Protestant Church in People’s Republic of China

  Leeds East Asian Paper Monograph Series No.21(Leeds :University of Leeds,1996)。

  In December 1978,a group of reformist leaders in the Chinese Communist Party(CCP )initiated a series of reforms in economic,political,and social affairs.In early 1982,a thirty-page circular on religious policy ,known as “Document19”,was sent to leading cadres ,and an abstract of the document was publishedin the CCP theoretical journal Hongqi (“Red Flag”)in June 1982.[1]Violentsuppression of religion was repudiated,and freedom of belief accepted.However,while the new policy tolerated religious activities ,it also stated that theyshould be closely supervised,and that activities falling outside defined limitsshould be suppressed.Two kinds of illegal activity were specifically mentionedin the document :criminal and counter-revolutionary activities hiding behind thefacade of religion;and infiltration by hostile foreign forces.[2]

  Believers soon took advantage of this relative tolerance,and religious groupssprang up ,or came to the surface ,all over China.By the mid-1980s ,the rapidgrowth of religion alarmed scholars and officials ,who realized that religiousactivities,especially the so-called "Christianity Fever",were getting out ofhand.

  The Party's anxiety seems to have been based on several factors ,primarilythe risk that some religious institutions might become influential and form independentpower-bases outside Party control.It has been a central policy of the CCP to preventthe formation of any kind of mass organization except for a few (such as the tradeunions)wholly dominated by the Party apparatus.Second,religious beliefs tendto be anti-materialist and theist ,and they are therefore an ideological challengeto Marxism,the state orthodoxy.Third ,religious organizations might strengthendemands for autonomy among non-Han Chinese,for example in Xinjiang or Tibet.Fourth,the Party leadership was extremely worried by the overthrow of the Soviet governmentand its satellite states in Eastern Europe,and aware of the role played by churchesin the opposition to communist rule there.It feared a similar scenario in China,especially after 1989.

  Perhaps most significantly,the Party holds the view that many religious organizationsare infiltrated by,and working in the service of,"hostile foreign forces".Thisview is explicitly linked to the concept of "peaceful evolution",the claim thatthe West,in particular the USA,is using ideological penetration and subversionas a strategy to overthrow the Chinese government.Among the hostile foreign forcesallegedly infiltrating religious groups in the PRC are evangelical Protestants(for example the Southern Baptist Church has been accused of working for the CIA),Roman Catholics (accused of promoting the Vatican‘s interests ),and sectariangroups from Taiwan,such as the Yiguandao.

  Religious organizations have often been uncertain how to interpret the guidelinesof official policy.Officials have rarely made explicit public statements to clarifyexactly where the boundaries are to be drawn,and in fact it appears that evenhigh-level cadres ,not to mention lower-level officials ,are not at all surethemselves.At times of political tension ,particularly in the aftermath of the1989demonstrations ,there have been crackdowns on many religious groups,sometimeseven including the official churches who are correctly registered with,and vettedby,the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB )。On the other hand,in the southernprovinces unregistered house churches may receive frequent visits from foreign Christians,presumably in defiance of the spirit and letter of Document 19,without much interferencefrom local officials.The situation is very fluid and depends on a number of factors:the national political scene ,the attitude of provincial leadership,or relationsbetween local religious groups and local cadres.

  To date ,the most illuminating documents concerning the local interpretationof religious policy have been a number of directives issued by government agencies,usually at city or provincial level ,to control religious affairs in their region.They are not normally made public ,but over the years some have been leaked toHong Kong and reprinted.Their general trend is to emphasize the restrictive aspectsof Document 19,for example those insisting that all religious activities shouldbe conducted in authorized,registered buildings ;that all Christian activitiesare supervised by the official church ;that religious literature may not be broughtin from overseas;and that activities like faith healing and exorcism(which donot conform with Marxist philosophy )are forbidden.

  A typical example is the "Regulation Concerning the Protection of Normal ReligiousActivities in the Hunan Christian Church",first adopted in 1981and revised in1990.[3]Among its stipulations are clauses such as "No meeting and sermon shouldrun counter to the four cardinal principles ,engage in propaganda which opposesMarxism ,Leninism or Mao Zedong Thought ,or interfere in politics ,educationor marriage …All illegal activities which are conducted in the name of evangelization…must be resolutely prevented…We do not approve any person from abroad to carryon religious activities within our boundaries."Through the 1980s and 1990s ,Protestantsoperated in this complex environment,where religious practice was officially tolerated,yet in practice restricted;where much depended on local negotiation and power-play;where they had to be extremely cautious about involvement in politics,and especiallyin their relations with visitors from overseas.

