Cao, “Putting the Christian Cross-Removal Campaign in Context”

Cao, Nanlai.  2017.  Spatial Modernity, Party Building, and Local Governance: Putting the Christian Cross-Removal Campaign in Context.  China Review 17(1): 29-52.

Abstract: While Christianity is among the fastest growing religions in the reform era, state-led sporadic demolition campaigns have targeted unauthorized church structures and sites in order to contain massive Christian growth, especially in regions where there is a high concentration of Christian population. Such campaigns often stir heated international concerns about China’s religious freedom violations, naturally making church-state relations the recurring central theme of both public and academic discourses on the church in China. However, a heightened emphasis on church-state tensions and religious persecution may obscure the cultural and spatial dimensions of local church development. Focusing on the case of the recent campaign against rooftop crosses in Wenzhou—the most Christianized Chinese city, I go beyond the one-dimensional framework of church-state relations by offering a multifaceted analysis of the local religious scene in the political economic contexts of contested spatial modernity and of central-local relations amid the party-building process. In so doing, I methodologically place Chinese Christian studies at the center of contemporary China studies.


Bregnbæk, “From Filial Piety to Forgiveness”

Bregnbæk, Susanne.  2016. From Filial Piety to Forgiveness: Managing Ambivalent Feelings in a Beijing House-Church.  Ethos 44(4): 411-426.

Abstract: This article is based on fieldwork in a Chinese Protestant house-church in Beijing—more specifically, it focuses on a form of group therapy, which took place in the vicinity of the church. It combines two phenomena usually studied separately, namely the popularity of Chinese underground churches and China’s so-called “psycho-boom.” Drawing on attachment theory, I focus on the psychic conflicts that draw certain people, in this case a young woman, Lin, to this kind of therapeutic/ritual context. Filial piety, the moral value that children should respect and honor their parents, who have sacrificed so much for them, remains a strong social norm in Chinese society. I argue that forbidden feelings such as anger directed at parents found expression in this Chinese house-church. The ritual and therapeutic context can be understood as a cultural defense mechanism, which celebrates an inversion of dominant societal norms.

Elazar, “Translating culture”

Elazar, Gideon.  2016. Translating culture: missionaries and linguists in contemporary Yunnan Province.  Asian Ethnicity.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In an attempt to emulate early modern missionaries to Yunnan who engaged in the invention of writing systems for various ethnic groups, contemporary evangelical missionaries in Yunnan have become heavily involved in the realm of linguistics, focused on the preservation of endangered languages. While such activity may potentially be perceived as a challenge to the state-Chinese linguistic hegemony, I argue that the presence of missionary linguists is acceptable to the Chinese authorities as it does not threaten the paramount position of Putonghua but rather serves to integrate minority people into the state system. In addition, based on interviews conducted with a missionary working to produce texts for Kunming’s Buoyi population in their language, I aim to demonstrate how missionary linguists attempt to remold local culture by attempting to reconstruct ethnic identity around a language core. The article is based on fieldwork conducted in Yunnan in 2009–2010 and 2012.

Arrington, “Christian Hymns as Theological Mediator”

Arrington, Aminta. Christian Hymns as Theological Mediator: The Lisu of South-west China and Their Music.  Studies in World Christianity 21(2): 140-160.

Abstract: The Lisu of south-west China were evangelised a hundred years ago by missionaries from the China Inland Mission and adopted Christianity in a people movement that permeated nearly their entire society. The missionaries recognised that the Lisu were a singing people, and translation of a hymnbook proceeded apace together with translation of the New Testament. Further, many Western hymns were translated using Lisu poetic forms. These translated Western hymns not only became the centrepiece for worship, but were also part of the daily rhythm of life for Lisu Christians. Though the missionaries departed more than seventy years ago, the hymns, still sung a capella in four-part harmony, have remained. While the bible remains somewhat out of reach for the vast majority of Lisu peasant farmers with low reading and writing skills, the hymnbook is well-known and well-worn, its contents easy to find and many of its most familiar hymns memorised. The various functions the hymns provide for Lisu Christians overlap and intersect at various levels of meaning and experience, which can be encapsulated into one central understanding: the Lisu hymns serve as a theological mediator for Lisu Christians, bridging the gap between the text-intensive religion that is Christianity and the oral world of Lisu culture. In the everyday arena, in the practical living out of what it means to be a Christian for a communal and still largely oral-preference people such as the Lisu, the Lisu Christian hymns are the centrepiece of worship and devotion, prayer and penitence.

Tsai, “Glossolalia and Church Identity”

Tsai, Yen-zen. 2015. Glossolalia and Church Identity: The Role of Sound in the Making of a Chinese Pentecostal-charismatic Church. Review of Religion and Chinese Society 2(1): 87-108.

Abstract: Glossolalia or speaking in tongues has been one of the prominent features that characterize Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. Some linguists, however, regard it phonologically illogical and semantically meaningless and thus invalid as a communicative tool. Orthodox Christianity frowns on it because of its uncouth ritual manifestations or disruptive effect on the church order. Against these perspectives, I argue that glossolalia plays a very crucial role in shaping the identity of a Pentecostal-charismatic community. “Tongue sound,” acoustically jarring to the outsider but soothing and harmonious to the believer, functions to confer on the glossolalists a particular mode of existence and consolidate them as a homogeneous group. For this argument, I draw on Lawrence E. Sullivan’s interpretation of sound in contrast to language, and on Alfred Schütz’s theory about “tuning in” and “inner time.” For illustration, I take the glossolalic manifestation of the True Jesus Church as a concrete example.

