Thursday, February 14, 2019

Christianity is spreading to China via Africa

Christopher Rhodes, How Africa is converting China, Unherd, 13 feb 2019:
Much has been made of the influx of Chinese money and workers into Africa over the past two decades, as China has become the primary economic partner for the continent. Both the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University and the consulting firm McKinsey & Company have compiled the numbers – and they’re staggering. China-Africa trade reached a high of $215 billion in 2014; $143 billion in Chinese loans have poured in to Africa between 2000 and 2017, and annual inflows of foreign direct investment have exceeded $3 billion in recent years.
As a result there are many Chinese workers in Africa, far from home.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have gone to work in Africa, where they have encountered foreign cultures that leave many of them feeling alienated. For some of these disaffected Chinese workers, a source of comfort has come from religion, most notably the Evangelical Christianity that pervades much of sub-Saharan Africa. Evangelicalism prioritises conversion of non-believers, and the Chinese, heavily discouraged from practicing religion at home, are attractive potential converts.

Many local African churches have reached out to Chinese workers, including incorporating Mandarin into services. A number of Chinese, in turn, have welcomed the sense of community and belonging that these Christian churches offer. And a small but growing number of ethnically Chinese missionaries from Taiwan and other countries are specifically targeting Chinese nationals in Africa, preaching to them with a freedom they’d never be allowed in the People’s Republic.

Many of these Chinese workers are returning home, and they’re bringing their newfound religion with them. Visitors to the coastal province of Fujian, for example, now hear South African accented English and see houses adorned with crosses. African migrants are also moving to China in larger numbers, many of them practitioners of very evangelistic forms of Pentecostal Christianity who are willing to flout the rules placed on religious activity in China.

This new dynamic is creating a headache for the Communist Party, which heavily regulates state-recognised religious bodies and considers non-sanctioned religious activity illegal. The CCP has always been anti-religion, but after Xi Jinping assumed Party control in 2012, China enacted a level of religious persecution not seen since Mao attempted to eliminate religion and other sources of dissent during the bloody Cultural Revolution.
It's not working.
And yet, to the dismay and confusion of the CCP, Christianity keeps growing; many Christians take persecution as a sign that they are doing something right. If US State Department numbers are to be believed, there are nearly as many Chinese Christians (70 million) as the 90 million CCP members reported by Chinese state media, and at current growth rates, China will soon have more Christians than any country in the world. Despite its best efforts, China is losing its fight against Christianity, and the growing influx of citizens returning from Africa is shaping up to be another hopeless front in that war.
H/t Tyler Cowen.

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