Culture Christians

The ‘Cultural Christians’ are a uniquely Chinese phenomenon. They are a product of China’s re-engagement with the world, of her renewed intellectual, academic and cultural curiosity, and of Christianity’s enduring relevance to those seeking to map out China’s future.

There is a renewed curiosity among many academics and intellectuals in China concerning the moral, ethical and cultural implications of Christianity for the second stage of the ‘Chinese Enlightenment’. As China’s economic reform has progressed with its concomitant social dislocation, so intellectuals have begun to return to the problems of the May Fourth era (1919 onwards) when a young generation of Chinese intellectuals attempted to reshape Chinese culture in the light of their interest in science and democracy. During that era, Christianity was largely seen as an invasive foreign entity at odds with a Chinese cultural essence. However, following a straitjacket of Maoist scientific-socialism, when traditional Chinese culture, particularly its religious aspects, were largely destroyed, many in a new generation of Chinese intellectuals are being attracted to aspects of Christian culture.

Most of these intellectuals – students and scholars – are not particularly interested in denominational, mainstream Christianity. They do not attend church or necessarily observe Christian rituals, devotions or disciplines. They see the Christian pursuit as essentially personal, one which they can complete on their own terms. One of their best known and earliest exponents is Liu Xiaofeng has written extensively on the implications of Christian beliefs for Chinese culture and history.

At a time when interest among students in Christianity is very high, most are getting their information about Christianity from books, lessons and academic research rather than from churches or friends. In a survey by Renmin University in 2004, two thirds responded that they were ‘interested in Christianity’. An even larger majority of students thought that understanding Christianity could help Chinese culture, their understanding of the world, and the interchange between East and West.


Chinese art

Further reading

  • Edmond Tang, ‘The Changing Landscape of Chinese Christianity’, China Study Journal, Spring/Summer 2008.
  • Yeung Heenam, et al, eds. Cultural Christians, (ISCS, Hong Kong: 2006)
  • Li Pingye, ‘A Preliminary Analysis of Contemporary Chinese Intellectuals toward Christianity’, China Study Journal, (December 1994)
© Churches Together in Britain and Ireland 2010