Faith of our fathers: commemorating Christian heritage in China

Chris White

- completed -

The research project looks at how different interest groups find value in the remembering and celebrating the history of Chinese Christianity. Specifically, this project looks at the issue of commemorating Christian heritage from three vantage points: the family, the church, and the (local) state.

During fieldwork in South China over the past decade, I have collected dozens of “Christian genealogies” and visited numerous “Christian ancestral halls.” These are two ways Chinese Christian families celebrate their religious heritage and commemorate their forefathers.

Christian congregations have also, over the past two decades, increasingly sought to uncover and celebrate their histories. This is most conspicuous in anniversary celebrations and publication of commemorative volumes. I have collected dozens of such books—what I term “congregational genealogies”—and see them as important local sources crafted for contemporary church members and local societies. While it may at first seem counterintuitive, particularly in an era of increased religious repression which China is now experiencing, for state actors to embrace Christian history, but this project suggests that in many instances, this is exactly what is occurring. Regardless of the motives for such coupling (usually to enhance tourism or local pride), this project will detail case studies of how Chinese Christian history is being co-opted by the state, and how individual Christians and churches, in turn, use this for their benefit.

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