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China's "Prominent Christians" a Prosopographical Analysis of the Biographical Dictionary of Republican China

David Lindenfeld


     According to some estimates, China is currently the world's fifth largest Christian country, although her 60-70 million Christians comprise only between 5 and 6% of her total population.1 This is all the more remarkable in light of the ambivalent and sometimes tempestuous relationship that has obtained between China and Christianity since the Opium War of the 1840s. At times, many Chinese were hostile to Christianity, identifying it with Western missionaries and hence with western imperialism (despite the presence of a minority of indigenous Christians stemming from previous missionary efforts during the Ming and early Qing dynasties); at the same time, during the late years of the monarchy and during the Republic, Chinese looked to missionaries as sources of Western knowledge, which put a premium on Christian schools and colleges, particularly as places to learn English. The history of Chinese-Christian relations since the advent of the People's Republic has recapitulated this story, with strict regulation of churches combined with harsh anti-foreign reactions in the 1950s and 60s, followed by the opening up of China to Western markets and ideas. This has led to a renewed interest on the part of Chinese scholars in the role of the colleges as agents of modernization--and to a fruitful exchange with American scholars.2 The fact that the Christian colleges were funded and in part administered by Americans made the subject a matter of common interest on both sides of the Pacific, and provide a vivid illustration of the promises and problems of cross-cultural educational interactions.

     One issue that has stirred discussion, both in the Republican period and in recent historiography, is that of secularization: to what extent did Christian colleges retain a distinctively Christian identity and message, or did they largely become funnels for the channeling of western secular subjects in China? Given the evangelical motives of most missionaries, this question continued to be debated in Christian circles in the 1920s and 1930s.3 It was undeniable that, as English became increasingly the language of instruction and the colleges catered to the urban bourgeoisie of the port cities, the student population in the larger urban schools shifted away from being predominantly Christian.4 Add to this the increasing controls set by the government in response to anti-Christian sentiment in the population in the 1920s. After 1929, courses in religion could no longer be required of students according to government decree.5 By the 1930s, observers were noting that there was little difference between the views of students in Christian and non-Christian universities.6 Nevertheless, the desire to maintain a distinctive profile led some of the colleges to highlight the academic study of religion as part of the curriculum (rather than evangelistic courses in Christianity), and to emphasize "character formation" as part of the college mission.7 Certainly these responses illustrate a larger picture: both Chinese and foreign Christians were aware of the pressures and suspicions directed against their religion and responded to these in innovative ways.

     Most of the research on this issue has been conducted at the level of institutions: the administration and curriculum of the Christian schools and colleges. This leaves open the question, however, of how these tensions and responses were experienced by Chinese Christians themselves. Was there anything distinctive in how they responded to the turbulent revolutionary tides of Republican China when compared with their secular counterparts? One available tool for answering such questions is the biographical dictionary. Such works have the advantage of offering the comparative perspective that single biographies do not always provide. Furthermore, taken as a whole, such dictionaries provide a composite picture of a society or an era by allowing the reader to see networks of personal relationships that might easily be left out of a more conventional type of narrative. This is the case with the Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, consisting of four volumes and 592 entries, published by the Columbia University Press between 1967 and 1971 under the editorship of Howard Boorman. This particular dictionary differs, however, from many other examples of the genre in that it deals with the recent past, within the living memory of its contributors. This brings with it certain advantages and certain limitations. On the one hand, it is able to convey intimate firsthand knowledge of its subjects, based on personal knowledge; indeed, Boorman's stated purpose was "to capture and preserve knowledge about twentieth-century China before many of its sources, particularly the oral sources, disappear."8 As a consequence, all the entries were unsigned to preserve discretion. On the other hand, the work reflected the peculiarities of its time—the close ties between the United States and Nationalist China and the Cold War. Boorman himself had served in the navy during World War II and in the State Department thereafter, working under the "old China hand" O. Edmund Clubb, who had been relieved of his post and was subject to questioning during the McCarthy years.9 Clubb then turned to academic pursuits and collaborated on the Dictionary. One can detect some biases in the work: as one reviewer pointed out, the more corrupt aspects of Chiang Kai-shek's regime were soft-pedaled.10 Nevertheless, the limitations that resulted from the Cold War perspective were mostly not of a blatantly ideological nature—most of the contributors were scholars, not ex-diplomats. Prominent communist leaders were included with 114 entries (19% of the total), compared to 152 associated with the Guomindang; there were also 19 subjects (3.2%) who supported democracy, opposing the authoritarian Chiang Kai-shek regime. The Cold War perspective makes itself felt rather in the criteria of selection. More than half the subjects were in politics, military, diplomacy or administration; intellectuals, such as scholars, journalists, propagandists, made up 28.6%; those in the arts comprised 10.8%; professions such as doctors, jurists, and clergy amounted to 7% and business only 6.2%--a surprising number in the light of the growing prestige of the merchant class since the late nineteenth century. Boorman himself lumped the latter three categories under the heading of "socioeconomic developments."11 Nevertheless, the Dictionary provided a rich source of information at a time when access to China was limited, and Chinese politics was becoming even more inscrutable due to the Cultural Revolution.

