Speaking about the Three Self Patriotic Chinese Christian
In response to Marc (who wrote in #189 “What Does It Mean to Chinese”)
“However, the reason that I brought up house church vs. Three-Self church initially has a lot to do with nationalism. You see, Three-Self church was started by some nationalistic Chinese Christians in the early 1900’s (way before communist took over power in China). Hence they called themselves Three-Self (meaning self-governing, self teaching, self supporting). They hated Western Christians in China then. They teamed up with communist government later in the 1950’s to start persecuting other Chinese Christians who didn’t see things their way. That’s when house church Christians started to emerge. Anyway, the whole conflict started out with nationalism.”
I am glad that you put Christianity in China in historical perspectives, but your interpretion of important, complicated historical events is a bit oversimplified and biased. Still, you are right, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was initiated by patriotic Chinese Christians and endorsed by the government, not “created” by the government as the PBS article claims to be (http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/china_705/history/china.html, a companion piece to Frontline/World Jesus in China).
That article appears to be a typically one-sided western interpretation of history of Christianity in China. For instance, when it says that the government “expelled missionaries and forbade interference from the Vatican,” it fails to mention Catholic missionaries’ unlawful activities interfering with the process leading to the founding of the PRC, the very reason for which they were expelled. As to how the government subjects Christians to “state monitoring and restrictions involving personnel, preaching topics and congregational composition,” the article again conveniently ignores UNDER WHAT SOCIO-POLITICAL and HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCE that such restrictions/ regulation were required, and WHAT WERE generally ALLOWED to ordinary Christians despite those restrictions.
I am no expert on the subject but according to the little I know from reading a couple of books on the subject (both Chinese and western authors), it WAS NOT until after the two Opium Wars in the latter part of the nineteenth century that Christianity began to grow and take root in China although the first missionaries had arrived in China in the seventh century. Why? It was largely due to the Unequal Treaties forced on the Qing government after its defeat — a Clause of Tolerance gave privileges to the churches run by the Christian missionaries from the victorious western nations.
One of these privileges granting western churches the rights and power to act ABOVE local authorities/ to be exempted from laws was a crucial factor causing violent civil/religious conflicts between Christians and non-believers and between different Christian factions/clans. Such conflicts were commonly called 教案风潮, which brought havoc to society (some were brutal massacres) in the late Qing and early Republic. Almost invariably there were social, cultural, economic and political root causes behind these ruptures and disturbances given how backward China was as a semi-feudal and semi-colonized county plus the plague of natural disasters at the late nineteenth century. The activities of the unequal treaty empowered western church undoubtedly aggravated the antagonism already deeply embedded in society which in part led to the outburst of famous/infamous Boxer Rebellion from 1899-1901 (for some the irrationality/xenophobia/anti-imperialist nationalism of the event was still like a specter hovering over modern china).
The significance and legitimacy of the Three Self as an indigenous Chinese Christian movement both before and after 1949 must be viewed within this historical context. I see nothing wrong with Chinese Christian being nationalistic, especially when China was encroached and bullied by foreign powers, and when Japan invaded China, and when PRC was just born and threatened by hostile western powers. Sun Zhongshan was a nationalistic Chinese Christian; contributions made by heroic Christians during the war against Japan and for a better China were acknowledged by both the CCP and GMD. And the Three Self was by no means a unique Chinese phenomenon. If we can appreciate the indigenous religious movements in other countries acting against the absolute power held by authorities such as Roma, why should we be so harsh on the Three Self Patriotic?
You worte that the Three Self Chinese Christian “hated Western Christians in China then.” The person who initiated the Three Self was said to be a devoted believer brought up and educated in western missionary trainings and the mission he pursued was essentially in line with Christianity. It’s possible they hated certain things done by the western Christian or by westerners in the name of Christianity. I read somewhere, for instance, that the western missionaries/ Jesuits acted as interpreters and guides on the western gunboats during the Opium War; surely they were doing that for their own “national interests” rather than “saving” China. I wonder it they were called “patriotic” Christians/Catholics.
As far as I know, there are decent Three Self Patriotic Chinese Christians just as devoted to their Christian faith as Christians from some house churches, and they do not team up with government and persecute “other Chinese Christians who didn’t see things their way” all the time. And many of the social good they do and religious autonomy they achieve are through difficult negotiations with the government’s Minister of Religious Affairs, too.
There is no denying that as a part of western culture and civilization the encroachment of Christianity brought benefits to China’s modernization (the building of missionary schools, hospitals, newspapers…), that people’s continuing worship of this religion may positively contribute to the building up of a civil society. There is also no denying that the Three Self Patriotic as a government endorsed religious organization at times is overly propagandist and the abuse of power could have caused the long time animosity and sporadically persecution of the house churches.
Nonetheless, I do not believe that history will render the function of the Three Self obsolete any time soon (as some liberal rightist scholars predicted, although I do believe in time the government will relax its control), not only because it has significantly facilitated in past three decades and is still facilitating the booming of Christianity in China, but also because (despite unfortunate incidents of wrongly persecution of the innocent) the form of governmental supervision has helped preventing possible social instability instigated by certain groups with various harmful religious, social, cultural or political agendas such as the “Lighting from the East”( http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,181681,00.html). I am in full agreement with Oli’s forceful argument on the conditions of religious freedom in China from a previous thread http://blog4china.org/2008/06/25/on-china-and-religion/).
Now even some western Christian missionaries learned good history lessons to show certain degree of respect to PRC’s religious laws and regulation when perusing their mission in China by Working with the Communists(http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=9922). And their experience has been a rewarding one.
Besides Jesus in China by PBS, China’s Leap of Faith (http://www.cnw.ca/fr/releases/archive/June2008/30/c9032.html), a two-part documentary for Vision TV made by the award-winning Toronto-based Cogent/Benger Productions, which “examines both the impact of this spiritual rebirth, and the government’s continued efforts to control religious faith,” will air on Tuesday July 22 and Wednesday July 23 at 9 p.m. and Midnight ET / 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. PT.
PS. I am no Marxist but I’d like to point out that a wonderful comment he made on the nature of religion has not been properly appreciated.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people” (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).
It seems everyone quotes the “opium” part (for which Marx must have been resented by all religious people) without knowing that the rest of the paragraph, an extremely insightful and sympathetic view, even exists. And opium does not necessarily always have harmful effect: It depends on the condition of the person who uses it. But the pain/misery relief function of the opium is nonetheless temporary and it does not cure.
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