Japanese Scholar: Researchers Should See Christianity in China from 'an Insider’s Perspective'

Beijing Chongwenmen Church
Beijing Chongwenmen Church
By Karen LuoAugust 26th, 2021

A Japanese scholar urged that researchers should move from an outsider’s perspective into an insider’s standpoint of how the indigenization of Christianity is on Chinese soil.

Hyunkyung Lee, assistant professor of Tokai University, Japan, delivered a speech titled “Research Trend and Task on Christianity in China in South Korea and Japan” at the third Annual Conference of the East Asian Society for the Scientific Study of Religion held in Jeju, South Korea.

Featuring “Religion and Peace in East Asia: The Roles of Religion in Times of Crisis”, the conference lasted from July 17 to 19, in which 81 speakers from 19 different countries were addressed virtually in 19 sessions.

In Session 17, Professor Lee claimed that the recent trends in Korea and Japan on Christianity in China were centered on Protestantism, Catholicism, religious policy, and contextualization development.

The similarities shared by recent trends in the two countries on the theme included historical studies such as Chinese missionaries in the 19the century, religious policy by the Communist regime, religious freedom, the Hong Kong issue, Bible translation, and a study of missionaries.

However, the Korean research paid more attention to the Korean Protestant church’s missionary activities in China, missionaries for Chinese students in Korea and missionaries after returning home, and pilgrimage destinations, while Japan stressed the increasing number of new urban churches, the comparison of social welfare activities of Christian NPOs, transnational Chinese overseas Christians, and YWCA exchanges between Japan and China.

According to a Chinese paper named The Study of Christianity and Social Problems, the database on the history of Christianity in China was categorized into eight strata: general historical study, archives or diction, missionary research, churches and Chinese believers in China, Christianity and politics in modern China, Christianity and social work in modern China, Christianity and Chinese literature or art, and cases studies and regional studies.

According to the paper “Research and Project of Christianity in Contemporary China” launched by Nakao Katsumi in 2020, “For about 10 years since the 2000s, when religious regulations were eased, Christian missionary status in China was summarized based on data conducted in China. According to the analysis, Chinese religious policy trends are directly correlated with politics, and religion, especially Christianity, which acts as a barometer to measure political trends.”

“With regards to the Chinese Orthodox Church, it is very difficult to find it in China because most of the valuable primary materials for knowing the history of the Orthodox Church is missing,” added the Japanese scholar.

She suggested “an interview survey of elderly believers who knew the Chinese Orthodox Church in the past should be conducted as soon as possible” as many historical records were destroyed by the Cultural Revolution.

She also found that some FBO (Faith-Based Organizations) in China, “called public and private, are participating in areas with poor public service systems”.

In conclusion, she highlighted six needs for emerging research on Christianity in China: the need for an urgent interview survey of elderly believers, the necessity of fieldwork and research interest in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches, the need for a follow-up study on how Chinese Christians abroad maintain religious activities after returning to China, the one to understand the indigenization of Christianity in China in a large framework of Chinese Overseas Christianity and a community network of Chinese Overseas, the need to review activities in education, health care, and social services, along with interest in churches and believers as well as joint research through networking between Korean and Japanese researchers and Chinese researchers. 

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