Christianity and Social Activism in Chinese Societies

February 24-26, 2019
Purdue University

Chris White

Over thirty individuals participated in the conference, “Christianity and Social Activism in Chinese Societies,” held at Purdue University from February 24-26, 2019. This unique conference brought together scholars and activists to discuss the connections between social activism and Christianity in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Chinese diaspora.

The first day of the conference featured a worship service led by Rev. Zhang Boli, an influential activist during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, who later converted to Christianity and became a pastor in the US. During the conference, Rev. Zhang, as well as many other student activists involved in the 1989 demonstrations, including Zhou Fengsuo, Rev. Wang Zhiyong, Rev. Dr. Bob Fu (Xiqiu), Rev. Wang Dao, Zhao Changqing, and Chen Tianshi, shared their experiences in social activism, how this has impacted their Christian conversion, and how faith has influenced their social activism. Other Chinese Christian activists or ministers, including Yu Jie, Rev. Hong Yujian, Zheng Leguo, and Zhao Li, also shared their experiences of Christian faith and social activism, and how to minister to social activists.

The conference featured one keynote address each day. On the first day, Professor Fenggang Yang presented recent research on “The Rise of Christianity and the Agency of Social Change in China.” Professor Yang tracked various estimates of the numbers of Christians in China over the preceding four decades, concluding that the trend suggests this figure will eclipse the number of Christians in the US in the near future. Professor Lo Ping-cheung delivered a keynote address on the second day, titled “Relative Justice, Relativism, and Hong Kong Ecclesia Response to Social Action.” In this talk, Prof. Lo contrasts the relative lack of socio-political action taken by many Hong Kong churches with the call for such action found in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974. The final day of the conference featured a keynote speech by Rev. Dr. Bob Fu, who shared on “Watchman Nee’s Trichotomous View of Human Nature and Its Impact on His View of Christian Life.” In this talk, Rev. Fu discussed some of the effects of Watchman Nee’s theology of the body, soul, and spirit on Chinese house church Christians today.

The conference’s nine panel sessions were organized to geographically and temporally present the impact of Christianity on social activism. The impact of Christianity on social activism in Republican revolution era China were contrasted with Christian activism today. Similarly, the role of the Presbyterian Church and Christians in Taiwan in the 1970s provided a backdrop for understanding Christian involvement in the Sunflower Movement of 2014. Case studies of historic Christian involvement in social activism in Hong Kong were also offered, as grounding for a discussion of the links between churches or Christians and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, which also began in 2014.