Regaining the Faith in Associational Transformation

Regaining the Faith in Associational Transformation: A Qualitative Study of Chinese Rural-Migrant Christians in Urban Churches

Ke-hsien Huang

Accompanying rapid urbanization, contemporary Chinese Christianity has changed considerably, particularly in cities. Focusing on rural-migrant believers’ evolving religious experiences, this project aims to explore a significant dimension of the change—shifting patterns of association within churches— and its implications for civil society.

Analyses will be based on ethnographic work in eight Chinese coastal cities and more than 100 interviews with rural-migrant Christians. The preliminary attempt is to figure out how these migrants’ passage from villages to cities has become a journey that has impact on their religious experiences. Urban churches will be investigated to see how they serve as home-space communities within dangerous cities full of immoral strangers. The religious revival above will be contextualized in the associational transformation whereby churches are changed, from aggregations of separate streams of patron-client relationships energized by magic, to moral communities with mutual trust, horizontal ties, and voluntary participation.

This project also seeks to testify to today’s popular claims that Chinese Christian groups play significant roles in civil society. Also, a micro-foundation for civil society that has been seen forming underneath the numerical surge of Chinese associations since the early 1990s will be revealed through this empirical investigation.