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Redeemed by Fire

Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Redeemed by Fire
    Book Description:

    This book is the first to address the history and future of homegrown, mass Chinese Christianity. Drawing on a large collection of fresh sources-including contemporaneous accounts, diaries, memoirs, archival material, and interviews-Lian Xi traces the transformation of Protestant Christianity in twentieth-century China from a small, beleaguered "missionary" church buffeted by antiforeignism to an indigenous popular religion energized by nationalism and millenarianism. Lian shows that, with a current membership that rivals that of the Chinese Communist Party, and the ability to galvanize China's millions into apocalyptic convulsion and messianic exuberance, the popular Christian movement channels the aspirations and the discontent of the masses and will play an important role in shaping the country's future.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16283-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    On july 29, 2006, hundreds of paramilitary police descended on the construction site of a rural Protestant church in Xiaoshan outside Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China. They clashed with the estimated three thousand people, mostly members of the local, unregistered “Little Flock” congregations, who had gathered there to protect the building. Many of those who protested or resisted were beaten; several were seriously injured. Dozens were arrested. Then four excavators were brought in, and the church, with all but the roof in place, was razed. The incident was reported by several major international media, including the...

  6. CHAPTER ONE In Search of Chinese Christianity
    (pp. 17-41)

    In august 1834, Robert Morrison died in his middle life, worn out by a quarter of a century of pioneering and consuming labors to bring “the light of science and revelation” to the “Eastern limit of Asia.” At the time, those labors were not particularly promising: in some twenty-five years he and a handful of his missionary colleagues had baptized only about ten Chinese. By 1840, when war had broken out between the British and the Chinese and more than three decades after Morrison landed in Canton, the total number of converts in the Middle Kingdom was less than one...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Lightning out of the East: THE TRUE JESUS CHURCH
    (pp. 42-63)

    Like almost all the other leaders of major indigenous church movements in China, the founder of the TJC, Wei Enbo (1876?–1919), began his religious career at a foreign mission church. In 1902, Wei, a poor farmer from the county of Rongcheng, some sixty miles south of Beijing, migrated to the capital and started a business dealing in silk and foreign merchandise. By his own accounts a “quarrelsome” man of “impetuous temperament,” Wei got into a street fight one day during which he was helped by a member of the local LMS, whom Wei saw as upholding justice by coming...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Jesus Family
    (pp. 64-84)

    In its early years, the TJC found several of its gifted leaders in Shandong and brought a sense of personal power and security, albeit mostly otherworldly and immaterial, to thousands of farmers in that province which had suffered some of the worst scourges of natural and manmade disasters in modern Chinese history. Fertile and heavily populated, Shandong province forms part of the Huaibei lowlands, a precarious ecosystem plagued by both drought and flood. It was in Shandong after a devastating flood in 1898 and then an even more agonizing drought in the next two years that the hunger and restlessness...

    (pp. 85-108)

    For all the extraordinary vigor in its religion, the communitarian and separatist Jesus Family was only one of the many conduits of indigenous Protestant revivalism in China. Throughout much of the 1930s, Pentecostal revivals erupted across the country. As in the Jesus Family, they typically took the form of a series of special meetings held over several days amidst floods of tears, holy laughter, “tongues,” and cries for mercy; public confessions of sins and ecstatic shouts of joy were punctuated by the thumping sound of people being “smitten” by the Holy Spirit and “hurled down on the floor.”¹ The movement...

    (pp. 109-130)

    The pentecostal ecstasies in the Spiritual Gifts Movement as well as in the TJC and the Jesus Family, while exhilarating to their followers, tended to enclose their communities and separate them from the larger Protestant body in China, estimated at about half a million during the mid-1930s. Outside these autonomous and often ostracized communities was the Protestant establishment still dominated by foreign missions. However, by the beginning of the Nationalist period (1928–1949), mainstream denominational churches were also increasingly coming under the influence of indigenous leaders. The growing antiforeignism of the 1920s had strengthened the desire of Western missionaries to...

    (pp. 131-154)

    Throughout the 1930s, as Wang Mingdao conducted his itinerant revivalism from his Beijing base, other notable independent evangelists flourished in Shanghai where nationalist spirit found its religious expression among the educated, young members of the Protestant community. Comparative urban affluence as well as the relative freedom and security of the treaty port, which had helped in the growth of Yu Guozhen’s China Christian Independent Church in the pre-Revolution years, continued to provide fertile ground for the growth of independent evangelism. It was in Shanghai in early 1931 that a preaching band made up of four modern-educated young men, most of...

    (pp. 155-178)

    During the 1930s, when John Sung’s miraculous healings electrified hundreds of thousands in China and Southeast Asia, he retained his dark, apocalyptic views and a clear conviction that neither the miracles he performed nor the revolutions that were brewing would save China. “The end of the world is here,” he proclaimed, and the only salvation lies beyond.¹ Such doomsday pessimism was in fact widespread among indigenous Protestant groups and evangelists who, unlike the NCC and the YMCA and YWCA, felt little pressure and found little opportunity to address the political and social plight of the time. After the outbreak of...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Indigenous Church Movement through War and Revolution
    (pp. 179-203)

    The japanese occupation of much of China between 1937 and 1945 seriously disrupted the work of mission-supported churches in the country. Most church organizations including the NCC, along with an estimated fifty thousand members of denominational churches, moved inland as part of an exodus of some fifty million people from coastal provinces.¹ In occupied China, denominational churches were crippled by widespread destruction or requisition of church property by the Japanese and increasingly came under Japanese domination. According to Frank W. Price, Presbyterian missionary and chairman of the Rural Church Department at Nanking Theological Seminary, “at least one-third of the mission...

    (pp. 204-232)

    When the cultural revolution began in 1966, Christianity in China was facing a bleak and uncertain future: having been abruptly weaned from Western missions, it now found itself in the hands of an enraged state. For many, the reassertion of central authority in 1949 after four decades of postdynastic chaos had also altered the eschatological landscape. The “last hour” that in the first half of the twentieth century had been heralded by warlordism, banditry, foreign invasion, civil war, and the attending miseries was now manifested in the hostilities of an atheist government—the new Antichrist. In its moments of revolutionary...

  15. Afterword
    (pp. 233-248)

    For all the peculiarities of indigenous Chinese Protestantism, its main eschatological beliefs remain a tributary of a long flow of messianic Christianity. As an “adjunct of eschatology,” Mircea Eliade writes, Christian millennialism has historically looked beyond the apocalypse—heralded by flood, famine, or war—to a new world that is “inexhaustibly fertile, harmonious, sanctified, and just.” In its optimistic form known as postmillennialism, which parallels the “gentler rock of reformers,” it sees the gradual expansion of the church and the progress of Christian civilization leading into the promised thousand-year reign of the Messiah.¹ What animated popular Chinese Protestantism during the...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 249-292)
    (pp. 293-298)
    (pp. 299-324)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 325-334)