Taking Jesus back to China: How will foreign-educated Chinese Christian returnees impact Christianity in contemporary China? (completed)

Yuqin Huang

(This project is funded by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (CCKF) and the expected research period spans from July, 2012 to December, 2014. The project number is RG006-U-11. )

Since the economic reform and the “opening up” of the late 1970s, there have been millions of
Chinese going abroad as students and scholars. Mainly gathering in West Europe, North America and Australia, these Chinese students and scholars have become the main proselytizing targets of local Christian churches/organizations and overseas Chinese Christian communities. This has resulted in many of them converting to Christianity abroad. In recent years, due to the economic downturn and tight immigration policies in the West, and the Chinese government’s policies of facilitating the return of these foreign-educated talents, there have been waves of returns to China since the late 1990s. Among the returnees, a big proportion takes back to China not only advanced knowledge and technology obtained abroad, but also Christian faith. While both domestic and overseas Chinese Christian communities started responding to this phenomenon by setting up “returnee ministry,” the academic circle has paid little attention to the emergence of Christian returnees in China. This proposed project aims to fill this research gap by focusing on the religious lives of the foreign-educated Chinese returnees and exploring their potential impacts on Christianity in contemporary China. The project will mainly ask two clusters of questions: first, how do the returnees adapt to the new environment and negotiate their seemingly incompatible double identity as a returnee, an often prestigious identity, and as a Christian, a marginalized identity often incurring suspicion and hostility in contemporary Chinese society? Second, how will they, with their international ties and double identity, impact Christianity in China, particularly church-state relations, democratization, and the forming of a civil society in China? By bringing up the religious side of the returnees, this project will also have long-term policy implications. As a two-and-a-half-year project, this research plans to answer the research questions by conceiving and observing, which include ethnographic research (participant observation) mainly carried out in the “Shanghai Returnee Christian Church”, and other quantitative and qualitative methods (literature review, document research, questionnaires, in-depth interviews and focus groups) focused on the (would-be) Chinese Christian returnees in Europe, Shanghai, and other Chinese cities such as Suzhou.

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