     Several general features of the biographies should be noted. First, to have achieved sufficient prominence to be included in such a dictionary meant that one was almost certain to have been born and raised in late imperial China. In fact, over half of the 592 individuals were born before 1890, meaning that their educational experience was quite likely to be shaped by the classical system and the civil service exams, which continued to 1905. Fully 82% were born before the turn of the century, so that for many, their student years were likely to be already past by the time of the May Fourth Movement in 1919. Thus the Dictionary is less illuminating on the impact of educational institutions, Christian or otherwise, during the 1920s and 30s than for the first two decades of the twentieth century.

     Second, a most striking feature of those selected is their cosmopolitan quality. Fully 48%% of the total subjects studied abroad—18% in Japan, 17% in the US, and 15% in Europe (not including Russia, which hosted an additional 4.4% of the subjects of communist persuasion). Even more striking is the number of the biographical subjects who traveled abroad, whether for educational purposes or not—a total of 76%! This overall picture should not be surprising in the light of the Imperial government's policy after the abolition of the civil service exams. Y. C. Wang's claim that "thereafter study abroad became the shortest route to officialdom" is amply born out by the Dictionary.12 China had already adopted the Japanese model of elementary and secondary education by this time, although this was to give way to increasing American influence, thanks in large part to the US's remittance of the Boxer indemnity fund back to China to help send students to America. This influence culminated in the Chinese reforms of the early 1920s, which reflected the ideals of American progressive education.13 In addition, a few Chinese studying in France in 1912 developed a work-study program for workers from the more remote western provinces to go to that country. By 1920 almost 2000 Chinese were availing themselves of this program, including many who became prominent communists.14 As for foreign travel later in life, this could be for a variety of reasons—a quick tour of Europe or a sojourn in Japan, for example, was a convenient way of escaping possible assassination if one was on the losing side of a clash with a warlord. Most of the communists spent some time in the Soviet Union in the 20s and 30s, and those who survived in top positions in the PRC often represented their government in international communist meetings in Eastern Europe.

     A third general feature of the selection is that, although cosmopolitan, it was not necessarily plutocratic. A reading of these biographies convinces one that China was anything but socially static in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At least 8.6% of the biographical subjects came from families described as "poor", illustrating both upward and downward mobility. In some cases, the biographies illustrate the real opportunities that the educational system offered, even under the late Qing. In others, poverty was due to merchants having lost their fortunes (in the Taiping Rebellion, for example), or to fathers dying early, leaving their families in financial straits. There was much geographical mobility as well. Officials, for example, were regularly assigned to regions other than their ancestral province, causing families and children to move a great deal. All of this contributed to a very fluid educational picture, with people attending whatever school happened to be available and dropping out as their circumstances changed. Mission schools and colleges played an important and often pioneering role in these developments, but not an exclusive one: after 1902, the number of government schools increased sharply as well.15

     All of these features bear on the portrayal of Chinese Christians in the Dictionary. Paradoxically, there were a number of prominent Christians not included in it, as their credentials were apparently not worthy in the eyes of the editors. These had a Pentecostal or messianic orientation and proved to be quite influential in the Republican period and beyond. Much of the popularity of Christianity in China today may be traced back to movements like these. Daniel H. Bays pointed out the relative scholarly neglect of these figures and their movements fifteen years ago, but they are the subject of an excellent new study by Lian Xi (Redeemed by Fire. The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China) which appeared in 2010.16 These movements and their leaders were largely opposed to the influence of Western missionaries and the Chinese Christians in the mainline churches.

     In addition, it should be said that the aim of the Dictionary was not completeness but representativeness, leading to the omission even of some prominent Christians who were Western-educated.17 Boorman confessed as much when he stated that the original number of entries was to be around 800, but was then halved and later increased to around 600.18 Finally, I discovered, in addition to the 61 subjects who are identified in the Dictionary as Christians, four others whose Christianity had escaped the notice of the biographers.19 This in itself is significant, indicating that a number of Chinese Christians preferred to keep quiet about their religious convictions, a pattern which persisted into the People's Republic as well.20 In any case, the total number amounts to slightly more than 10% of the entries—well in excess of the portion of Christians in the total Chinese population, which was less than 1% during the Republic--suggesting again the influence that Christians played in the Western-oriented sector of Chinese society.

