A few years ago, Andrew Walls told me that he had once hoped to become a missionary to China. However, with the rise of the Chinese communist revolution, those plans were dashed, and he eventually made his way to Sierra Leone in 1957, followed by Nigeria in 1962. One wonders how the study of World Christianity would have been different if the doyen of the academic field spent his formative missionary years in China instead of Africa. Would he have had the same epiphany in Beijing or Shanghai or Wenzhou that he was ‘actually living in a second-century church’? When considering Confucianism or Daoism, would he likewise speak of the place of ‘primal religions’ in shaping the consciousness of another faith, be it Christianity or Buddhism? Both are undoubtedly possibilities. But perhaps, in this parallel universe, the area less likely to have developed would have been his recognition of the importance of oral cultures – a pervasive characteristic in his beloved Africa, but scantly recognised in China.
On November 2, 2021, Professor Anthony Clark (Whitworth University) delivered a paper entitled “The Theatre of Conversion: Catholic Drama and the (Re)presentation of China,” speaking about the Jesuit mission to China during the late-Qing that employed the dramatization of Boxer era Christian martyrs to “canonize China” as an East Asian holy land.
If you are unable to access the video above from YouTube, you can also try watching it from the University of Edinburgh’s Media Hopper service.
The Anglo-Chinese College and the Beginnings of Chinese Protestant Christianity
In 1818, Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, established the Anglo-Chinese College (Yinghua Shuyuan 英華書院, ACC) in Malacca with the help of his colleague William Milne. According to the deed of the ACC, its objective was ‘the cultivation of English & Chinese Literature in order to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’. During its years of presence in Malacca, the ACC not only offered an opportunity to Chinese youths to receive a general liberal education, it was also a school for Europeans and Americans to study Chinese regardless of whether they were missionaries or not, the alma mater of pioneer Chinese Protestant evangelists, and a press printing Chinese Bibles and Christian tracts as well as sinological works. Shaped by a missionary approach concerned with cultural reconciliation or adaptation, the ACC’s activities and achievements were part of the beginnings of Chinese Protestant Christianity and laid the foundation for its subsequent development, as illustrated in this special issue of Studies in World Christianity, which consists of the revised versions of selected papers presented at ‘Sino-Western Cultural Exchange and the Development of Christianity in China: A Conference in Celebration of the Bicentenary of Ying Wa College’, which was held at Hong Kong Baptist University, 12—13 October 2018, co-organised by the Centre for Sino-Christian Studies of Hong Kong Baptist University and Ying Wa College, and sponsored by Tin Ka Ping Foundation.
Religious and Political Contestation in Chinese Contexts
Whilst religion and politics are not meant for polite dinner conversations, they have frequently been present at the table amongst scholars of world Christianity, and especially for those who research Chinese contexts. To a great extent, religion and politics have been intertwined throughout Chinese history. We see this in the three major religions or teachings of China – Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism – all of which have vied for space amongst the masses and in the political arena. This has been complicated even further with the rise of the Communist Party of China, which has since the 1980s held a position of tolerance for religion as being a ‘private matter’ with little to no public significance. Adding Christianity into the mix only complicates the picture, given its own multifaceted relationships with religion and politics. Christianity’s historical emphasis on evangelism inevitably invokes reaction in this pluralistic society. Furthermore, despite any restrictions imposed by the ruling party, strands of Chinese Christianity have always had a significant proclivity to exist as a public religion. The four articles in this issue of Studies in World Christianity offer snapshots into various aspects of Christianity’s religious and political contestation in Chinese contexts.