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  • Pan-Chiu Lai (a1)


In the history of the religion-state relationship in China, a model of subordination of religion to the state has been dominant for centuries. In recent years, some Chinese Protestant churches have advocated the model of separation of church and state. Through a historical and theological analysis, this study argues that in order to relieve the tensions between Chinese Protestantism and the contemporary Chinese government, a better conceptual alternative is to reconsider the issue in terms of autonomy rather than separation or subordination, and to argue for legally allowing the coexistence of both official and nonofficial churches and grant different degrees of autonomy to each.



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1 Studies include Yang, Fenggang, Religion in China: Survival and Renewal under Communist Rule (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Goossaert, Vincent and Palmer, David A., The Religious Question in Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). For a survey of the issues involved, see Laliberté, André, “Contemporary Issues in State-Religion Relations,” in Chinese Religious Life, ed. Palmer, David A., Shive, Glenn, and Wickeri, Philip L. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 191208. For a survey of the methods and approaches, see Ashiwa, Yoshiko and Wank, David L., “Making Religion, Making the State in Modern China: An Introductory Essay,” in Making Religion, Making the State: The Politics of Religion in Modern China, ed. Ashiwa, Yoshiko and Wank, David L. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 121.

2 Yang, C. K., Religion in Chinese Society: A Study of Contemporary Social Functions of Religion and Some of Their Historical Factors (Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1991), 20.

3 Three-Self Churches are those under the administration of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the National Christian Council.

4 See Fulton, Brent, China's Urban Christians: A Light That Cannot Be Hidden (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2015); Kang, Jie, House Church Christianity in China: From Rural Preachers to City Pastors (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

5 For a review of public theology in the Chinese speaking world, see Lai, Pan-Chiu and Xie, Zhibin, eds., “Public Theology in the Chinese Context,” special issue, International Journal of Public Theology 11, no. 4 (2017): 375500; Chow, Alexander, Chinese Public Theology: Generational Shifts and Confucian Imagination in Chinese Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Xie Zhibin, He yi gong gong? Wei he shen xue? Han yu gong gong shen xue de hui gu yu qian zhan [Why public and theological? An overview and prospect for Sino-Christian public theology], CSRCS Occasional Paper No. 25 (Hong Kong: Centre for the Study of Religion and Chinese Society, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2016). When referring to Chinese publications (except journal articles with abstracts in English), I place the family name of the author before the given name, according to Chinese custom; the name will be rendered in pinyin. If the author's name is also known in another way in English, the alternative name will appear in brackets after the pinyin. The English translation of the title is provided in square brackets after the pinyin.

6 Chow, Alexander, “Calvinistic Public Theology in Urban China Today,” International Journal of Public Theology 8, no. 2 (2014), 158–75.

7 Shunda, Wang, Shen sheng zheng zhi: Zhongguo chuan tong zheng zhi de xing cheng [Divine politics: The formation of traditional Chinese politics] (Beijing: Zhongguo wen shi chubanshe, 2005).

8 See Lagerwey, John, China: A Religious State (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2010).

9 Ching, Julia, Chinese Religions (London: Macmillan, 1993), 4346.

10 Soothill, William Edward, The Three Religions of China, 3rd. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1929), 229.

11 See Chang, K. C., Art, Myth, and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983).

12 Yu, Anthony C., “On State and Religion in China,” Religion East and West, no. 3 (2003), 120, especially p. 3. See also Yu, Anthony C., State and Religion in China: Historical and Textual Perspectives (Chicago: Open Court, 2005).

13 Jie, Ren and Ling, Liang, Zhongguo de zong jiao zheng ce [China's policy on religion] (Beijing: Min zu chubanshe, 2006).

14 For example, Jian, Zhang, Zhongguo gu dai zheng jiao guan xi shi [History of state-religion relation in ancient China] (Beijing: Zhongguo she hui ke xue chu ban she, 2012), 1209.

15 Zhang Jian, Zhongguo gu dai zheng jiao guan xi shi, 1211.

16 See Xiao-li, Chen and Wen-ze, He, “Local Religion and National Identity: A Case Investigation and Study on Mazu Belief in Guangdong-Hainan Region,” Journal of Qinzhou University, no. 2013-09 (2013): 97100 (in Chinese).

17 Zhang Jian, Zhongguo gu dai zheng jiao guan xi shi, 1211–12.

18 See also Pinchao, Lai [Pan-Chiu Lai] (ed.), Jin dai Zhongguo fo jiao yu Jidu zong jiao de xiang yu [Buddhist-Christian encounter in modern China] (Hong Kong: Logos & Pneuma Press, 2003), 108–10.

19 Zhang Jian, Zhongguo gu dai zheng jiao guan xi shi, 1202–27.

20 Li, Ma, Xian dai xing shi yu xia Minguo zheng fu zong jiao zheng ce yan jiu [Study of republican China's policies on religions in modern perspective] (Beijing: Zhongguo she hui ke xue chu ban she, 2010); Nedostup, Rebecca, Superstitious Regimes: Religion and Politics of Chinese Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009).

