Early Church Establishment and Formation
Contact between Christian missionaries and the Chinese people was first established during the Tang dynasty in the 7th century, according to writings on the Nestorian Stele. (A ''Stele'' is a large stone with writing on it, and is kind of an ancient billboard.) The Nestorian Stele, which dates to 781, chronicles the arrival of Christian missionaries in China in 635, hundreds of years after Christianity first began. This is probably due to both distance from Europe and the Middle East, as well as the closed nature of China at that time.
Tradition states that two monks of the Nestorian Order, who were spreading Christianity in India, crossed over into China and began their missionary work there. After the establishment of the Christian church, it did not take long for persecution to rear its ugly head. In 845, Emperor Wuzong decreed that Christianity be banned within his empire, and that all church assets be forfeited to the state. By the 13th century, the Mongols were in control of China via the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongols, however, were much more open to Christianity, even to the point of their wives being Christians themselves. This pattern of persecution, re-establishment, and more persecution is a major theme in Chinese history. It was also during this period that envoys of the pope arrived in China to spread Catholicism.
Middle Ages to the 19th Century
After the pope's emissaries arrived, a Franciscan Mission was established along with that of the Nestorians'. However, in 1368, the Ming Dynasty took over. The Ming wanted nothing to do with Christianity, and the Christian missions were closed and all Christians expelled. This persecution was codified with the primary law stating that Christianity was illegal in China.
The Ming Dynasty was followed by the arrival of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which saw one of the largest influxes of Christian missionary efforts. The Russian Orthodox Church arrived in 1715, and Protestants came in 1807. It seemed as though nearly every major branch of Christianity was active in China. One of the most famous missionaries, J. Hudson Taylor, came to China during this time and established the China Inland Mission in 1865. From 1859 to about 1911, there were about 8,500 protestant missionaries operating in China. Sadly, all this was about to come to a grinding halt.
Communist China to Modern Times
After a protracted war with the Nationalist Chinese in what is known today as the Chinese Civil War (1925-1949), the Communist Party took power, with Mao Zedong becoming China's leader. ''Chairman Mao'' was no friend of the church and discouraged any kind of religious activity. What essentially replaced the Christian Church is what many historians refer to as The Cult of Mao. Chairman Mao's sayings and quotes were put down in a small tome known as ''Mao's Little Red Book.'' Nearly everyone carried it and there were many photos taken of enormous groups of people reading lines of the book in unison. Essentially, Chairman Mao was the new God.
Discouragement of religion turned to outright hostility in a 10-year period (1966-1976) known as the Cultural Revolution. Christianity, as well as all other religions, was officially banned, and many Christians were either sent to re-education labor camps to learn Communist doctrine or killed outright. After the end of the Cultural Revolution and the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, Christianity slowly returned to China. Today, there are three government-sanctioned churches: ''The Three Self Church,'' ''The China Christian Council,'' and the ''Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church.'' Sermon content, liturgy, and rituals are all strictly controlled by the Chinese government. This has given rise to a fourth type of church -- the House Church -- which is illegal.
The House Church movement arose primarily because of objections to the government-approved churches, which do not allow any kind of evangelism, and because they often make statements contrary to the Bible. There is evidence to suggest that the Chinese government persecutes those who attend these churches, with the pastors or leaders often being arrested and imprisoned, or killed. In spite of the government's efforts to stop the House Church movement, it appears to be going strong. The number of Christians in these churches, as well as in China as a whole, is growing. In 2006, 2.1 percent of China's population identified themselves as Christian. Today, the number has risen to almost 3 percent. Indications are that Christianity will continue to grow in China at least through 2025.
Christianity first arrived in China in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty, as described by the Nestorian Stele, and has faced a pattern of establishment and persecution almost as long. The reaction seems to depend upon who is in power at any given time. The Mongols' Yuan Dynasty was largely tolerant, and Christianity thrived under the more recent Qing Dynasty. After the Communist Party took power in 1949 following the Chinese Civil War, however, Christianity was largely banned, but in recent years the government has allowed officially sanctioned churches. Objections to the government-approved churches have led to the rise of illegal House Churches. Despite this, the number of Christians in China is projected to continue increasing.
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