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.

Qi, Liang & Li, “Christian Conversion and the Re-imagining of Illness and Healthcare in Rural China”

Qi, Guboi, Zhenhua Liang & Xiaoyun Li. 2014.  Christian Conversion and the Re-imagining of Illness and Healthcare in Rural China, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 15(5): 396-413.

Abstract: Faced by disparities in the fast-growing economy and the institutional weaknesses of public healthcare, poorer people in rural China have struggled to obtain effective health treatment. Christianity has played an important role in identifying and redefining the nature of this problem. The fieldwork for this article was conducted in and around a village church in eastern Henan in central China during 2012–13. The article argues that when poorer villagers’ expectations of treatment encountered the special features of Christianity and its localisation in China, a mixture of cultural idioms was created through the process of Christian conversion that furnished the rural poor with new models for treatment. The spread of Christianity as related to illness treatment in rural China thus cannot be reduced to utilitarian logic for it entails the re-imagination of illness and of the nature of the healthcare system.

Young and Seitz, ed, “Asia in the Making of Christianity”

Young, Richard Fox and Jonathan A. Seitz, eds. 2013. Asia in the Making of Christianity: Conversion, Agency, and Indigeneity, 1600s to the Present. London: Brill.

Contributors: Richard Fox Young, Jonathan A. Seitz, Nola Cooke, Richard Burden, Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, La Seng Dingrin, Erik de Maaker, Sipra Mukherjee, Gregory Vanderbilt, Jonas Adelin Jorgensen, Chad M. Bauman, Franklin Rausch, Rhonda Semple, Matthias Frenz, Edwin Zehner

Publisher’s Description: Drawing on first person accounts, Asia in the Making of Christianity studies conversion in the lives of Christians throughout Asia, past and present. Fifteen contributors treat perennial questions about conversion: continuity and discontinuity, conversion and communal conflict, and the politics of conversion. Some study individuals (An Chunggŭn of Korea, Liang Fa of China, Nehemiah Goreh of India), while others treat ethnolinguistic groups or large-scale movements. Converts sometimes appear as proto-nationalists, while others are suspected of cultural treason. Some transition effortlessly from leadership in one religious community into Christian ministry, while others re-convert to new forms of Christianity. The accounts collected here underscore the complexity of conversion, balancing individual agency with broader social trends and combining micro- with macrocontextual approaches

Lim (ed), “Christianity in Contemporary China”

Lim, Francis Khek Gee, ed.  2012.  Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-cultural Perspectives.   New York: Routledge.

Publisher’s Description: Christianity is one of the fastest growing religions in China. Despite its long history in China and its significant indigenization or intertwinement with Chinese society and culture, Christianity continues to generate suspicion among political elites and intense debates among broader communities within China. This unique book applies socio-cultural methods in the study of contemporary Christianity. Through a wide range of empirical analyses of the complex and highly diverse experience of Christianity in contemporary China, it examines the fraught processes by which various forms and practices of Christianity interact with the Chinese social, political and cultural spheres. Contributions by top scholars in the field are structured in the following sections: Enchantment, Nation and History, Civil Society, and Negotiating Boundaries. This book offers a major contribution to the field and provides a timely, wide-ranging assessment of Christianity in Contemporary China.

Cao, “Renegotiating Locality and Morality”

Cao, Nanlai. 2013. Renegotiating Locality and Morality in a Chinese Religious Diaspora: Wenzhou Christian Merchants in Paris, France. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 14(1).

Abstract: This paper explores the social and economic implications of indigenous Christian discourses and practices in the Wenzhou Chinese diaspora in Paris, France. Popularly known as China’s Jerusalem, the coastal Chinese city of Wenzhou is home to thousands of self-started home-grown Protestant churches and a million Protestants. Drawing on multi-sited fieldwork, this study provides an ethnographic account of a group of Wenzhou merchants who have formed large Christian communities at home, along with migrant enclaves in Paris. The study shows how these migrant entrepreneurs and traders have brought their version of Christianity from China to France and how they perceive and deal with issues of illegality, moral contingency, native-place based loyalty and national belonging. It highlights the thoroughly intertwined relationship between an indigenised Chinese Christianity and the petty capitalist legacy of coastal southeast China in a secularised, exclusionary European context, and suggests that Christianity provides a form of non-market morality that serves to effectively legitimate Wenzhou’s pre-modern household economy in the context of market modernity.

Lau, “Mobility, Christianity, and Belonging”

Lau, Sin Wen. 2013. Mobility, Christianity, and Belonging: Reflections of an Overseas Chinese Expatriate Wife in Shanghai. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 14(1).

Abstract: This paper explores what it means to be a Christian on the move in a transnational Asia. It provides an account of the reflections of a Singaporean expatriate wife as she searches for a spiritual home in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It shows how her sense of being Christian is shaped by extra-religious concerns of class, language and nationality. Underscoring the tensions inherent in finding faith in motion, this paper aims to nuance prevalent understandings of religion as havens for people on the move.