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China Visit

May 27, 2012

I was in China 19-27 May, attending a major conference in Jining, the Second Nishan Forum on World Civilizations, and with only occasional access to the internet.  So, I haven’t been able to respond to comments or offer any posting on this blog site till today.  This was my third visit to China, and my second invitation to take part in the Nishan Forum events, sponsored by a committee that includes representatives of Shandong Province, the central Chinese government, several universities, and other bodies.  I’m very grateful to be given these opportunities to visit that fascinating nation, and to engage with other scholars on questions about China and the world, and about the internal dynamics of China as well.   The conference presenters included a number of Chinese scholars (many of them specializing in Confucian studies) and a much smaller number of others specializing in Christianity.

After the conference, with my Edinburgh colleague, Professor S.J. Brown, I went to Beijing for a couple of days, as guest of Renmin University.  In March this year, Renmin University and the University of Edinburgh signed an agreement that calls for developing such things as staff and student exchanges, and perhaps collaborative research projects.  The time in Beijing included some site-seeing, the highlights being a few hours in the Forbidden City, and also a visit to the Temple of Heaven.

Chinese people we met were hospitable, cordial, and eager to get to know us.  The university students we met were bright, articulate and were all doing advanced studies in literature, philosophy and religious thought.  Interest in the academic study of religion, including study of the Bible and early Christianity remains very strong, with courses and programmes in a number of Chinese universities, among which Renmin University is prominent.

I’m just back, recovering from the long flight, and sorting out my impressions again.  So, I don’t have anything profound or particularly noteworthy to say at this point.  Now that I’m back home, I will hope to post again on some of the things I’ve been writing and reading.

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  1. Thank you, Prof Hurtado, for sharing your impression on the forum. It seems that the Chinese community, be it in China or south east Asia, still hold on strongly to the view that Christianity is foreign religion. And the staunch ones even go so far to see Christianity as colonizer’s propaganda.

    I do not know if I am making a probable guess: Just as many in the north-west see Christianity as oppressive from the medieval era until the Enlightenment period, Chinese in the south-east see it as oppressive from the Enlightenment period until, perhaps, after the Cold War.

    • Yes, probably so. But there is a much earlier/longer history of Christianity in China, beginning at least as early as the 8th century CE (Nestorian Christian traders), and some would propose a few centuries earlier still. And, whatever the connection of Christianity with 19th century missions and colonizing powers, that earlier form of Christianity had no such connection.

  2. Hi Prof Hurtado,

    I’m curious whether does this latest trip to China change your impression of the Nishan Forum?

    I remember you wrote in 2010 that it was “heavily managed for propaganda purposes”. Do they still portray Christianity in “simplistically negative terms”?

    • One should not be surprised that an event financed by governments is designed to advance government objectives. So, along with foreigners invited to give papers and freedom to write what they wish on the designated themes, there was an evident emphasis promoted via the publicity and larger organization of the event. Again, I noted in a number of speakers/papers a curiously antagonistic/defensive posture toward Christianity, e.g., making unfavorable (and ill-informed) comparisons with Confucianism. Also, yet again, the only contributors speaking from/about Christian texts and themes were non-Chinese, implicitly reflecting the view that Christianity is a “foreign religion” and not an authentic part of Chinese history & culture (even though Christianity came to China by the 8th century at the latest, and so has been a part of Chinese history for over 1300 years).

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