Protestant Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in China. In 1949, the number of Protestant Christians was only around 700,000; but by 2000 the official estimate had reached approximately 15 million. Reliable unofficial sources claim at least double this figure, and there are probably many more.
After 1949, missions were forbidden in the PRC, and Premier Zhou Enlai met with Christian leaders in the spring of 1950 to discuss the future of Christianity in China. The meetings resulted in what came to be known as the ‘Christian Manifesto’ (Sanzi gexin xuanyan), which is counted as the starting point for the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).
In 1958, all denominations were abolished after a decision of the TSPM National Committee. The TSPM also led criticism and denunciation campaigns against house churches and other non-TSPM groups and leaders during the 1950s and 1960s. This led to severe conflicts and mistrust between Christians of different groups. The government and the CCP also imposed restrictions on what could be preached and who could be accepted as a pastor or evangelist. Already in the early 1960s, many churches were forcibly closed and used for other purposes, but during the Cultural Revolution religion in general was prohibited. Many Christians were persecuted. All churches were closed or taken over by the authorities, and the TSPM was disbanded. Christians could at best meet in small groups. The churches were again allowed to open in the late 1970s. In October 1980 the third National Christian Conference was held in Nanjing and bishop Ding Guangxun was elected both the chairman of the TSPM and president of the newly established China Christian Council (CCC). The CCC was formed to be a more church-like counterpart to the TSPM and to deal with theological matters and questions more directly related to church life.
Both house churches and the TSPM have experienced a strong revival during the 1980s and 1990s, and the growth in the number of Christians has been enormous. The majority of Protestants in the PRC live in the countryside and have a low level of education. They often have an evangelical and biblical faith in contrast to leading persons in the TSPM and the CCG who frequently represent a more liberal theology. In the countryside, faith healing is an important factor in the quick growth (see faith healing (Christian)) Relations between the TSPM, the CCC and the house churches have improved on local levels but mistrust still exists on the national level.
One problem for all Christians in China is the lack of educated pastors and evangelists to take care of all new believers, leading to a rise of pseudo-Christian sects. Theological education thus became the focus of attention in the 1990s, and the house churches also set up training centres around the country. In 2000 there were eighteen official Protestant theological seminaries in the PRC, of which five were regional and one, Jinling Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing, was national.
The period after 1980 can be divided in three stages for the Church in China. First, the period of formation with building and re-opening of churches; second, training of pastors and evangelists, which is still going on. The third stage is that of raising the level of theological education where the goal is a contextualized Chinese theology.
See also: house churches
Bays, Daniel (2003). ‘Chinese Protestant Christianity Today’. In Daniel Overmyer (ed.), Religion in China Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 182–98.
Chan, Kim-kwong and Hunter, Alan (1993). Protestantism in Contemporary China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kupfer, Kristin (2002/2003). ‘Christlich inspirierte, spirituell-religiöse Gruppierungen in der VR China seit 1979, 1–4’. China heute 21.4–5:119–127; 21.6:169–75; 22.1–2:27–32; 22.3:81–3.
Malek, R. (ed.) (1996). Fallbeispiel’ China: ökumenische Beiträge zu Religion, Theologie, und Kirche im chinesischen Kontext. Sankt Augustin: China-Zentrum.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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