Christianity and religious syncretism in early twentieth-century China

by Xiaoxuan Wang

Working Papers WP 17-11
October 2017
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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Christianity in China is known to have been influenced by Chinese popular religion. Yet it is less known how much Christianity has influenced other religions in China. This article examines the syncretic trend of the early years of Republican China, which aimed at reinventing Chinese religions. I argue that as early as the 1920s, followers of Chinese religious traditions were appropriating various aspects of Christianity – from its symbols and institutions to its values – for their own ends. This trend was crucial for Christianity to become a part of Chinese religion and society.

Keywords: Christianity, syncretism, Chinese religion, eclectic societies, Buddhism.

Xiaoxuan Wang is a historian of modern and late imperial China. He previously worked on early imperial China. His research interests include Chinese communal religion, Chinese Christianity, and Chinese diaspora in Europe and the US. He received his PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University in November 2015. His first book project examines Maoist revolution and its legacies on grass-roots religious life in southeast China after 1949. It challenges conventional wisdom on Maoist secular governance and reveals great historical significance of revolutionary experiences in the making of religious revitalization in contemporary China. His current project is on urbanization, property and religiosities in China today.

His publications include ‘The Dilemma of Implementation: State and Religion in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1990,’ in Jeremy Brown and Matthew Johnson eds., Maoism at the Grassroots: Everyday Life in China’s Era of High Socialism (Harvard, 2015), and “‘Folk Belief,’ Cultural Turn of Secular Governance and  Shifting Religious Landscape in Contemporary China,” in A Secular Age in South, East, and Southeast Asia? Eds. Peter van der Veer and Kenneth Dean, Palgrave Macmillan (forthcoming).