     For all its limitations, the Dictionary still constitutes an invaluable source, primarily because of the depth and detail of its biographies.21 I was able to extract the following variables from the individual entries: gender, date of birth, family background, ancestral province, lower education, higher education, foreign travel, career, political affiliation, religious or ideological affiliation, date of death or, if after 1949, country of residence. I believe these data can shed light on three questions, which I will address here: 1) What were shared characteristics of prominent Chinese Christians, as defined by the Dictionary? 2) How did these characteristics compare with individuals of other religious or ideological orientations? 3) What qualitative patterns of change emerge within the biographies of these individuals, and how did they reflect the turbulent revolutionary times in which they lived?

     Of the 65 biographies identified as Christian, 10 were Catholic, the rest Protestant. 12% were women, 3 times higher than the percentage of women in the Dictionary as a whole, reflecting the pioneering role which Christian schools and colleges played in the education of women.22 Significantly, 25 were 2nd generation Christians or more, about 2/5 of the total. Many of these came from clerical families—this represented 20% of the Christian biographies compared to 2.5% for the whole, And relatively many chose to become clergy—21% compared to 3.8% for the whole (about half of these came from clerical families, half did not). As one might expect, fewer came from scholar/official backgrounds—17% as opposed to 25% for the whole. Their geographical distribution lends support to the accepted view that they were largely a part of the coastal economy and culture—69% of them came from eastern provinces that bordered the sea, compared to 55% for the whole. Educationally, the numbers mirror the fluid situation that existed in late Qing and early Republican China: while 54% attended a mission school at some point (including some overseas), 41.5% received a classical education. But 18% attended both types of schools at different times, while 17% went to modern non-Christian schools. As for higher education, 53.8% of them attended a Christian college at some point in their educational odysseys, and 60% studied in the United States—far in excess of the percentage for the whole (17%). Christian students in Japan were correspondingly rarer, 9.2%, about half the percentage for the whole (18%). Those going to Europe were the same, about 14% in both cases. Nevertheless, more than half the Christians got to Europe at some point in their lives, 23% traveled to Japan, and 94% traveled somewhere abroad. With respect to careers, the most striking finding is that while half of the total entries were in politics, administration, and/or the military, only 35% of the Christians were, with corresponding overrepresention in the professional field (counting clergy). The figures for Christian intellectuals were representative of the whole: 29 and 28% respectively. 9% were involved in business, as compared to 6% for the whole. Politically, 31% of the Christians supported the Guomindang or belonged to it, while 3% could be identified as democrats. Only two officially became communists,23 although it is well known that a number of them actively cooperated with the PRC government in the early 1950s. In fact, 24.5% remained on the mainland after 1949, compared to 15.4% who went to Taiwan or 20.9% to the US—though this should by no means be construed as cooperation with the regime in all cases.24 32% had died by 1949, including two by assassination (both in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation). This was relatively mild compared to the death figures for the whole, of whom 20 were assassinated, 26 more were executed after arrest, 2 died in prison and 2 committed suicide—all of which gives a vivid picture of what political life was like in Republican China.

     If Republican China was a violent place, it was also the scene of intense intellectual and cultural experimentation, particularly in the 1920s, as young educated Chinese sought to come to terms with Western science, philosophy, and literature. Just as in the French Enlightenment of the 18th century, one aspect of this process was a widespread revulsion against religion in general as irrational and superstitious. This combined with a more specific opposition to Christianity, particularly insofar as it was represented by foreign missionaries and remained a required subject in missionary schools. This all came to a head in 1922 when an international meeting of Christian students was held in Beijing, prompting a vocal anti-Christian counter-movement. Although it died down rather quickly, some of China's most prominent western-educated intellectuals, such as Hu Shih, embraced it, and there were several similar flare-ups in the years following. Naturally the growing communist movement fed off of these sentiments and contributed to their intensity.25