Arrington “Hymns of the Everlasting Hills”

Arrington, Aminta.  2014. Hymns of the everlasting hills: The written word in an oral culture in southwest China.  PhD Dissertation, Biola University.

Abstract:The Lisu of southwest China were evangelized 100 years ago by missionaries from the China Inland Mission, and adopted Christianity in a people movement that permeated nearly their entire society. But despite the missionaries’ creation of a Lisu written language, translation of the Bible into Lisu, and elevation of Scripture as the focal point of Christian devotion, Lisu culture remained heavily oriented toward oral thought patterns. While the Lisu viewed their Bible as the authoritative Word of God, they read it only in ritualistic contexts, and not for personal Bible study or in devotional settings.

This led to the question: how can Christianity, with its long literate tradition and its focus on the written Scriptures, be sustained among a people who have the Bible, but do not read it? A people whose thought patterns and behaviors are primarily oral? How are the more abstract theological concepts—such as grace, sanctification, and forgiveness—of such a religion as Christianity that highly values the written word, translated into the oral context of the Lisu?

For the Lisu, such biblical abstractions are mediated through song. The hymnbook was the bridge between the written Word as sacred object, and the lived, spoken, and sung words of the people. If the Lisu Bible was an icon, sacred and revered, the hymnbook, the second item in this two-book set, was the religious handbook. Singing the written words of the hymns brought the two realms—oral and literate—together.

The various functions the hymns provide for Lisu Christians overlap and intersect at various levels of meaning and experience, which can be encapsulated into one central understanding: The Lisu hymns serve as a theological mediator for Lisu Christians, bridging the gap between the text-intensive religion that is Christianity, and the oral world of Lisu culture.

Huang, “Symbolic Representation of Rural Christianity”

Huang, Jianbo.  2015. Symbolic Representation of Rural Christianity and the Inventiveness of Faith Traditions. Cultural Diversity in China 1(1): 101-114.

Abstract: There are two dominant perceptions on the relationship between Christianity and rural society and culture in China. One is more concerned about the authenticity of Christianity from the church’s perspective, while the other talks about ‘cultural security’ from the view of the local tradition of China. These seemingly contradictory views are in fact based on the same historical model known as impact response. It is a welldeveloped model in that it could explain the “mission church” (church in China), while it seems less or less likely to help us grasp the nature and reality of the “local church” (China’s Church). Hence, this article deals with the following questions, taking Huanan church (South China Church, or SCC) as a case study. Is it plausible for us to consider this kind of local church and its believers as a sort of Christian faith tradition de facto? In light of the assumption, how do we understand the diversified symbolic representations and even inventions? Furthermore, how do we understand the continuity and discontinuity of tradition, if we consider the faith tradition as a cultural tradition?

Zheng et al., “Rural Christians’ View of Sickness Treatment Behavior”

Zheng, Honge, Wei Wang, and Libin Wang.  2014. Rural Christians’ view of sickness treatment behavior: a case study from a Shandong village, China.  Anthropology and Medicine.  Early Online Publication. 

Abstract: There are few studies of Christian views of disease and treatment behavior in rural China. Based on Village G in Shandong Province, this paper describes how, under conditions of rural social and medical deprivation, Christians regard physical (routi) and mental (jingshen) sickness as resulting from disturbances to communal peace. Sickness occurs when everyday sinful words and actions allow the devil to enter or when God uses the devil to test worshippers’ beliefs. In either case, it is the devil who directly causes sickness. Christian treatment is through scripture, communal and individual prayer, and expurgation. Diagnosis and treatment thus reflect both theodicy and the emergence of a kind of devil culture in the context of rural social crises.

Huang, “Being Christian in Urbanizing China”

Huang, Jianbo.  2014. Being Christians in Urbanizing China: The Epistemological Tensions of the Rural Churches in the City.  Current Anthropology.  Early online publication.

Abstract: With the rapid urbanization of China in the last 20 years, hundreds of millions of rural residents surged into the cities searching for better livelihoods. Hundreds of thousands of these urban migrants have been Christians. The Christian migrants not only found themselves confronted by the same overwhelming city life and culture as other new rural-urban migrants, they also found a new church setting marked by unfamiliar expressions of their familiar faith and different ways of understanding, approaching, and experiencing God as well as new ways of understanding self and the world. Besides the “moral torment” and identity tension between being “Chinese Christian” and “Christian Chinese,” they are struggling with at least two distinct Christian epistemological styles, one of which is more inward, emotional, and practice centered and the other of which is more outward, intellectual, and text centered.

Tapp, “Religious Issues in China’s Rural Development: The Importance of Ethnic Minorities”

Tapp, Nicholas. 2014.  Religious Issues in China’s Rural Development: The Importance of Ethnic Minorities. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 15(5):433-452.

Abstract: This paper considers Chinese religion in relation to the changing nature of rural society and modernisation. Rural/urban distinctions are questioned, while the realities of religious differences between them are affirmed. Development is related to modernisation and multiple sources of Chinese modernity are considered. Religion is examined in terms of its tendencies towards diversification and capacity to embody visions of an alternative moral order. Some aspects of ethnic minority religion and its renewal are introduced, with reference to the ethnography of the Hmong, to show that minority religious issues can reflect broader religious issues in China. Geomancy and ancestral worship are shared by Hmong and Han Chinese. In conclusion it is argued that religion is increasingly presented as cultural in China through a process of ‘folklorisation’, which in the larger sense may not be problematic, yet important aspects of spirituality are lost which may find expression in mass Christian conversions.