Saturday, August 04, 2007

Catholicism in China

Yesterday John L. Allen Jr. gave his weekly column of All Things Catholic to a look at China. Catholicism is keep pace with the growth of China's population. One can guess who has done better: "A half-century ago, Chinese Protestantism was three and a half times smaller than Catholicism; today, it is at least three and a half times larger."

It is always difficult to know precise populations in closed states.
Religious data is notoriously imprecise in an officially atheistic state, and not everyone accepts these eye-popping estimates. In the 2006 update of his book Jesus in Beijing, former Time Beijing bureau chief David Aikman put the number of Protestants at 70 million. Richard Madsen, a former Maryknoll missionary and author of China's Catholics, told me he would put the number still lower, at 40 million. That's in line with the CIA World Factbook, another widely consulted resource.

Even those conservative estimates, however, would mean that Protestantism in China experienced roughly 4,300 percent growth over the last half-century, most of it since the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and 1970s. A four-part video series issued in 2003, called "The Cross: Jesus in China," and produced by Chinese documentarian Yuan Zhiming, interviews many of the leaders of this revival, whose evangelical drive is palpable. Notably, Protestantism took off after the expulsion of foreign missionaries, meaning most of the expansion has been home-grown.
Catholics are mystified by the dance Rome and Beijing step. Reading Mr. Allen's column lets readers know that Protestant Christianity--and Pentecostalism, particularly--will be unable to sit out its own dance with Beijing.
Wiki-images of Chinese and Vatican flags are both in the public domain.

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