Zhuo Xinping: A Study of the History of the Anglican Church in China


 (This paper was presented at the symposium " Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future, Anglican-Episcopal History in China and its Impact on the Church Today" in Hong Kong in 2012)

Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (CHSKH) is of great importance in the history of the Christian Church in China and in the history of the development of modern China as a whole. In discussing the history of the development of the Anglicanism in China over the past one hundred years, rather than "looking back at history," we have been actually summarizing it, and through this, we have been participating in and creating history, exploring the best way to help the development of Christianity adapt to Chinese society and culture. For this reason, it is particularly meaningful to reflect on the 100-year history of the CHSKH today.

The Anglican Church originated in England as a product of the English Reformation in the 16th century, and it became the national religion of England, hence the name Church of England. Later, it developed a worldwide network of self-contained worldwide Anglican organizations, including more than 40 provinces and 600 dioceses in more than 160 countries and regions. On April 27, 1912, the CHSKH was founded in Shanghai. At that time, it was formed by representatives of the 11 dioceses of the Anglican Communion in China, namely, Jiangsu(Kiangsu,江蘇), Hong Kong and South China (Kong-Yuet,港粵), Zhejiang(Chekiang,浙江), North China(華北), Sichuan (also known as the diocese of West China, 四川), Hankou (Hankow, 湘鄂), Shandong (Shantung, 山東), Fujian (Fukien, 福建), Guangxi-Hunan (Kwangsi-Hunan,桂湘), Anhui and Jiangxi (Ankwei and Jiangsi, 皖贛) and Henan (Honan, 河南). It also formed the House of Bishops composed of the bishops of each diocese and the house of Delegates composed of representatives of the clergy and lay people of each diocese, with a presiding bishop, a standing committee, relevant special committees and a Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Communion. In 1918, the Third General Synod of the CHSKH elected Shen Tsai-sheng (Shen Zaichen, 沈載琛, 1861-1940) to be assistant bishop in the Diocese of Zhejiang as the first Chinese bishop. In May 1956, the last General Synod of the CHSKH in China was held at Holy Trinity Church in Shanghai. With the formation of the Unified Worship (聯合禮拜) in China in 1958, the General Synod of the CHSKH ceased its ecclesiastical activities. However, its Anglican tradition continued in Hong Kong. The main members of the CHSKH (in Chinese mainland) played a key role in the development of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) in China and became the backbone of the patriotic Christian Church in China.

The 100-year history of the development of the CHSKH coincides with the century-long history of the transformation of Chinese society from feudalism to renewal in modern times, which vividly reflects the great changes that have taken place in Chinese society and reflects its twists and turns. The significance of these 100 years to Chinese history is particularly worthy of our consideration and reflection today. Some time ago, there were many commemorative activities in the Chinese political and academic circles, including the centennial of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) and the centennial of the New Culture Movement (新文化運動). In fact, these 100 years were politically and culturally crucial for Chinese society. The emergence and development of the CHSKH coincided with these 100 years of great changes, almost simultaneously with this period of history. If we think about the social role played by the CHSKH during these 100 years of Chinese history, we can clearly see how the CHSKH participated in the social, cultural, political changes and advancement of Chinese society.

In terms of cultural development, the CHSKH's publication and translation work, especially its participation in the Chinese translation of the Bible in the vernacular (NOTE: The Union version of the Bible was not a product of the CHSKH) was a direct part of the New Cultural Movement that emerged in China in the early 20th century, for an important part of the New Culture Movement was the vernacular movement. Chinese translation of the Bible involved many vernacular translation discussions at that time, which became in fact a key part of the vernacular movement. CHSKH actively participated in the Chinese translation of the Bible into the vernacular and had participated in the production of many classical translation versions, which contributed positively to the formation and development of the New Culture Movement. Although the New Culture Movement at that time had transformed into the Anti-Christian Movement, it did not reject the Chinese translation of the Bible in vernacular in terms of textual expressions and new forms of the Chinese language. It acknowledged that this attempt to translate the Bible in vernacular was an important part of the New Culture Movement and regarded it as an intrinsic part of the New Cultural Movement which was organically linked to the development of this cultural movement.

