Yangshuo, China

Christianity in China

Article Review of The Chinese Face of Jesus Christ

The Chinese Face of Jesus Christ, edited by Roman Malek, S.V.C. Sant Augustin: Institut Monumenta Serica & China – Zentrum, 2007. Volumes 3a and 3b. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series, L/3a and L/3b (ISBN 3-8050-0524-5). Review by Joseph Tse-hei Lee, Pace University, in Journal of Chinese Religions, No. 36, 2008, pages 169-174.

B
ecause of the length and cost of these two scholarly volumes, making them inaccessible to all but a few, we are greatly indebted to this fine review by Joseph Lee.

The first volume studies the perception of the Jesus by Chinese before 1949, and the second covers the period from 1949 to the present. In each volume, as in the series as a whole, the editors examine “the transmission, reception, and appropriation of Jesus Christ in Chinese arts, literature, philosophy, popular religions, and society.” Together, they serve to “illustrate how Chinese from different intellectual religious, cultural, and political backgrounds came to grips with Jesus Christ as a historical and mystical figure, how they accommodated Jesus’ teachings with their pre-existing cultural mindsets and ethical values, and how they interpreted the story and legacy of Jesus Christ to specific Chinese audiences.”

We catch glimpses of how Muslims and Christians interacted; the distortion of Christianity by some intellectuals; the contrasting favorable impression of Christianity held by many novelists; and the cross-cultural dialogues between Confucianism and Christianity and between Buddhism and Christianity. Different essays examine how Marxists represented Jesus; the appropriation of Jesus in a number of “Christian-inspired sectarian movements in contemporary China”; several poets’ identification with Jesus’ lonely stand for the truth; and various strains of both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology.

Lee offers several insightful comments about important recurring themes from these volumes:

  1. “The different Chinese representations of Jesus Christ present a critique of the Western notion of morality shaped by the core values of the Enlightenment such as individuality, freedom and rationality,” in contrast to existing Chinese values which resonate with such Christian ones as righteousness, virtue, the pursuit of salvation, and the maintenance of trust and harmony.
  2. All Chinese theologians indigenized Christianity to make it speak to 20th century Chinese concerns and connect with Chinese concepts and terms. They earned for themselves the reputation of being “cultural mediators between East and West.”
  3. Chinese Christian literature reveals a sense of its own unique context, and represents a genuinely Chinese response to the intellectual and moral questions of the 20th century, questions for which existing Chinese religions and philosophies, including Marxism, had no adequate answers. These writers helped enable “more common people to use Christianity to cope with political, social, and cultural crises facing the society at large.”

Dr. Lee concludes that “there is no other publication that presents such an insightful study of the transmission, indigenization, and appropriation of Christianity in modern China.” Perhaps those of us who want to understand our fellow believers in China should spend the money and the time to obtain and study these two volumes!