Book Review: Shaping Christianity in Greater China: Indigenous Christians in Focus
Many scholarly works have been published on the history of the Protestant missionary movement in China. We now have significant resources by which to understand the historical the development of the Chinese Church since 1807, when the first Protestant missionary to China, Robert Morrison, arrived in Macau. It is a testimony to the importance and range of experiences that have occurred since then that books with new material and insights continue to be published. This volume contributes further to our knowledge, although (and this is acknowledged) little is said about the Roman Catholic experience of mission or that of the Eastern Orthodox. Nor is there discussion of mission to non-Chinese people or to minority groups in China, such as Chinese Muslims. There are still fresh fields to explore.
Over recent years, the place of indigenous Chinese Christians in the development of the Chinese Church has claimed much more attention. Many such Christians have emerged in scholarly literature – or are emerging – from the shadows of the missionaries and are now seen as pioneers and agents of the Spirit of Christ. The lives and ministries of Liang-A-Fa, one of the first Chinese Christians, and Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng) have now been well-documented. This volume takes us one more step in seeing this process in its wider perspective. This includes the histories of Chinese women who often worked alongside Western missionary women (see the chapter by Christina Wong on local missionary women in Canton, 152-166). Almost invariably, information is scarce about the early significant figures and their rise to leadership in their various contexts. However, their historical and theological importance in China is well summed up by the Hindu convert to Christianity, Sadhu Sundar Singh: “Indians need the Water of Life but not the European cup.” [Quoted on page19 in reference to the Indian context].
David Killingray sets the scene in his opening and very perceptive essay “The Role of Indigenous Christians in the Global Church.” He notes that the statistics of the Edinburgh Conference in 1910 show that there were 19,280 Protestant “foreign missionaries” on the mission field, aided by 98,388 “native workers.” However, there were only eighteen non-Western delegates at the Conference among the 1,215 delegates present. There were no known Chinese delegates at the great missionary conferences in China in 1877 and 1890 and less than ten in 1907.
Nevertheless, Killingray and other authors in this volume illustrate how some Chinese Christians successfully interpreted the gospel for their context, how developments were determined by the local political environments, and how Chinese Christians have navigated their ways through these and missionary control. Killingray sums up the flow and the argument of this volume: “despite these instances of indigenisation, the vast majority of Chinese churches throughout the nineteenth-century and well in to the second decade of the twentieth-century remained subject to foreign control and direction” .
Part One of the volume paints in the picture of the relationship between missionaries and their local assistants. Kuo Ya-pei, in his discussion of Li Chunsheng, concludes that many early Chinese assistants were caught in the dilemma of accepting the missionaries’ vision while rejecting his (or her) tutelage. Part Two looks at how the faith was expressed through the written word. Stephen Donoho’s essay on the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s Taiwan Church News gives an insight in to the ways Taiwanese discussed everyday issues. Their faith responses to these are indeed fascinating. Liu Yanyan’s essay on classical poems written by Confucian literati to honour Catholic missionaries is unique and ground-breaking.
Part Three, “Building the Faith,” describes instances of Chinese Christians building and consolidating the Church. Bai Limin (of Victoria University of Wellington) shows how some Western missionaries worked with local Christians and blurred the boundaries between them in the pursuit of quality education for Chinese people. Part Four looks at local Chinese Christian responses to the Boxer Rebellion and the struggle against opium. Part Five looks at Chinese Church leaders and thinkers in the modern period and includes Shoki Coe in Taiwan and three contemporary leaders in the Hong Kong Church.
One could argue that the volume lacks a solid theological analysis of the missionary enterprise and how the Chinese leaders (as far as can be known) understood the gospel message and the theological underpinnings of the Church and its mission. Stephen Williams gives a brief but helpful critique of Watchman Nee's understanding of Romans 6. However, this lack of theological analysis is less of a criticism and more of an invitation for yet another book on the history of Christianity in China. It takes us further in our understanding as to how Chinese Christians have responded to the gospel in their contexts. I expect students of the subject will find this an excellent resource.
Stuart Vogel is working in multicultural ministry in inner-city Auckland.