Under-reported: The growth of Christianity in China
A couple kiss in front of a church in Xinjiang County, north China's Shanxi Province. (Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA/PA Images)   

The Church in China
The Chinese government’s official statistics suggest less than thirty million of their citizens identify as Christian but independent estimates (noted in the Financial Times) put the growing size of China’s Church at over 100 million.

Writing for UnHerd earlier this year, Jonathan Aitken noted that some estimates suggest there’ll be more Christians in China than in the USA within 15 years.

In that same article he reported fears that Christians in the communist state can expect a decade of “difficulties and harassment” as part of President Xi’s wider authoritarianism – an authoritarianism outlined by Ben Rogers.

It’s just a hunch but I suspect that the most under-reported phenomenon of 2017 as far as religion is concerned is something that the western press still finds it all but impossible to find a way into: the continued rise of Christianity in China.

The new BBC report on religion (reviewed here by Katie Harrison) begins by quoting a 2015 Pew Survey that predicts an increase in global religious affiliation from 84% to over 90% in the next decade. This, they argue, is why Auntie must continue to do God. And their reasoning is correct. Much of this growth is expected in China.

In the twentieth century the centre of gravity of world Christianity shifted from Europe to Africa. In the twenty-first it may well shift again to China. But the nervousness of the Chinese state about religion is such that reporting on this subject continues to be difficult. And too many Europeans don’t care enough, still kidding themselves that religion doesn’t matter – that it’s a thing of the past.

After a period of relative liberalisation, 2017 saw Communist president Xi Jinping forcing the Chinese poor to take down their pictures of Jesus and to replace them with pictures of him instead. This feels like a movement back towards the imposed atheism of the Cultural Revolution but also an indication of the continued rise of Christianity and the threat that it is perceived to offer to the Communist state.

Christianity making it in China would be the equivalent of a UK band making it in America. Jesuit missionaries tried to break into China in the 16th century. But ultimately, they failed to make it big. It would be change on a world-historical scale if that’s really what was quietly happening now.

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Introduction to this Under-reported series.

Summary guide to all under-reported articles in this series.