AAR 2018: Chinese Christianities Seminar


At the 2018 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver later this month, we will have our fourth year running of the Chinese Christianities Seminar. This year, we are glad to have TWO sessions around the theme of the church—on ‘Crossing Ecclesial Boundaries’ (Sat. 1-3pm; Convention Center-204) and ‘Asserting Ecclesial Boundaries’ (Sun. 3:30-5pm; Convention Center-107). You can search for it online, but I have also posted abstracts and further details here for your convenience.

Crossing Ecclesial Boundaries

Saturday 1:00 PM-3:00 PM, Convention Center-204 (Street Level)
Presiding: Francis Ching-Wah Yip, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Wai-Yin Christina Wong, Chinese University of Hong Kong
A Christian Women’s Community in Canton, South China: Women’s Work in Transnational Cooperation (1872-1938)

This article examines a transnational Christian women’s community that emerged in Canton, South China during the period 1872 to 1938. Its beginning can be traced from a boarding school for girls (Ture Light Seminary) founded by American Presbyterian missionary women in Canton to the devolution of power to Chinese women. This network of women’s community expanded through denominational and interdenominational ties, social (between alma mater and alumnae) and familial relationships. It represented a turning point in transnational cooperation between Chinese and Western women in facing the reality of the male-dominated church later headed either by foreign missionaries or Chinese Christians.

Jin Lu, Purdue University Northwest
From Protestantism to Catholicism: The Spiritual Paths of Lu Zhengxiang (Lou Tseng-Tsiang) and Wu Jingxiong (John C. H. Wu) before Vatican II

Lu Zhengxiang (Lou Tseng-Tsiang, Pierre Célestin, 1871-1949) and Wu Jingxiong (John C. H. Wu, 1899-1986) were the most illustrious Catholic converts during the early decades of the twentieth century, still widely revered in China today. This paper examines the diverse spiritual paths that led them to cross the ecclesiological boundary from Protestantism to Catholicism by studying the texts and contexts of the conversion narratives they produced. Written by authors who lived in an intercultural context and belonged to the global networks of Catholic thinkers who were seeking to renew and update Catholic theology, those texts communicated to a global audience the spiritual aspirations and theological constructions of Republican-era Chinese Christians. Their ideas can contribute to shaping China’s evolving religious landscape by providing insights not only to Catholics, but also to Protestants with an ecumenical attitude as well as people of other various spiritual persuasions.

Justin Tse, Northwestern University
Orthodoxy in Solidarity with the Umbrella Movement: The Backdrop of Chinese Politics for Evangelical and Eastern Catholic Cooperation in Vancouver

Eastern Catholic Church Richmond, a small temple in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in British Columbia, has an outsized reputation in both the global Ukrainian public and local Chinese Protestant networks as a ‘Chinese mission’ worshipping in a Byzantine tradition in communion with the See of Rome. Empirically, this church’s multiculturalism, and its smallness of numbers, reveals such claims to be exaggerated. In this paper, I explore how the temple gained this reputation by tracing the participation of its pastor Fr Richard Soo SJ in solidarity events with the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, during which Chinese Protestants in Vancouver came into contact with the church. My central argument is that what enables that theological boundary-crossing is the imaginative backdrop of Chinese politics, a transnational imaginary through which conversations about social justice in Vancouver can be discussed with some distance. In this sense, the ‘Chineseness’ of the temple is not about its ethnic identification, but its political practices. This paper contributes to the study of Chinese Christianities by proposing that ‘Chineseness’ is not about ethnicity, but about the political locus of China as a material and imagined site in which Christians across ecclesial boundaries collaborate to stage civic interventions.

Responding: Jonathan Tan, Case Western Reserve University
Business Meeting: Alexander Chow, University of Edinburgh

Asserting Ecclesial Boundaries

Sunday 3:30 PM-5:00 PM, Convention Center-107 (Street Level)
Presiding: Alexander Chow, University of Edinburgh

Christie Chui-Shan Chow, City Seminary of New York
Drawing Denominational Boundaries in China’s “Post-Denominational” Christianity: The Case of Chinese Seventh-Day Adventism

A “post-denominational” church is a politically correct description for the Chinese Protestants under the Chinese communist regime. The notion reflects a mixture of the ecumenical desire of unifying the Chinese Protestants and the official anti-foreignism discourse that views denominationalism as a product of the West. These two dynamics, however, have little effect on taming the Chinese drive to draw boundaries based on denominational convictions. This paper draws on the case of the Seventh-day Adventists to examine a variety of modalities Chinese denominational-minded Protestants use to rebuild, recast, and retain their denominational identity. Three strands organize the paper’s argument. The first one examines how the Sabbatarian Adventists contest the spatial, financial, and clerical boundaries for independence by negotiating with the politically powerful Sunday-worshiping Protestants. The paper’s second part follows the Adventist “come-outers” to understand the challenges of showing a denominational name in public. The final part examines the visual aesthetic symbols the Adventists use to express their faith boundary in a Chinese context. This paper suggests that contemporary Chinese Christianities cannot be fully understood until we take into account Protestant denominationalism at work in the Chinese lived experiences.

Michel Chambon, Boston University
Chinese Christians in Nanping City: Five Denominations, One Ecumenism

This paper presents the various types of relationships among five different and official Christian Churches in Nanping City, China. The presentation explores how these Churches relate to each other, and still create and secure distinctive markers. After providing an historical review that starts at the end of the Ming dynasty and goes all the way to the early 2000s, I describe through various angles the current situation of these five denominations and their mutual relations. Applying a material approach to religious studies, I uncover and discuss how Nanping Christians negotiate their own model of Christian ecumenism in the Xi Jinping area, and how this distinct model questions more widespread theological and ecclesiological approaches.

Sheng-Ping Guo, University of Toronto
Chinese and Sinophone Practice in Identity Negotiating: The Case of Bread of Life Christian Church, 1942-2017

Sinophone is an analytic framework to provide an alternative to the traditional Chinese studies on “minority Chinese,” ‘‘Chinese diaspora,’’ and ‘‘Chineseness’’ in marginal Sinitic-language communities and entities. The concept of the sinophone is important for my study of Chinese Christianity spreading to world, because the typical “sect” of the indigenous Chinese Christianity — Bread of Life Christian Church (Ling Liang Tang) — was established in Shanghai but exiled to post–World War II Hong Kong in 1949 and Taipei in 1954. It was marginalized as religion in China, and as geographical and psychic space for “Chinese” nostalgia and for Christian faith, by sinophone people worldwide. My paper argues that the accommodating story of Ling Liang Tang to local global context from 1942 to 2017 illuminated its believer’s “negotiating hybrid identity” and its sinophone Christian practice among the trans-formative powers of multilingualism, multiculturalism, post-colonialism, ethnicity, immigration, nation-state, sojourning, and beyond.

Responding: Jonathan A. Seitz, Taiwan Theological Seminary