11.04.2014

China Growth Model

http://helenang.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/china-christians-revival-chinese-ministries-international11-w640.jpgThe ascendancy of the Chinese economy has been a story for a couple of decades now.  Extrapolate its almost double-digit annual growth over that time period into the foreseeable future, and you get it overtaking the US as the world's largest economy.  Insert panicky sentiments and hand-wringing here. Never mind that it gets harder and harder to grow at double-digit levels annually when you've been doing it for so long, or that there are some very real concerns about the ecological and social sustainability of the Chinese economic model.

But here's a Chinese growth story that may actually have legs.  I'm speaking of the rapid growth, which has also happened over the past few decades, of the Christian faith.  Let me just quote a recent Economist article at length:

"Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China’s Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire.

In the 1980s the faith grew most quickly in the countryside, stimulated by the collapse of local health care and a belief that Christianity could heal instead. In recent years it has been burgeoning in cities. A new breed of educated, urban Christians has emerged. Gerda Wielander of the University of Westminster, in her book “Christian Values in Communist China”, says that many Chinese are attracted to Christianity because, now that belief in Marxism is declining, it offers a complete moral system with a transcendental source. People find such certainties appealing, she adds, in an age of convulsive change.

Some Chinese also discern in Christianity the roots of Western strength. They see it as the force behind the development of social justice, civil society and rule of law, all things they hope to see in China...One civil-rights activist says that, of the 50 most-senior civil-rights lawyers in China, probably half are Christians." 

Even if growth rates level off, at a certain tipping point this high of a concentration of Christians is likely to have an outsized halo effect on Chinese society.  A friend of mine once conjectured, about 15 years ago, that Christianity would have a window of opportunity in China, opening as the country opened but the closing as materialism took over.  I agreed with him back then but am starting to be more optimistic that even with great advances in wealth there is yet room for faithful Christian people to influence society in terms of things like personal morality, meaning in life, gender issues, social justice, environmental stewardship, and mercy ministries.  For the sake of over a billion Chinese souls present and future, I pray so.
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