     These trends are of course represented in the Biographical Dictionary, although not in ways that are easily quantifiable. While it is possible to identify a few subjects as embracing an explicitly secular ideology—apart from the 114 communists—slightly more than half of the biographies—313 to be exact—give no clear indication of what the subjects' religious or ideological beliefs were, although I think it is safe to assume that a good number of them could be described as "secular". What we can do, however, is compare this unknown group to the known 65 Christians to see if the latter stood out in any way. Some interesting results emerge. The "unknowns" were twice as likely to come from families of scholar/officials—29% as opposed to 17%. Geographically, they were still weighted towards the eastern provinces, though not as heavily as the Christians. In terms of lower education, once one allows for the greater number of Christians attending mission schools, the groups are not as different as one might expect: the figures for classical instruction are almost the same--42.4% for the unknowns as compared to 41.5% for the Christians, and roughly 16-17% of both went to modern non-mission schools. In higher education, many fewer of the unknowns went to the United States, but many more went to Japan, stayed in China, or had no higher education at all (13.6%). 7.3% of them attended Christian colleges, and, again, about the same percentages studied in Europe (14%). The unknowns were somewhat less likely to be world travelers, but still registered a hefty 72%. Career-wise, aside from not being clergy, the unknowns were more likely to be in politics (52%), although the top figures such as Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-shek were Christians. Otherwise, the percentages in intellectual and business pursuits are rather close: 29-33% in both groups for intellectuals, 7-9% for business. Unknowns were almost twice as likely to be in the arts—11% compared with 6% for the Christians. Politically also, the proportions of Guomindang and democrats are quite close, the major difference being that many more Christians have no affiliation. Perhaps most interesting of all are the patterns of residence post-49. While many more Christians moved to the US, about the same percentages remained in the People's Republic: 24.5 and 23% respectively. I would conclude that the differences between the prominent Chinese Christians and their allegedly non-religious counterparts were not as great as one might expect.

     The intellectual experimentation I mentioned earlier also embraced attempts to revitalize Buddhism and Confucianism. In a 1922 collection of essays entitled China To-Day Through Chinese Eyes, the unnamed editor observes both that religion is at a low ebb, and also that "half a dozen new journals have come into existence within the last few years in Buddhism alone. . .School girls and educated men in the prime of life have left their schools and their occupations and joined the ascetic life of Buddhism. The attempt to reorganize Confucianism into a religious church, although it has met with much opposition, is yet gaining adherents in many quarters."26 A small number of officials and intellectuals actually advocated the worship of Confucius as a means of cementing loyalty to the new republic, although this was vigorously opposed both by Christians and secular intellectuals.27 In any event, the Dictionary lists 24 subjects as either self-proclaimed Buddhists or as having engaged intensely with it at some period in their lives, and 18 more as either Confucians or promoting Confucian values, plus 5 who practiced some combination of the two. As one might expect, more of these came from scholar/official families and received classical educations than did the Christians. And as one might also expect, the Confucians were likely to be older: 37.5% of them were born in the 1850s, compared to 3% of the whole. And while America served as a magnet for Chinese Christians, Japan served the same functions for Chinese Buddhists, both for study and travel. The Confucians were least likely to go abroad for higher education—only 39% did—but 67% traveled abroad at some point in their lives, as did 78% of the Buddhists. A reading of the Buddhist biographies reveals a split pattern: while 7 turned to Buddhism as an alternative to an active life, such as in retirement or in prison, 15 remained engaged in such activities as politics (such as the 13th Dalai Lama), the military, or religious reform—there are roughly the same percentage of clergy as in the Christian entries. There are also several Buddhist entrepreneurs, including one manufacturer of cigarettes. Of the 18 Confucians, seven supported the restoration of the monarchy in some form and at some point, including Yuan Shih-kai, who actually tried it. But three supported democracy, opposing the authoritarianism of the Chiang Kai-shek regime. An even greater number—ten, to be exact—were engaged with Western thought in one way or another, such as writing books in English explaining Confucianism, or finding similarities with such Western thinkers as Herbert Spencer, Henri Bergson, and Thomas Jefferson.28 In this respect, they shared similar concerns with the Christians. Buddhists, on the other hand, were somewhat less likely to be engaged with Western cultural trends—from my reading, only 8 of the 23 clearly did so.

     Finally, what do the biographies tell us about how Chinese Christians responded to the changes going on around them? The first thing to be said is that many remained steadfast in their beliefs and commitments (including in some cases commitment to the Chiang Kai-shek regime). I would judge that about half of the biographies fall into this category, including most of the second-plus generation Christians. Of those who changed, one major aspect of their biographies was likely to be the conversion itself. Of the 36 converts, 12 mention the influence of an individual missionary or an institution such as a school or the YMCA. There were three deathbed conversions and two when specific prayers were answered. Here the most significant finding, however, is that 16 of the conversions--almost half—occurred in the second decade of the 20th century, coinciding more or less with the first decade of the new republic. There were a number of signs that Christianity achieved a more favorable reception in those years than in the decades preceding or following. The American evangelist John R. Mott was preaching to crowds of 2000 in his tour of China in 1913. By 1920, the YMCA had 46,000 members, and Chinese were contributing half a million dollars to it in fees and donations.29 The first president of the Republic, Sun Yat-Sen, proudly and openly proclaimed his Christianity in the first few years of the new state.30 In all these instances, Christianity stood for social reform and improvement on the model of the American social gospel. Equally importantly, missionaries such as Mott were realizing that Chinese Christians themselves were eager and ready to take over these tasks from the foreigners. An enthusiastic student volunteer movement greeted Mott's tour.31

