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Christianity in China

Several readers have passed me the Asia Times piece by "Spengler" on the prospects for a Christian China.

I think "Spengler" should take a cold shower. He has let his imagination run away with him.

Among the Chinese of Taiwan, where Christian missionaries have been vigorously active for a century, and where there is actually a wealthy and powerful Christian elite (Chiang Kai-shek and his wife were both Christians), Christianity seems to have peaked at around 4.5% of the population. In Hong Kong, perfectly open to missionaries, with the encouragement of the authorities, since the 1840s, and with many fine Christian schools and institutions, the figure is 10 percent. (I'm taking these numbers from the CIA World Factbook . Possibly they are wrong; but I have lived for extended periods in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, and they look right to me.)

This suggests that there is a natural "ceiling" for Christianity among Chinese people. My impression is that this is so—that Christianity appeals to some small subset—5 or 10 percent—of Chinese people, and not to the rest.

In larger East Asia, something similar might apply, though with different numbers. In Japan, anyone can be a Christian who wants to, and this has been so (though with some variations in the attitude of the authorities) for 150 years. The figure is 0.7 percent. South Korea, on the other hand, is 26.3 percent Christian. Presumably some Christianity has survived in the North, too. Kim Il Sung was raised a Christian; when U.S. forces got to his abandoned bunker in the Korean war, they were surprised to find it contained a church organ, which Kim liked to play.

All in all, while Christianity will likely thrive in China, as it has in the rest of East Asia, my bet would be that it will hit a "ceiling" at ten percent or so of the population, then plateau. A Christian Chinese army marching to raze Mecca? Well... they'll have a willing recruit in Tom Tancredo, I guess.

Mind you, there *have*been Chinese Christian armies. The 1920s warlord Feng Yu-hsiang was a Christian. He used to muster his new recruits in ranks and files and baptize them with a fire hose.

Christianity has entered China several times, beginning much earlier than most people realize. The great Tang Dynasty (8th century) general Guo Ziyi seems to have been a Christian (the evidence is circumstantial). He would have been a Nestorian, of course. There are Nestorian crosses in the "Forest of Steles " in Xi-an. (That article disputes the Nestorian label, but everyone uses it.)