A History of Christianity in China


China’s total Christian population is now estimated to number anywhere between 25 million to100 million people. However, in a recent interview with The Telegraph, Fenggang Yang, an expert on religion in China, said the number of Chinese Protestants could swell to around 160 million by 2025 with the total number of Christians exceeding 247 million by 2030. That would see China move ahead of Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. as the world’s biggest Christian community. Although the Chinese authority attacks this prediction highlighted by The Telegraph, no one can deny that the growth of Christianity in China is an amazing story of the encounter of two very different civilizations: the West deeply influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition and China by the Confucian tradition, and of how a foreign religion survived, developed and became deeply integrated into the Chinese society.

In this course, we will explore the development of Christianity in China and the implications it had in that country and culture. 

The course is divided into four(4) main units:

1. The Early Modern Period (pre-1800): The Nestorian Age, the Mongol and Jesuit Missions

2. The Modern Period (1800-1900): Protestant Beginnings, Expansion, and Institution-building in a Declining Dynasty

3. The Republican Era (1900-1949): The “Golden Age” of Missions, the Rise of Chinese Nationalism, and the Indigenization of Christianity

4. The Communist Regime (1950-present): Christianity and the New China

This course gives greater weight to Protestants. Students who want to learn more about Catholic missions in China may consult some good books focusing on Catholics. A notable one is Christians in China A.D. 600 to 2000 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), in which Father Jean-Pierre Charbonnier gives a very substantial and valuable account of the Catholic efforts in China.

Key texts:

  • A New History of Christianity in China by Daniel Bays
  • Seeking the Common Ground by Philip Wickeri

Reference materials:

  • The English translation of 100 Documents Relating to the Chinese Rites Controversy (1645-1941) compiled by the Ricci Institute at the University of San Francisco
  • God’s Chinese Son by Jonathan Spence
  • Christians in China A.D. 600 to 2000 by Jean-Pierre Charbonnier
  • A History of Christian Missions in China by Kenneth Scott Latourette
  • The Travels of Marco Polo by R. E. Latham
  • The Bible and the Gun: Christianity in South China, 1860 - 1900 by Joseph Lee

This course includes quizzes to check your knowledge of the material; scoring an 80% on each quiz is considered passing.

There is a discussion board to respond to questions and to exchange ideas with your classmates. You may post on the discussion board at any time during the course.