21 See Katz, Paul, Religion in China and its Modern Fate (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2014), especially chapter 1.

22 MacInnis, Donald E., Religious Policy and Practice in Communist China: A Documentary History (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 21.

23 For the relevant primary documents, including the government's regulations and statements from relevant political leaders, up to the end of 1960s, see MacInnis, Religious Policy and Practice in Communist China.

24 See also Jialin, Liang and Fuzeng, Xing (Ka-lun Leung and Fuk-tsang Ying), Wŭ shí nián dài sān zì yùn dòng dí yán jiū [The Three-Self patriotic movement in 1950s], 2nd. ed. (Hong Kong: Alliance Bible Seminary, 1996).

25 See also Fuzeng, Xing (Fuk-tsang Ying), Dāng dài zhōng guó zhèng jiào guān xì [Church-state relations in contemporary China] (Hong Kong: Alliance Bible Seminary, 1999).

26 See also, Zhaoming, Deng, Cāng sāng yŭ jì jìng: sì shí duō nián lái dí sān zì ài guó yùn dòng [The vicissitudes of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in the 1950s and its predicament today] (Hong Kong: Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion and Culture, 1997).

27 See Lindberg, Carter, The European Reformations, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), 722, especially 11–12; Pinchao, Lai (Pan-Chiu Lai) and Xin, Gao, Shui di zong jiao? he zhong gai ge? shi liu shi ji zong jiso gai ge di duo yuan xing yu zheng zhi xing [Whose religion? Which reform? Pluralistic and political characters of the Reformation in the sixteenth century] (Hong Kong: Dao feng shu she, 2017).

28 For a detailed analysis, see Te Brake, Wayne P., Religious War and Religious Peace in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

29 See Smith, Carl T., Chinese Christians: Elites, Middlemen, and the Church in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005).

30 See Leung, Beatrice and Chan, Shun-hing, Changing Church and State Relations in Hong Kong, 1950–2000 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2003).

31 Pinchao, Lai [Pan-Chiu Lai], “Cong Niuman kan shi su hua chu jing zhong de Jidu zong jiao” [Christianity in context of secularization: Viewed from the perspective of John Henry Newman], in Jidu zong jiao yan jiu, di liu ji [The study of Christianity], vol. 6, ed. Xinping, Zhuo and Zhiwei, Xu (Beijing: Religious Culture Publishing House, 2003), 2141.

32 Yuan, Hao, “Chinese Christianity and their Tradition of Disobedience: Wang Mingdao, Tanghe Church and Shouwang Church as Examples,” Logos & Pneuma, no. 44 (2016): 87122 (in Chinese with abstract in English).

33 See Starr, Chloë, “The Chinese Church: A Post-denominational Reality?,” in The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practice and Politics, ed. D., Stanley Brunn (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015), 2045–58, at 2052–53.

34 See Qiu yu zhi fu gui zheng jiao hui [The Blessings of Autumn Rain Reformed Church], “Wo men dui jia ting jiao hui li chang de zhong shen (jiu shi wu tiao),” Sheng ming ji kan, no. 75 (September 2015), (accessed February 19, 2020).

35 Starr, Chloë, “Wang Yi and the 95 Theses of the Chinese Reformed Church,” Religions 7, no. 12 (2016) (article no. 142), at p. 11,

36 For a more detailed analysis, see Starr, “Wang Yi and the 95 Theses of the Chinese Reformed Church.”

37 See, for examples, Monsma, Stephen V. and Soper, J. Christopher, The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Five Democracies (Lanham: Roman & Littlefield, 1997); Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). For an immanent critique of Sullivan's study, see Mauldin, Joshua T., “Contesting Religious Freedom: Impossibility, Normativity, and Justice,” Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 5, no. 3 (2016): 457–81.

38 Aiming, Wang, Church in China: Faith, Ethics, Structure—The Heritage of the Reformation for the Future of the Church in China (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009).

39 Aiming, Wang, Ti zhi jiao hui yu zi you jiao hui [Magisterial church and free church] (Hong Kong: Centre for the Study of Religion and Chinese Society, 2017).

40 Wang Aiming, Ti zhi jiao hui yu zi you jiao hui, 149–50.

41 Wang, 221.

42 Wang, 85–187, 195, 208–15.

43 See Vala, Carsten T., The Politics of Protestant Churches and the Party-State in China: God Above Party? (London: Routledge, 2018), chapter 1; Teresa Zimmerman-Liu and Teresa Wright, “Protestant Christianity in China, Urban and Rural: Negotiating the State and Propagating the Faith,” in Brunn, The Changing World Religion Map, 2059–74.

44 Basic Law, chapter 6,, last modified April 2017 (in English).



  • Pan-Chiu Lai (a1)


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