Christian Encounters with Chinese Culture: Essays on Anglican history in China
Philip Wickeri, editor
Hong Kong University Press £44
Church Times Bookshop £39.60
“POT plants in gothic glasshouses” was how D. T. Niles characterised the products of Christian overseas missions. Native Australians complained that missionaries sowed the seeds of the gospel in their treetops, which sent roots into the soil like the curtain fig suffocating the host tree.
Christian Encounters with Chinese Culture explores how 19th- and 20th-century Anglicans propagated the gospel in China with its deeply rooted cultural history.
In his introduction, the editor, Dr Philip Wickeri, sets out a comprehensive overview of the history of Anglican involvement in China. The following nine chapters contain the rich fruits of academic research, divided into sections on Society, Education and Culture; the Prayer Book; and Theology.
There were three Anglican missionary streams: from the United States, Canada, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) from England. They cultivated the Chinese Anglican/Episcopal Church (Chung Hua Sheng King Hui, CHSKH) in 1912. Only in the 1940s did a Chinese bishop have authority over Western missionaries, though in the mid-1800s the CMS secretary, Henry Venn, had enunciated the Three-Self principles for the Church — Self-governing, Self-supporting and Self-propagating — now incorporated in China’s post-episcopal Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Uniform Anglican worship around a Book of Common Prayer proved intractable in China: finding agreement between traditions from three provincial Churches, to be expressed in Chinese with regional dialects, and then for multiple revisions each to be printed in characters to be carved anew on wooden blocks, used more episcopal energy than the 30-year gestation of Common Worship.
Embedding ministry in the felt needs of people bore fruit. Shanghai’s small St Peter’s Church housed 200-300 refugees in 1932. Hong Kong’s St Mary’s, Causeway Bay, began as a Diocesan Refuge for Destitute Women distant from the City of Victoria — like St Martin-in-the-Fields distanced from Whitehall; in 1937, St Mary’s was consecrated with its unique Chinese-style architecture.
Mission-founded universities produced two famed Chinese theologians adopted as Anglicans, T. C. Chao and Francis Wei. Episcopal determination established in Hong Kong the Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion in 1958 — now part of the Divinity School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong training countless ordinands from mainland China as well as Hong Kong.
Detractors complained: “One more Christian, one fewer Chinese” — not today: Anglican with other plants have flourished, watered by the tears of Chinese martyrs.
Canon Christopher Hall is the honorary secretary of the Li Tim-Oi Foundation.