  Despite these difficulties,the Protestant community in China grew rapidly ,although its size has for a long time been a point of dispute.Many people,onhearing of the spread of Protestantism,ask a reasonable ,important,and apparentlysimple question :how many Protestants are there in contemporary China ?Typicalof the evangelical groups which report on China ,the Chinese Church Research Centerhas frequently published its view that there are more than sixty million Protestantsin China.[4]The Center has failed to explain its methodology in reaching this conclusion,except to say that it is based on work done by visitors and underground Christianleaders ,and that all details should remain secret for security reasons.Suchclaims then enter the evangelical myth:“After as close an investigation as itis possible to make in the existing circumstances ,the reputable Christian researchgroups conclude that there are now 40-50million Christians in China.Some otherchurch organizations put the figure much higher.”[5]

  We are inclined to be highly sceptical of such claims ,having concluded thatno estimates of Christians in China are based on sound methodology,definitions,or data collection procedures.[6]According to official Chinese sources ,thereare around nine to ten million Protestants;however,there are compelling reasonsto believe that the official estimates are far too low.A fairly detailed recentsurvey by the British researcher Anthony Lambert puts the figure at between eighteenand thirty million.One can probably adopt a working figure at somewhere aroundthis kind of level,but only as a gross approximation.But it is more importantto realize that church growth has indeed been rapid since 1949,and in some regionsProtestantism has become the dominant religion:it is especially strong in Yunnan,Zhejiang,Henan,and Anhui provinces.It is now a firmly established,integralpart of the national religious scene.

  Since research access is so difficult ,observers also find it hard to analysethe reasons for this rapid church growth.The authors have come to the conclusionthat the following are among the most important factors to consider :

  1.Christianity may be perceived and received as,in some sense,an improvementon traditional Chinese beliefs.If offers prayers ,healing,fellowship ,a moralcode,a rationale for suffering and the promise of salvation.It is wider in scope,more universal,less tied to traditional society than folk religion.

  2.It has a highly flexible and successful organizational form.Christian groupsrange from family prayer meetings ,to village communities addressed by itinerantpreachers ;from sophisticated underground networks to the powerful and efficientnational organization.

  3.The church benefited in the 1980s from the prestige of the West,as a symbolof a material and political system that many felt was superior to their own.InNovember 1994,an official inquiry in Henan province found that the growth ofthe Protestant church was partly due to foreign infiltration,combined with theweakening of communist ideology and education ,and the local cadres ‘attentionbeing focused on commercial rather than political work.

  4.Many believers were brought up in families or communities that had been Christianfor some time.Especially in the southeast of China and in cities like Shanghai ,we can conclude that present communities are descendants or extensions of previousones.

  5.A key strength of Protestantism has been its evangelistic nature ,in particulara strong oral culture focused on preaching and accounts of healing and miracles.

  6.It offers attractive forms of worship,especially the congregational aspectand music.Worship is a time of emotional release and spiritual enrichment.

  7.It offers self-respect and enhanced personal identity.The affirmation ofself-hood and individuality is much appreciated in a society which has been oppressedfor many decades.It may be relevant in a period of rapid social change in the directionof individualism and fragmentation of traditional communities.

  8.Church groups are a field where young people ,and especially women ,canfind scope for their talents as leaders ,scholars ,musicians,or organizers.For all who are excluded from the political and civil power-structure ,religionmay offer an alternative,productive outlet for their energies.[7]It is experiencedas a form of empowerment for marginalized groups.

  9.Many rural areas have not prospered during the recent reforms.They havemissed out on commercial growth ,and the previous socialist ideology has collapsed.Young people in particular may need a sense of mission in life,and evangelismis a viable option.Itinerant preachers ,many of whom are teenagers ,travelwidely,hosted by local Christian groups ;they feel themselves to be mandatedby God.Moreover,some overseas agencies are eager to help with their trainingand support.There is a curious parallelism between their Messianic excursions andthose of the Red Guards who spread the Word of Mao in the 1960s.

  10.In this context ,the eschatological tone of many Christian communitiesis very attractive to the poorer peasants ,whose life may often be harsher thanbefore the economic reforms :they look forward to the End-Time.

  It is precisely because these factors are so compelling that administrativemeasures to curb Protestantism have failed.It will probably be impossible to knowat what point ,after the closure of the churches in the late 1950s,undergroundChristian practice and evangelism became so powerful:some reports suggest thatit was during the chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution.The process was hastenedby several factors.Former Red Guards and political activists became disillusionedwith politics and turned to religion in the late 1970s;religious believers hadbeen displaced from their homes ,for example being sent to labour camps or remoterural areas ;many preachers had been imprisoned and thereby attained great sympathyand reputation among local Christians ;overseas Chinese Christians brought inBibles and other literature ;Gospel radios were effective in education and conversion.By this remarkable combination of circumstances ,millions of people convertedto the Protestant faith ,and started to participate in religious activities.

  Church institutions

  As we discuss church institutions since 1979,it is well to remember that currentrelations between the Chinese state and religious communities are the product ofa long historical development :the state has exerted control over religions atleast since the Tang dynasty.The concepts of separation of church and state,andof religious freedom,may be familiar in Western ecclesial and political traditions,but from the Chinese perspective they are alien.While it is true that the currentinstitutions can be repressive,rigid,and over-politicized ,it is more importantto understand their dynamics than to compare them with any“ideal ”foreign paradigm.Christians in China will create their own unique model of church-state relations.

