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A Star in the East

The Rise of Christianity in China

Rodney Stark Xiuhua Wang

What is the state of Christianity in China, really? Some scholars say that China is invulnerable to religion. Some say that past efforts of missionaries have failed, writing off those who were converted as nothing more than “rice Christians,” or cynical souls who had frequented the missions for the benefits they provided. Some wonder if the Cultural Revolution extinguished any chances of Christianity in China.

Rodney Stark and Xiuhua Wang offer a different perspective, arguing that Christianity is alive, well, and even on the rise. Stark approaches the topic from an extensive research background in both Christianity and Chinese history, and Wang provides an inside look at Christianity and its place in her home country of China. Both authors cover the history of religion in China, disproving older theories concerning not only the number of Christians, but the kinds of Christians that have emerged in the past 155 years.  Stark and Wang claim that when just considering the visible Christians, those not part of underground churches, there are still thousands of Chinese being converted to Christianity each day, and forty new churches opening each week.

A Star in the East draws on two major national surveys to sketch a close-up of religion in China. A reliable estimate is that by 2007 there were approximately 60 million Christians in China. If the current rate of growth were to hold until 2030, there would be more Christians in China—about 295 million—than in any other nation on earth. This has significant implications, not just for China but for the greater world order. It is probable that Chinese Christianity will splinter into denominations, likely leading to the same kinds of political, social, and economic ramifications seen in the West today.

Whether you’re new to studying Christianity in China, or whether this has been your area of interest for years,A Star in the East provides a reliable, thought-provoking, and engaging account of the resilience of the Christian faith in China and the implications it has for the future. 

Preface / ix

Chapter 1: The New Religious Awakening in China / 1

Chapter 2: Christian Missions to China: 1860–1950 / 13

Chapter 3: Repression and Christian Resistance / 43

Chapter 4: Converting the Educated / 75

Chapter 5: Converting Rural China / 91

Chapter 6: Future Prospects and Consequences / 113

Notes / 127

Bibliography / 131

Index / 141

“Sociologist Rodney Stark has done it again.  Readers who enjoyed his earlier works on the Crusades, the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and Christianity’s role in ending slavery will be grateful that he has now applied his brilliance to China.”

David Aikman, author of Jesus in Beijing and other books, and former China correspondent for TIME magazine

“This is a concise, well-written, and stimulating account of the growth and prospects of Christianity in the world’s largest socialist society.  Rodney Stark, a leading theorist in the sociology of religion, well-known for his explanations of the rise of Christianity in the Mediterranean world, collaborates with a young scholar from mainland China to describe and explain the extraordinary recent growth of Christianity in China. Highly recommended.” 

Graeme Lang, retired professor of sociology (2014), and founder of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong

“In this brief, very readable account of Christianity in China, authors Stark and Wang argue that cultural incongruity is what has made an opening in Chinese hearts and minds for the Christian faith, while familial and social networking account for the robust patterns of conversion. And contrary to theories that reduce religion to consolation for the poor and marginal, Stark and Wang find that Chinese Christianity is more favored by the affluent and well-educated.  This book is a valuable addition to the growing effort to understand Christianity’s rise in China.”  

Joel Carpenter, Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity, Calvin College

“Books on contemporary China have proliferated in recent years, and plenty of them address the remarkable growth of Christianity. What makes A Star in the East wholly distinctive though— and so very valuable—is its reliance on credible and strictly current quantitative evidence. The book thus provides an essential foundation for any future discussion of the religious scene in contemporary China.” 

Philip Jenkins, Baylor University

PJ Media

“Faith and reason, persecution and resurgence—even a section on the importance of social networks—each make this book both deep and engrossing.”

Tyler O'Neil

The Gospel Coalition- July 6, 2015

“For anyone interested in the story of what God has been up to in China, A Star in the East is a must-read.”

Joann Pittman

Journal of Global Christianity- February 1, 2016

“Stark and Wang provide a much-needed resource for those interested in the current spiritual awakening in China.”

Nate Muse