From a stone tablet dating from 781 A.D. to a New Testament produced by a modern printing press, the Bible has had a long history in China.
That history, along with insights into today’s church life in China, is being presented for the first time in the United States by the China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Diane Allen, coordinator of the China Program, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said the Bible ministry exhibition is intended as both an educational tool and vehicle for friendship.
“There are so many misconceptions about Christianity in China,” she added.
The exhibition, “A Lamp to My Feet, A Light to My Path,” is at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine from June 5 to 12. It previously had been displayed at the Crystal Cathedral in the Los Angeles area and at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta.
The Rev. Cao Sheng-jie, president of the Christian China Council, said the council wanted to let its U.S. brothers and sisters know the faith is alive and well in China.
While many U.S. Christians are concerned about their counterparts in China, “sometimes they don’t have the right information,” she explained. “I think this exhibition will greatly help mutual understanding, and that’s the basis of friendship.”
One important piece of information is the fact that nearly 40 million Bibles were printed in China from 1981 to 2005. The faithful there include more than 16 million Protestants, who gather in more than 55,000 churches and meeting places and operate 16 seminaries and Bible schools.
2.5 million Bibles annually
According to historical records, the Chinese people first encountered the Bible through a Nestorian missionary in 635 A.D. Centuries later, in the early 1800s, Robert Morrison, a Protestant missionary, and his Chinese assistants made the first complete Chinese translation of the Bible.
The exhibit includes some early Chinese Bibles, including one of the few surviving copies similar to one presented to Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty in 1894.
But the real surge in Bible production came after 1980, when 50,000 copies of the New Testament were printed. Production accelerated in 1987 with the establishment of the Amity Printing Press. Over the past 10 years, on average, 2.5 million Bibles have been printed and distributed annually.
The council also has reached out to those in China who cannot read or write Mandarin. Since the 1980s, 476,605 Bibles in various editions have been published in eight ethnic minority languages.
A centerpiece of the exhibit is a carving on a 100-year-old block of camphor wood, depicting the life of Jesus. Created over a 10-year period by the artist Zhang Wanlong, it stands 5.25 feet high and is 12.15 feet long. Seventy-five Bible stories are told through the carving.
The giant wood carving commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, initiated by Chinese Protestants in 1950. The movement’s principles are self-governance, self-support and self-propagation.
Working with government
Churches were closed from 1966 to 1976, during the cultural revolution, but began to re-open in 1979. The China Christian Council was formed the next year and works in complement with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Although there are still occasions when “the policy of religious freedom is misinterpreted by government officials,” according to Allen, the Chinese government recognizes the church “can be a great help in problems they’re trying to address.”
The China Christian Council has its headquarters in Shanghai, in a building formerly owned by the Church of England. That denomination had given up the property in the 1950s, and it had been used for various government offices, Cao said.
When the council needed a new home a couple of years ago, it requested the property be returned. “We applied, we tried, we prayed and through a lot of negotiation, we got it,” she added.
More than 1,000 women are now ordained in China, about 30 percent of all pastors. About an equal number of men and women are enrolled in seminary.
Two young Chinese women who receive scholarship support from the Board of Global Ministries for studies in California were present at the June 5 opening of the exhibit in New York.
Yan Min, a member of Muen Church in Shanghai, just graduated from Claremont School of Theology with a degree in Christian education. The Rev. Lin Manhong, who has worked with the China Christian Council in Nanjing, is a doctoral student at Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.
United Methodists can assist with the printing of Bibles and Christian literature in China throughThe Advance for Christ and His Church, Advance Special # 11422A, The Amity Printing Press. Checks may be written to “Advance GCFA” and placed in collection plates at local churches, or mailed directly to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or[email protected].
- Diane Allen: Bibles are being printed in China.
- Yan Min: The Bible has been translated into 8 ethnic languages.