August 29, 2013, by Tony Hong
Religion in China: Christianity
By Ademola Akande,
Studying Mathematics at the University of Nottingham UK.
At virtually every place we visited, there was a substantial amount of fetish practices and beliefs proudly displayed to us tourists as Chinese history and culture. There was in fact a religious sculpture erected in front of a restaurant where we had lunch. However, China statistically, has the highest population of atheist in a nation, with about half of its population claiming to be non-believers. I would disagree with such statistics based on my own observations and the fact that the Chinese definition of religion varies from mere practice of traditional customs, to belief in incarnations and immortality. On the other hand, some people do not consider being superstitious as being religious, and the nature of Confucianism, which claims to be an ethical/philosophical system, instead of a religion, might have given people a wrong ideology. So, I would agree with another survey, which inferred that 85% of the Chinese population have a religious belief or had some form of religious practice, which implies there are only 15% who are real atheist.
Now that it has been established that China is a religious nation, the five major religions in China are, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Christianity/Catholicism and Islam.
Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism came into China about 2000 years ago, at different times and in different ways, and have greatly influenced the culture and traditions of the Chinese. Owing to this, it would not be far wrong to conclude that practically everyone in China is religious because the ‘non-believers’ engage in some of these religious practices knowing or un-knowingly. This is not only restricted to China alone, but cuts across all nations. People claim to be atheist and yet believe in ‘luck’. It’s all religion!
The opening up of China to western culture led to the invasion of Christianity, There were four historical periods of Christianity, with the first in the 7th Century, when the oriental Church of the Nestorians came into China from Persia. They had little or no religious influence on the Chinese and so they basically comprised of the foreign missionaries. The second phase was as a result of the second opening of the trade routes, during the Mongol Yuan period. This short and rather successful period of Christian missionary work was made possible by the positive politics of the Mongol Khans against foreign monks, traders and technicians. The Yuan period was also a highpoint of Tibetan Lamaism in China which was protected by the Mongols. The mission of the Jesuits is the third phase, which lasted until religion was prohibited in China in the 17th century.
After the opium war in 1842, the fourth phase of Christianity in China began in the 19th century. This was directly connected with Western colonialism and imperialism. After the Western power forced China to open treaty ports in China, missionaries were allowed to act within these cities. Missionary work began with the translation of the Bible into Chinese and also a dictionary compilation. They were significantly involved in the westernisation of China by setting up schools, modern clinics and other infrastructure, under the protection of western powers. Although there was opposition, there has been a rapid growth in the population of Christians in China since then.
The present tolerance of the Chinese government to a religion that might have been imposed on them is quite interesting. They have probably been studying the likes of Western Europe and United States, whose Christian backgrounds have raised them to the heights they have attained today, and so, they have come to realise that they need Christianity in their superpower journey. It is rather tragic to watch these nations turn their backs on what made them. There is a clear correlation between the increase in godlessness and the decline in economic and moral stability in these nations. Now, as China embraces Christianity, they have grown to be a threat to the United States in the economic sector. Earlier this year, the United Kingdom lost her AAA credit rating for the first time since the 1978, as Christianity is gradually being disregarded in this nation.
The importance of Christianity in the peaceful development and stability of a nation cannot be overemphasized. After all, the ethics practised in the UK are all based on the Biblical doctrines. Late Baroness Thatcher would totally agree and testify to this. Wenzhou, a protestant populated region in China in the 19th Century, is also a case study for China on the effect of Christianity in a place/region.
I believe that as the Chinese population continues to embrace Christianity, they are going to watch their greatest concerns, such as immorality, fade away before their very eyes, as they rise into a superpower.