  In 1979the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)was reconstituted after itssuspension during the Cultural Revolution ,and soon afterwards a related organizationcalled the China Christian Council(CCC )was formed.These two organizations,known as the“lianghui”(“two committees”),form the state-sanctioned leadershipof the Protestant community.Their functions are not clearly delineated ,and manyleading figures hold positions in both organizations concurrently ,for exampleK.H.Ting(Ding Guangxun ),Bishop of Nanjing,being President of both.

  Power resides in the Standing Committees,which oversee church policy,relationswith overseas churches,pastoral affairs ,and personnel appointments.Most membersof the national Standing Committees are also leaders of provincial or municipalProtestant organizations which effectively supervise local church affairs.Theseleaders are nominally elected by the church members themselves,but in practicethey are usually Party nominees.They have considerable influence over all churchaffairs and closely supervise the activities of pastors and of lower-level TSPMgroups.

  This naturally leads to some resentment among Christian groups,who feel theyare under constant surveillance ,and that the church is run by non-Christians.The level of supervision is much higher in urban than rural areas ,because theapparatus is far from sufficient to monitor activities in remoter regions.Variousstate organs,such as the RAB,the United Front Work Department ,and differentbranches of the security services are also active in monitoring the Christian community,especially where there is any contact with foreigners.

  The original purposes of the TSPM were to eliminate foreign influence ,tounite Protestants in one organization ,and to promote CCP policies inside thechurch.This remains an important part of their work.However ,in the 1980s and1990s ,as the Protestant communities grew relatively strong ,the“two committees”also played a vital role in legitimizing and promoting the religion.The officialleaders have negotiated the return of church property ,the right to print Biblesand other literature,the opening of seminaries and thousands of churches and meetingpoints.Bishop Ting and others have been advocates of religious freedom.

  The TSPM is not a monolithic entity ,but a loose fellowship with many diverseviews.Many younger pastors (and some older ones )are rebellious ,and may refuseto accept the claim of their leadership to speak for the whole Protestant communityin China;there is a parallel with the state ,where there is vast regional diversityalongside the central government‘s claim to power.We therefore feel it is mistakensimply to regard the TSPM and all connected with it (as some have done )simplyas a puppet organization.

  The ecclesial phenomenon known as the “house church”movement is the othermajor institutional element of Chinese Protestantism.China has a long traditionof Christian home meetings,especially in rural areas.The religion was usuallyintroduced to a village by one or two families,and it might take several generationsbefore sufficient persons and funds were available to build a church.Also in cities,it was common for convert families to hold prayer meetings for themselves ,andperhaps their extended family ,in the privacy of their own homes.Moreover,theearlier part of the century saw a great deal of population movement and social unrest,while the communist period made public meetings unsafe,and church building impossible.In these circumstances,home meetings were often a more realistic alternative thantrying to maintain a public church.

  During the years of repression,the faith survived in this organizational form,and the home meetings indeed appear to have spread their influence during the 1960sand 1970s.In the 1980s ,home meetings and house churches expanded far beyondtheir original scope.Some of them developed extensive national and internationalnetworks,with thousands of members,and even publishing and educational facilities.To reflect this change,in our 1993publication we proposed the adoption of theterm“autonomous Christian communities”(ACCs)as now more appropriate than“house churches”to describe these groups.

  The church in China has a long tradition of lay leadership;this traditionalso contributes to the strength of the ACCs.In China,there has always been ashortage of trained professional staff relative to the number of believers.Onecause was the reluctance of missionaries before 1949to ordain Chinese nationals,and the lack of training facilities after 1949.The situation became more extremein the 1980s and 1990s,when congregations expanded extremely fast.Reports in1991showed that in many counties there were often only one or two pastors for thousandsof believers.[8]

  Most indigenous groups reject the concept of a professional ,trained clergy:some of the great heroes of the Chinese church ,for example Wang Mingdao ,John Sung (Song Shangjie ),and Watchman Nee (Ni Duosheng ),were neitherformally trained in a seminary,nor ordained.In fact,they openly opposed trainingschemes and opted for a master-disciple model.This is,of course,a deep-rootedChinese custom,and should be seen as a cultural rejection of standardized training,rather than a theological bias.

  Another cultural factor is the tradition that religious personnel should survivethrough donations rather than a salary.This concept often persuaded Chinese Christiansto work “by faith”as the most noble and respected way of life (and the contemptfor “rice-Christians ”is well-known )。Rejecting the security of employmentwith wealthy denominations has long been seen as the sign of a superior spirituality:one could either simply abandon oneself to the vagaries of believers ‘generosity,or become a “tent maker”,having one ’s own profession while serving voluntarilyin the ministry.

  The doctrines and ecclesiology of the ACCs are diverse.Many inherit practicesfrom groups that were formed in the 1920s.Interaction with popular culture hassometimes led to syncretism with local cults,and in some areas a Pentecostaliststyle of worship has been practised since around 1910.Phenomena such as speakingin tongues and faith healing are widespread and influential ,but many groups,on the contrary ,are pietistic:for example,most “Little Flock”congregationsare opposed to charismatic styles of worship,and place emphasis on literal beliefin the Bible,and on what they assert are Apostolic traditions.

上一篇:Church,State and Community in East Asia:An Introduction





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