its precise nature remains a puzzle. There is a widespread conviction that it has something to do with modernity. University students sport silver crosses and join Bible groups. Smart new churches in Chinese cities are packed on Sundays. In a society going through an extraordinary transformation, with cars replacing bicycles, fast food replacing traditional snacks, individualism replacing loyalty to the party, religion fills a cultural and moral void.

Television soaps imported from South Korea, where 30 per cent of the population is Christian, offer a "Christian lifestyle with an Asian accent", which is as eagerly consumed and copied in China as Korean pop music and fashion. At the same time, American missionaries, employed as cheap teachers of English at Chinese universities since religious controls were relaxed in the 1980s, discreetly promote the religion.

It is hard to assess the extent of Christian belief in China, as the authorities ban independent surveys. Officially, there are five million baptised Catholics and 15 million Protestants. Vatican officials believe there are more than ten million Catholics, and the US state department quotes estimates for the Protestant population ranging from 30-90 million. These unofficial tallies suggest that between 2 and 7 per cent of China's population may be Christian. …

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