One Hundred Years of Democratization of China
and the Roles of Christians

October 5, 2010



On October 5, 2010, the forum of “One Hundred Years of Democratization of China and the Roles of Christians” was held at Purdue University, West Lafayette. It was jointly sponsored by the Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, and Asian Studies Program. Five renowned scholars from mainland China and Purdue University have presented their observations and comments on Christianity and China’s Democratic transformation during the past 100 years. More than 30 students and faculty members from all across the university attended the forum.

YU Jie, Independent Writer, Research Fellow of the Think-tank of China’s Transition

From the perspective of human rights protection and “rule of law”, China’s modernization efforts in the past 100 years amount to nothing but a failure. It is because that it chose a wrong route featured with such things as Enlightenment ideas, rationalism, and populism, all of which culminated into a radical political attitude. What is absent in the radical politics is the spirit of tolerance and compromise, as well as respect for individual rights.

Sun Yat Sen and other leaders of the 1911 Revolution who are Christians finally established the first republic in Asia, but unfortunately they have made a wrong choice when they decided to ally with the Soviet Union and imported from the country the party-state and party-military system. Their political mistakes are certainly related to their problematic Christian faith, which is the social evangelicalism with a liberal interpretation of the Protestant doctrines. A Christian with the orthodoxy Protestant faith would be a natural enemy of the Soviet Communism and would not advocate such political arrangement that impinges on individual rights.

Z. George Hong, Professor of History, Chief Research Officer, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Professional Development at Purdue University, Calumet

While we could separate church and state, we could never separate politics and religion. Religion could play a positive role in inspiring political transformations.

100 years ago, the Christian revolutionist Sun Yat Sen’s once said, “Jesus is a revolutionist, so am I…it is God who called me to eliminate the evil.” Both of his perseverance and devotion to social/politicl justice could find a root in his faith in Jesus Christ.

Today, the Chinese Protestant house churches choose to hide and endure the political persecution. This passive stragety is to encourage the state power’s encroachment on the citizen’s faith liberty. The house churches should stand up and actively fight for their rights. But whether they could initiate a collective action depends largely on if they could develop the consciousness about their citizenship and civil rights.

HE Guanghu, Professor of Philosophy of Renmin University of China

China is becoming rich and mighty, but by no means completing its political transformation. The reason is that we have a wrong understanding about the relationship between the individual and the state. The individual should take prior to the state, with the former is the end and the latter the means. Even Marx has pointed out that the state is nothing but a tool, and would disappear one day. But China, which claims Marxism as its official ideology, treats the state as the end and the individual as the means. Any individual could be sacrificed for the rosy goal of a strong and almighty state.

The Chinese Protestant house churches which take a passive strategy of hiding and enduring nevertheless misinterpreted the Bible. The Bible doesn’t teach people to retreat and keep in silence, but to stand up to apply God’s justice, which is the fundamental doctrine of Christianity. The political value of Christianity for the Chinese transformation lies in the fact that it stresses respect and justice for every individual.

GAO Shining, Research Fellow of Chinese Academy of Social Science

The democratization of Chinese politics requires the development of civil rights consciousness for every single individual of the country, including those at the grass-roots level. But, on the individual level, I am pessimistic about the prospect for the Chinese Christians to develop the consciousness for democracy. In my past researches, I found that even those well-educated Christians have less concern over the social reformation than over the spiritual life, not to mention those less elite Christians with lower level of education. However, the Christian are unconsciously involved in the political resistance when Caesar invades in the very domain of God, that is, what bring them persecutions is nothing but their faith. Although this resistance is only conducted in a passive way, and without clearly expressed aim for the constitutional civil rights, its significance could not be neglected as the churches are growing and reaching out to the public sphere.

Fenggang Yang, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society (CRCS) at Purdue University, West Lafayette

Christianity in China became the “religion in hibernation” during the severe political oppression after 1949. However, the debate over church’s social responsibility re-emerged within the reviving Chinese churches, which used to adopt a defensive strategy of social separatism. Some individual Christians and Christian groups actively participate in the social welfare and human rights improvement programs. This is not a contingent phenomenon, but is related to the Christian ethics for social justice. Further studies should be conducted to explore what contributions Christians have done to the social and institutional transformations in China.