     All this contrasts sharply with the mood of the 1920s. By then, China had suffered several diplomatic defeats, and internal politics had largely degenerated into battles among warlords. Small wonder, then, that missionaries were looked upon increasingly as "running-dogs of imperialism," to use a common Marxist phrase of the time. In the 1922 collection quoted earlier, there were two pieces chiding the missionary churches for failing to transfer money and power into Chinese hands. One of them, by Cheng Jingyi, articulated the demands for autonomy in terms of churches being self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating—the "three self" principle which the communists later took up.32 This mood is reflected in a number of the biographies in the form of a leftward drift: Christians who had been deeply committed to the social agenda, particularly as represented by the Y, came to see the communists as the only party genuinely able to carry them out. Thus the man who drew up the "three self" principles in the new People's Republic of the 1950s, Y.T. Wu, had worked for the Y for over 20 years.33 Of course, these Christians were then subject to the vicissitudes of self-examination, denunciation, and cultural revolution that shook the People's Republic in its first twenty years.

     Another recurrent theme is the attempt to respond to the charges of imperialism by transforming Christianity into an indigenous Chinese movement, adapted to its distinctive culture and circumstances. The Methodist educator Francis C.M. Wei was perhaps most explicit in laying out a four-point program for doing this, including the creation of Christian "cells" or face-to-face groups, small enough to meet in the home, anticipating perhaps the house Christians of today.34 Part of this effort, for Wei and others, was to come to terms with Confucian traditions—an initiative that came from the Christian side as well as the Confucian. One finds, however, that different Christians could read different things into Confucianism, depending on their own predilections. For Wei, the Confucian emphasis on morality and social solidarity had exercised a moderating influence on religious doctrines in China's past; the face-to-face group was a way of accommodating Christianity to these social influences.35 He also believed that Confucian culture would make it easy for Chinese to understand certain Christian ideas, such as the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, although the notion of a personal relationship with God would be more difficult to assimilate.36

     Another approach could be found among certain warlords who acted according to Confucian precepts but who found Christianity to be advantageous to their purposes. The so-called "Christian general" Feng Yuxiang and others were impressed by the values of Christians as expressed in their practices which tended towards asceticism—their high standards of moral behavior, their avoidance of opium, for example. This led to a training program described in the Dictionary as "a combination of Christian and traditional Chinese values which stressed the individual's moral obligations to society, to himself, and to God."37 It included regular prayer meetings and Bible classes. This of course was not incompatible with the warlords' more worldly motives, such as winning legitimacy from the European powers. The same might be said of Chiang Kai-shek, who converted to Christianity under the influence of his wife, but, according to his wife's biographer, "remained a Confucian in the depths of his soul."38

     The well-known saga of the Soong family, which included the wives of both Sun Yatsen and Chiang Kai-shek, recapitulates many these themes. The father, Charlie Soong, converted to Methodism thanks to an American ship's captain who arranged to send him to college in the United States. Returning as a missionary, Charlie soon quit because the pay was inadequate for raising a family, and because he was "treated more like a servant than a colleague" by the Americans. He went on to become a highly successful businessman.39 Charlie had meanwhile learned the art of marrying well--his wife was a descendent of a high-ranking scholar/official of the Ming Dynasty—as did his daughters. One of them, Madame Sun, exemplified the leftward drift, largely opposing the Guomindang rule and becoming allied to the communists following her husband's death, while Madame Chiang promoted the marriage of Christian and authoritarian Confucian values in her husband. It would be easy to dismiss this Christian allegiance as mere opportunistic façade for an often brutal, self-aggrandizing regime, but this would leave some things unexplained. In 1938, daily Bible reading was still a part of the couple's morning routine.40 In 1942, Madame Chiang engaged the Catholic John Hu to translate the Psalms and the New Testament, and got the generalissimo to pay him $10,000 a month.41 The arrangement also illustrates the importance of family ties as part of the government: Madame Chiang's brother, T.V. Soong, served as finance minister, alternating with another sister's husband, H.H. Kung (although these two did not get along). By 1943 Chiang's two sons by a previous marriage had been baptized as well.

