Sunday, April 10, 2011

Christianity and Churches in China

Today in Beijing, police detained Chinese Christians who were praying in a public plaza. 

While providing updates via Twitter, Louisa Lim, an NPR Beijing correspondent, sent a tweet capturing the feelings of some of those who were involved:
"I'm not scared" one Christian said before outdoor prayers. Those I saw didn't waver in their hymns, as police w walkie-talkies surrounded.

It is yet another facet of the growing number of people being detained or disappearing in China in an apparent recent crackdown.

I'll take this moment to share a little of what I've seen regarding Christianity in China.  It was never a focus of any of the research I've done. However, over time I've noticed Christianity in a variety of contexts.

Even when interviewing participants for research studies to design better technological services and products for Chinese consumers, I've come across religion - whether seeing a Bible on a person's table or someone telling me how they communicated their religious beliefs (some of my previous research in China was for mobile social networking services).

Any church services I have happened to observe were in Chinese.  This sign helps give a sense of the proportion of Chinese vs English services in a city with a relatively large number of foreigners not fluent in Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin are both Chinese dialects):

sign showing schedule of church services and events with only a few being in English
Sign outside church in Guangzhou

There were other instances of Christianity being openly displayed.  For example, when I was exploring several old villages in Yantou, Zhejiang, I came across this funeral procession:

While appearing traditionally Chinese in many ways, a closer look showed a strong Christian influence:

flags carried in funeral procession with a Christian cross
Flags with Christian cross

some people wear hats with Christian crosses
Hats with Christian cross

The Christian funeral procession was parading through some very public streets and squares.  It was not particularly surprising to see that Yantou had at least 2 larger churches.

One of Yantou's churches

After seeing the procession, I had an interesting conversation with this local shop owner:

lady with young child in a small convenience store

She commented that the older people in the town believe in Buddha while the younger people "believe in science".  However, she had no idea how to characterize those who believe in Jesus.

While religious expression is tightly controlled in China, the visibility of Christian beliefs is one of the many things I was surprised to discover as I've conducted research across China.  While walking in several Chinese cities I've even seen people actively encouraging others passing by their church to come in to participate or watch.  It will be fascinating to see what impact religion plays in China's future.

Below are photos of various churches I've seen across China during the past year or so.  Many of them are in cities not familiar to those outside China.  This is not intended to be representative in any way -- it's just what I've happened to see.  To the best of my knowledge all of the following churches are "alive" in some manner.  I've seen others that are now museums or relics.

Wenzhou, Zhejiang

Two other churches in Wenzhou, Zhejiang

Dali, Yunnan

Inside of church in Dali, Yunnan

Dunhua, Jilin

Luoyang, Henan


Inside of church in Tianjin

Another church in Tianjin

Shangqiu, Henan

Xiapu, Fujian

Inside of church in Xiapu

Jilin, Jilin

Inside of church in Jilin

Anyang, Henan

Chaozhou, Guangdong

Quanzhou, Fujian

Haerbin, Heilongjiang

Guangzhou, Guangdong


  1. Great photos. I,ve walked past the smaller Fujian church a few times. Large christian communities located in Fuzhou's outlying districts.

  2. Thanks! Very interesting to hear about the communities in the Fuzhou region.