Aikman, David. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power. Regnery Publishing, 2003. 418 pages
I. Thesis Statement
China is emerging as the world’s leading economic and military power, and many wondered what kind of world power China will be.
A work of veteran reporter David Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine, Jesus in Beijing takes the journalist’s investigative skills into the center of Chinese rural house churches to determine how Christianity would shape the face China is gradually unfolding to the rest of the world. Bracketed with early history and future prospects of Chinese Christianity, the book’s central thesis of Aikman’s observation can be rightly summarized into one sentence that the Christian transformation China is now experiencing, « was and is a native Chinese phenomenon » (266)—a phenomenon will bring a global implication of which none is allowed to be ignorant.
II. Chapter Summary
The first part of the book, consisting of chapter 2 to 3, is basically a brief sketch of the history of Chinese Christianity, ranging from the seventh century Nestorian mission, subsequent missions by the Franciscans and the Jesuits, and latter introduction of Evangelicalism that came hand in hand with Western colonial expansion, to the indigenous ‘patriarchs’ of twentieth century Protestant church leaders, such as Wang Mingdao (王明道), Allen Yuan (袁相忱), Samuel Lamb (林獻羔), Moses Hsieh (謝模善), and Li Tienen (李天恩).
The fascinating second part comprises chapter 4 to chapter 6. Aikman turns specifically into three of the five most representative house church networks (FangCheng [方城], TangHe [唐河] aka China Evangelical Fellowship [中華福音團契], World of Life [重生派], all three are in Henan [河南]province. The other 2 networks in Anhui [安徽]province did not receive fair coverage) with biographical sketches of their key leaders. Persecution, miraculous healing, and amazing conversion testimonies along with the explosive numerical growth of these churches all are so reminiscent of the first century apostolic church. The Holy Spirit has never stopped working in history.
Chapter 7 and 8 are dedicated to the development of TSPM, which is the ‘State church’ instituted by the ruling communist party. The founding fathers of Three Self theology, Wu Yaozong (吳耀宗) and Bishop Ding Guangxun (丁光訓), have also been addressed at length. Chapter 9 features Wenzhou’s (溫州) house church, which is essentially a different structural type from that of Henan’s (河南) network. Other ‘peripheral movements’, such as the ‘Back to Jerusalem’ movement, Chinese Catholic Church, cultic religions of Falungoon (法輪功) and Eastern Lightening (東方閃電), miscellaneous individual professionals making contextualizing efforts , and foreigners doing clandestine mission work as tent-makers are treated respectively through chapter 10 to 14. Here it is not difficult for one to detect that Aikman has a better grasp of foreigners’ missionary activity than that of indigenous movements— the latter has for some reasons been confined to second-hand source/hearsays and within the limited range of his contacts.
The author’s conclusion in chapter 15 takes into consideration the trends of China’s surging economy and the changing political structure in recent decades. He is very positive about the Christian influence over the nation’s overarching political ideology and social ethics. It seems to him that the « benevolent global imperial role » that U.S. has been playing since WWII will be jointly performed by the Christianized China, and both will shares the responsibility in maintaining world justice by acting « wisely, justly, and generously in the international arena » (286).
III. Personal Response
Personally speaking, after reading the depressing story of recent political turmoil documented by Howard French in the West and Central Africa, sharing the hope and promising prospects of Christianity in China has been indeed full of enjoyment. I would wholeheartedly applaud Aikman’s conclusion about the significant implication a ‘Christianized China’ would have on the global scale. However, there are serious flaws in the author’s reasoning steps that he unduly jumps from the socio-political implication of house church growth to the ramification of a Chinese Christendom. First, there is a serious lack of theological education among current and prospective house church leaders. As long as they remain unregistered there would be no way of forming a overarching theological framework (of politics, culture, and religion) that a possible formal dialogue with the power that be would require. Jonathan Chao (趙天恩) used to be among the very few qualified spokespersons for house churches, but he failed to act in a low-profile as an oversea Chinese and in consequence lost his credit to the Chinese government.
Second, there is a competing relationship between house churches and TSPM, not just because of doctrinal differences and House churches’ ‘stealing’ of TSPM’s sheep. That TSPM tends to demonize house churches and still present an obstacle to both the authority’s acceptance of house churches and the ecumenical prospect of harmony among all those under the big umbrella of ‘Christianity’.
Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) as well as his predecessor Jiang Zemin (江澤民) , has so far deemed to be the most benevolent communist ruler toward house churches, but until recently there is still no one except Yu Jianrong (于建嶸) who is committed in the systematic work of providing unbiased account of house churches before the government’s hearing (which is a key for steering, if any, a substantial policy change).
Thirdly, the book tends to flatten the internal diversity among house churches, as there are ‘registered’ house churches, emerging urban churches, ethnic minority churches, to list a few, as well as many ‘small flocks’ that are not represented by the ‘centralized type’ of regional church networks (FangCheng [方城], TangHe [唐河], etc). Some of them depend heavily on foreign resources (which brings discredit on their ‘purity’ as perceived by the government), and some of them are the potential hotbed of heretic cults. Some sort of Chinese equivalent of the ‘Nicene Creed’ should be expected if one really wishes to go so far as to envision a Chinese Christendom.
Lastly, once China has been Christianized (or when full freedom of belief can be obtained), it is dubious if there will remain as strong a religious fervor as it is now in Chinese churches. The answer to this that history gives is « NO »; nor does it favors the idea that the Christendom is the peacemaker. These are all challenging issues that the Chinese Church, though seemingly full of hope now, needs to grapple with in the days to come.
1. The crucial factors that trigger the explosive growth of house church are the miraculous healing and undiluted gospel that come along with persecution from the government office. These fundamentals cannot be legalized and preserved in TSPM. It is not scientific, though. But if the communist cannot give up the idea of controlling religions through scientific criterion, it inevitably reduces theological truth to philosophy/science of religion. Then there can be no divine transcendence in religions.
- Christianity in China – Fox News (news.google.com)
- -China: Major Crackdown Against Christian House Churches (answersforthefaith.com)
- Persecution Of Christians Increases In China And The Middle East (samuelatgilgal.wordpress.com)
- The Chinese Christians and Their Struggles (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- Christians celebrate Christmas against the odds in China (telegraph.co.uk)