     Another interpretation of Confucius can be found in a fascinating trajectory that comes up several times in the biographies, namely a spiritual journey from Protestantism to Catholicism. An example was Lu Chengxiang, a second-generation Protestant, whose attendance at a foreign language school landed him in the diplomatic corps and eventually as ambassador to Russia. There he met the Catholic daughter of a Belgian officer whom he married. When she became mortally ill and he became increasingly disillusioned with the moral bankruptcy of international relations, he entered a monastery in Belgium, finding the Benedictine rule to be congruent with Confucian values.42 Another example is the aforementioned John C. H. Wu, a brilliant lawyer who had married in traditional fashion to a woman he had been engaged to at age 6 but had never seen until their wedding day. The following year, in 1917, he converted to Methodism. His foreign travel and worldly interests took his attention away from his wife and family, which meanwhile had grown to 14 children. He was about to take a concubine at age 40 when he discovered the autobiography of St. Theresa of Lisieux which engaged him emotionally as Protestantism never had. It also preserved the family, as all converted and went to church together.43 He viewed Confucius, like other great teachers as "pedagogues to lead men to Christ."44

     A more ambivalent relationship to Confucianism is found in another trajectory, that of Lin Yutang, which nicely encapsulates the tension between religious and secular worldviews we have been tracking. His autobiography bears the title From Pagan to Christian. Despite the name, however, Lin was born a third generation Presbyterian, raised in a protected and somewhat austere environment and educated in mission schools—all of which cut him off from the richness of Chinese learning. His discovery of this fact led him to renounce Christianity and immerse himself in that learning and in the secular world of the early Republic. After returning from study in the US, France, and Germany, he became identified with a liberal, non-political position, editing a periodical with contributions both from the right and the left. As this position became more difficult to maintain in the 1930s, he moved to the United States (with the help of the American publisher Richard Walsh and his wife, Pearl Buck) and began writing prolifically in English. He soon became the best-known native interpreter of Chinese thought and culture in the US, with books such as My Country and My People (1936). In that book he claimed that the Chinese were essentially humanists, as was Confucius, and that Christianity was bound to fail in China unless it altered itself beyond recognition.45 Thus in the late 1950s he returned to Christianity, finding in Jesus a personal connection with God that Confucius had failed to provide. At the same time, however, his sense of the importance of a moral compass remained clear in his autobiography.46

     To conclude, these musings by "prominent" Chinese Christians in the past may well be irrelevant to the growing popularity of Christianity in China today. This is perhaps a symptom of a widening gap between elite and popular culture which Ryan Dunch has traced back to the end of the Qing Dynasty.47 Yet perhaps there is still a lesson to be drawn from these stories, having to do with the pivotal significance of Confucianism. The question of whether or not Confucianism is a religion may be less important than the fact that so many modern Chinese intellectuals have felt the need to define themselves with respect to it. The fact that the Chinese government has chosen the name "Confucian Institutes" for its cultural centers abroad suggests that Confucianism, loosely interpreted, will continue to be, so to speak, the Chinese cultural currency, i.e. the medium for the interconvertability of world views on God, nature, and society, be they labeled secular or religious, Chinese or foreign—as has been the case in China's long past.

David Lindenfeld is Professor of History at Louisiana State University. His research is devoted to the study of cross-cultural religious interaction, specifically encounters with Christian missionaries from indigenous perspectives. His edited collection, Beyond Conversion and Syncretism, appeared with Berghahn Books in 2011. He can be reached at:


I would like to thank Margherita Zanasi, Robert Eng, and Peter Tze Ming Ng for their insightful and helpful readings of an earlier draft of this paper.

1"Christian Statistics: the world's largest Christian populations",, accessed August 10, 2011. Such estimates vary widely. According to the US State Department's International Religious Freedom Report of Nov. 17, 2010, unofficial estimates of China's Protestant population are as high as 90 million, plus 12 million Protestants. Most of these are outside the registered Christian churches in China, which makes their numbers most imprecise. See, accessed August 10, 2011. See also Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom. The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 223n3 on difficulties in ascertaining accurate numbers of Christians in Asia.

2 For a brief summary, see Feiya Tao, "Christian Colleges in China: New Relations and New Perspectives since the 1980s," in Christian Mission and Education in Modern China, Japan, and Korea, ed. Jan A.B. Jongeneel, Peter Tze Ming Ng et al. (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2009), 81-87.On the American side, see Daniel H. Bays and Ellen Widmer, eds. China's Christian Colleges. Cross-cultural Connections, 1900-1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 304-07.

3 See Peter Tze Ming Ng, Changing Paradigms of Christian Higher Education in China, 1888-1950, in collaboration with Philip Yuen Sang Leung, Edward Yi Hua Xi, Jing Huan Shi. Chinese Studies, vol. 25 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), ch.1.

4 Wen-Hsin Yeh, The Alienated Academy. Culture and Politics in Republican China, 1919-1937 (Cambridge MA: Harvard Asian Center, 2000), 66; Jessie Gregory Lutz, China and the Christian Colleges, 1850-1950 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971), 280.

