"More Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe"

The BBC reports on the phenomeon of the swiftly growing Christian churches in China:

It is impossible to say how many Christians there are in China today, but no-one denies the numbers are exploding.


The government says 25 million, 18 million Protestants and six million Catholics. Independent estimates all agree this is a vast underestimate. A conservative figure is 60 million. There are already more Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe.

The new converts can be found from peasants in the remote rural villages to the sophisticated young middle class in the booming cities.

The report touches on the structure of the Catholic Church in China, which operates in both state sanctioned churches as well as underground house churches:

Protestants and Catholics are both divided into official and unofficial Churches.

The officially sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association appoints its own bishops and is not allowed to have any dealings with the Vatican, though Catholics are allowed to recognise the spiritual authority of the Pope.

There is a larger Catholic underground church, supported by the Vatican. Inch by inch, the Vatican and the government have been moving towards accommodation. Most bishops are now recognised by both, with neither side admitting the greater sovereignty of the other.

Yet in the past few months, the Chinese government has again turned tough, ordaining its bishops in the teeth of opposition from the Vatican which has in turn excommunicated one of them.

Even so, it would be wrong simply to dismiss the official church as a sham.

In the mountains West of Beijing, I visited the village of Hou Sangyu where a Catholic Church has stood since the 14th Century.

The tough faith of these old people had withstood the Japanese invasion and the Cultural Revolution. The village clinic was run by nuns, one from Inner Mongolia, a Catholic stronghold.

It is from such villages that the Catholic Church recruits its young ordinands, to undertake training for the priesthood.

Read the full BBC article here, and check out some articles from the America archive about the subject herehere, and here

Michael J. O'Loughlin


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Nicholas Clifford
7 years ago
I'm not up enough on religion in China to say  much. But as a number of people have pointed out, Mao Zedong was reasonably successful in destroying much of the Confucian tradition (feudal, the Maosts called it) and markedly unsuccessful in replacing it with "socialist ethics." That has left much of China with both a spiritual and a moral vacuum, despite government efforts today to promote the same Confuciansm that Mao railed against. Christianity (and various kinds of Buddhism) are seen by many, I imagine, as way of filling this vacuum.
One question that might concern Catholics, of course, is why the Protestant Churches are growing so much faster than the Catholic Church. Do the Protestants have anything to teach us? (or we them, for that matter?) This question, I think, goes much deeper than simply the squabbles over the choice of bishops, or Beijing's view of Rome as a western imperialist power, important as those aspects might be.
Richard Madsden (a former Maryknoll missionary) did an interesting book a few years ago on Catholicism in China (pub. by the U. of Cal. Press)
7 years ago
David, be careful who you call superfivial.
We should all be careful about Mass attendance being THE marker of faith.
IRTM that the dynamics of what has is and is going to happen in Europe has yet to play out and ther eneeds t obe a lot more specificity in evryone thinking about it.
Craig McKee
7 years ago
Having taught English in mainland China for two years before the Beijing Olympics, when China was working overtime to FARE UNA BELLA FIGURA to the world, as the Italians say, I came to develop a genuine lack of respect for so many of the PROTESTANT sects who used and continue to use the Ministry of Education as a pretext to place and support their missionaries masquerading as English teachers and their proselytizing -in direct clandestine violation of the contracts they sign with their schools. They can say what they want about us Catholics, but we support our own missionaries!


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