Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2016
The history of Christianity in China can be traced back at least to the seventh century, when Nestorian Christians once flourished in the Tang dynasty. However, the continuous presence of Christianity in China did not start until 1582 for Catholics, when the Jesuit Matteo Ricci arrived in China, and not until 1807 for Protestants, when Robert Morrison of the interdenominational London Missionary Society arrived. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Christianity was sometimes prohibited under the seclusion policy of the Qing government. Only after the Opium Wars in 1840–1860 was the Qing government forced to abandon the seclusion policy and allow Christian missions throughout the country. This unfortunate history led to the Chinese perception of a connection between Christianity and Western imperialism and colonialism. The Chinese Communist Party continues to call upon this perception in its anti-Christian campaigns.
Today, Christianity remains a minority religion in China, but Christians constitute a growing minority that has made significant contributions to the expansion of freedom in Chinese society. While many other chapters in this book document the persecution and suffering of Christians in various parts of the world, this chapter describes the extraordinary growth of Christianity despite persecution and restrictions in the People's Republic of China (PRC). I will also describe the various contributions of Christians to the expansion of freedom in Chinese society. The dynamism and growth of Chinese Christianity, as I will show, bear striking resemblance to characteristics of faith in the Roman Empire on the eve of the Edict of Milan. The trajectory of Christianity in China, therefore, has momentous global implications.
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CONTEXTS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
As did many developing countries, China underwent dramatic social and political changes in the twentieth century. Two revolutions radically changed the political system twice: The Republican Revolution in 1911 overthrew the Qing dynasty and established the first republic in Asia; the Communist Revolution in 1949 swept mainland China and drove the republican government to the island of Taiwan. Between the two revolutions were devastating civil wars and the War of Resistance against Japan during World War II. Since the establishment of the PRC under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, frequent political campaigns have resulted in millions of unnatural deaths.