5 Lutz, 263-64

6Jiafeng Liu, "Religious Education in Christian Colleges in pre-Communist China: Challenges and Renovations," in Christian Mission and Education, 57.

7 Ibid., 59; Lutz, 278. See Ng, 23-25, for the argument that these changes did not amount to secularization, but rather to modernization of the religious curriculum.

8 Howard Boorman, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, 4 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966-72), 1: viii.

9 See E.J. Kahn, Jr., The China Hands (New York: Viking Press, 1972).

10 Martin Bernal, "Who's Who in China," New York Review of Books, vol. 18, no. 5 (March 23, 1972): 35.

11 Biographical Dictionary, 1: viii. Some of Boorman's other comments reveal his personal preferences: "Calligraphers, Taoist abbots, philatelists, lineal descendents of Confucius, librarians, topologists, and other exotic species were dealt with on an individual basis." (ibid.) Or: "Cooks, professional courtesans, and fortune tellers also have been omitted." (p.ix)

12 Y.C. Wang, Chinese Intellectuals and the West 1872-1949 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966), 61.

13Hiroshi Abe, "Borrowing from Japan: China's First Modern Educational System," in China's Education and the Industrialized World. Studies in Cultural Transfer, ed. Ruth Hayhoe and Marianne Bastid (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1987), 73; Marianne Bastid, "Servitude or Liberation? The Introduction of Foreign Educational Practices and systems to China from 1840 to the Present," ibid., 11. According to Bastid, 1/7 of all Chinese students with higher degrees came from foreign sources between 1872 and 1949 (p. 16). Cf. Hubert O. Brown, "American Progressivism in Chinese Education: The Case of Tao Xingzhi," ibid., 120-38.

14 On the origins, see "Li Shih-tseng," Biog. Dict. 2: 319-21; Ruth Hayhoe, "Catholics and Socialists: The Paradox of French Educational Interaction with China,", in China's Education and the Industrialized World, 107-11

15 See Alice H. Gregg, China and Educational Autonomy (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1946), 36, for tables of growth of schools and students between 1903 and 1910.

16 Daniel H. Bays, "Indigenous Protestant Churches in China, 1900-1937: A Pentecostal Case Study," in Indigenous Responses to Western Christianity, ed. Steven Kaplan (New York: New York University Press, 1995), 124-143; "The Growth of Independent Christianity in China, 1900-1937," in Daniel H. Bays, ed. Christianity in China From the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 307-316; Lian Xi, Redeemed by Fire. The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010). Among the leaders not discussed in the Dictionary were Wei Engbo (1876?-1919), Wang Mingdao (1900-1991), John Sung (1901-1944), and Watchman Nee (1903-1972). Xi points out both the affinities with Buddhist-inspired messianic movements in China such as the Eight Trigrams, and also how these movements have re-surfaced since the end of the Cultural Revolution.

17 What are we to make of the absence, for example, of William Hung, born in Fuzhou, educated at Columbia, who worked closely with Henry Luce to raise money for Yenching University, one of the most distinguished Christian colleges in Republican China, where he later became dean, and then a key figure in the Harvard-Yenching collaboration? See Susan Chan Egan, A Latterday Confucian. Reminiscences of William Hung (1893-1980) (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987); Paul Daniel Waite and Peichi Tung Waite, "China's Christian Colleges and the Founding of the Harvard-Yenching Institute," in Bays and Widmer, eds. China's Christian Colleges, 246-7, 254-5.

18 Biog. Dict., 1: ix.

19 Two of them, Jiang Tingfu and Zhou Yichun, belonged to a secret Christian fraternity of Chinese students in the US in the 1920s, the Cross and Sword (See Egan, Latterday Confucian, 60-1). The others are Tao Xingzhi, a highly regarded educator who worked with Dewey at Colombia, and Chen Yuan, vice-president of Catholic Fu-Jen University, but whose religious affiliation has never been determined, according to the Dictionary. ("Ch'en Yuan", Biog. Dict. 1: 261)

20 Conversation with Peter Tze Ming Ng, July 9, 2011.

21 In this way it contrasts with another major dictionary, Who's Who in China 1918-1950, 3 vols.(Hong Kong: Chinese Materials Center, 1982), which appeared several times during the Republican period itself. Who's Who contains more entries, but they are much briefer. Jessie Gregory Lutz relies on the Who's Who in her discussion of the graduates of Christian colleges (China and the Christian Colleges, 494-510).

22 See Lutz, China and the Christian Colleges, 132-38, and Lutz, ed. Pioneer Chinese Christian Women (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 2010), Part VI.

23 These were Li Techuan, widow of the "Christian general" Feng Yuxiang (see n. 33 below), and Chen Yuan (Biog. Dict.1: 263, 2: 335).

24 These figures represent the initial destination—several returned to Taiwan later in the 50s after living elsewhere.

25 See Wen-Han Kiang, The Chinese Student Movement (New York: King's Crown Press, 1948), ch. 2 for a thorough discussion, as well as Lutz, Christian Colleges, 215-232; Gregg, 103-5, 116-20.

26 T.T. Lew, Hu Shih, Y.Y Tsu, Cheng Jingyi, China To-Day Through Chinese Eyes (New York: George H. Doran, 1922). The book was produced to introduce delegates of the World Student Christian Federation meeting at Beijing to the so-called Chinese Renaissance.

27 Kiang, Chinese Student Movement, 48-49, 52-53; Lutz, Christian Colleges, 215-16.

28 "Yen-Fu," Biographical Dictionary 4: 43; "Chang Chia-sen" [Carsun Chang], ibid., 1: 31; Carsun Chang, The Third Force in China (New York: Bookman Associates, 1952), 332-36.

29 Shirley S. Garrett, Social Reformers in Urban China. The Chinese Y.M.C.A. 1895-1926 (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1970), 157.

30 Lyon Sharman, Sun Yat-Sen. His Life and Its Meaning (New York: John Day, 1934), 148.

31 C. Howard Hopkins, John R. Mott, 1865-1955 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1979), 395-7; Yihua Xu, "Birth, Growth, and Decline of the Chinese Student Volunteer Movement for the Ministry in 20th Century China," in Jongneel, Ng, et al., eds., Christian Mission and Education in Modern China, 65-80.

32 C.Y. Cheng [Cheng Jingyi], "The Chinese Church," in China To-Day, 112-15; also [anon.], "The Impression of Christianity Made Upon the Chinese People Through Contact with the Christian Nations of the West," ibid., 94-102.

33 "Wu Yao-tsung," Biog. Dict. 3: 456-60. See also Gao Wangzhi, "Y.T. Wu: A Christian Leader Under Communism," in Bays, ed., Christianity in China, 338-52. Other examples of the leftward drift would include the theologian T.C. Chao, (1: 147-8); the president of Ginling women's college, Wu Yifang (3: 459-62); and Li Techuan, the wife of Feng Yuxiang, who also worked for the Y and became increasingly concerned with women's rights issues (2: 334-5). The leftward drift may also be applied to Feng himself, although he never embraced communism—but his widow did in 1958.

34 "Wei Cho-min," Biog. Dict., 3: 405; Francis C.M. Wei, The Spirit of Chinese Culture (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), 161-3. The other points or "centers" are social service networks, educational institutions, and "centers of pilgrimage" at shrines of beauty designed to bring Christians together.

35 Wei, Spirit of Chinese Culture, 154, 161.

36 Ibid., 174-75.

37 "Feng Yü-hsiang," Biographical Dictionary, 2: 38. See also James E. Sheridan, Chinese Warlord. The Career of Feng Yühsiang (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), 53, 81-82, 122. Other examples would be Zhang Jijiang ("Chang Chi-chang," Biog. Dict. 1: 39-41); Zhang Juun ("Chang Ch'ün," 1: 47-52); Zhang Xueliang ("Chang Hsueh-liang," 1: 62-68). The latter was the son of another famous warlord, Chang Tso-Lin. On father and son's receptiveness to Christianity, see Charles W. Hayford, To the People. James Yen and Village China (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 73-6.

38 Hannah Pakula, The Last Empress. Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1009), 215.

39 Ibid., 15.

40 Ibid., 318.

41 John C.H. Wu, Beyond East and West (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951) 288-9.

42 "Lu Cheng-hsiang," Biographical Dictionary 2: 441-3; Dom Pierre Célestin (Lou Tseng-Tsiang), Ways of Confucius and of Christ, trans. Michael Derrick (London: Burns Oates, 1948), 4-7, 52, 91-2.

43 "Wu Ching-hsiung," Biog. Dict. 3: 419-22; also, Wu, Beyond East and West, chs. 6, 7, 11.

44Wu, Beyond East and West, 48.

45 Lin Yutang, My Country and my People (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936), 56, 102-03.

46 Lin Yutang, From Pagan to Christian (Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1959), 221-25. See also Qian Suoqiao, Liberal Cosmopolitan. Lin Yutang and Middling Chinese Modernity (Leiden: Brill, 2011), ch. 8, who identifies him as a forerunner of contemporary Neo-Confucian thought.

47 Ryan Dunch, "Protestant Christianity in China Today: Fragile, Fragmented, Flourishing," in Stephen Uhalley, Jr. and Xiaoxin Wu, eds., China and Christianity. Burdened Past, Hopeful Future (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001), 206-07.

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