In the process of “indigenization” of Chinese Christianity, the CHSKH had actively explored and made a unique contribution. "Indigenization" is a truly viable and successful way for Christianity to exist and develop in China. However, there are still differences of opinions within the Church regarding the development of this "indigenization" or "sinicizing Christianity." In the midst of various explorations and searches, a group of insightful people in the CHSKH advocated the path of "indigenization" which helped Chinese Christianity develop smoothly and integrate organically with Chinese society and culture. In the process of the “indigenized” theological exploration of Chinese Christianity, there were very important leaders including Wu Leichuan (吳雷川,  1870-1944) and T. C. Chao (Zhao Zichen, 趙紫宸, 1888-1979), the famous "indigenized" theologian who later joined the CHSKH. Wu was baptized in the CHSKH in 1915 and served as the Vice President of Yenching University from 1926 to 1929 and the President of Yenching University from 1929 to 1934. He was the first Chinese president of Yenching University, who had given much thought to the relationship between Christianity and Chinese culture, and had elaborated a great deal on Chinese Christian thought. T. C. Chao was a man of great learning and talent who had played an important role in the development of the modern church in China and has had a far-reaching influence. He devoted himself to the efforts of the "indigenization" of Chinese Christianity, spending his life actively calling for and promoting it with all his might. He also practiced and took the lead in writing a large number of theological works on Chinese theology, especially in the context of Chinese traditional culture and social reality. He wrote in-depth reflections, demonstrating his shining thought of insisting on the development of the sinicization of Christianity. Chao's writings and thought laid the foundation and created the conditions for the contemporary progress of the "indigenization" of Chinese Christianity, and enabled the CHSKH to play an important role in the progress of the "indigenization" of the Chinese Church, with flagship significance.

In addition, the CHSKH played a leading role in the renewal and development of the contemporary Chinese Christian Church, as well as in its cultural and educational construction. In the development of the TSPM in the Church in China, many church leaders came from the CHSKH tradition, such as Bishop K. H. Ting (丁光訓, 1915-2012), Bishop Zheng Jianye (鄭建業, 1919-1991), Bishop Shen Yifan (以藩, 1928-1994), the Rev’d. Cao Shengjie (曹聖潔, 1931- ), and the Rev’d. Zhao Fusan (趙復三, 1926-2015). Bishop Ting was a proponent of "Chinese theological construction" and his "theology of love" advocated a positive adaptation to Chinese socialist society; Bishop Zheng was one of the first experts to promote the study of religion during the early years of China's reform and opening up, who also personally guided the development of the "theology of love." He was also one of the earliest experts in the study of religion during the early years of China's reform and opening up, and he personally supervised my thesis for the master’s degree. I was impressed by his profound knowledge. These people made outstanding contributions to the contemporary development of the Church in China and to the building of Chinese theology. In the development of the Chinese Church in the 20th century, these church leaders also played a pioneering role in the development of the Church in China, especially in the second half of the 20th century. They actively explored the new development of Christianity in China under the new situation. T. C. Chao and others even had an important international influence, as Chao served as one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches and was the voice of the Chinese Church in the World Council of Churches. Their theological theories and ecclesial practices have basically laid the foundation for the Church of China today and helped to form church’s ideological characteristics and theoretical framework in the midst of an extremely complex socio-political situation. From St. John's University (上海聖約翰大學) in the first half of the 20th century to Nanjing Union Theological Seminary (金陵協和神學院) which has been playing a leading role in Christian theological institutions today, we can observe traces and lines of the cultural education and theological construction from the tradition of CHSKH. Although the Chinese Church today has embarked on the development of ecumenical unity and "post-denominational" union, this strong support from the original CHSKH theological thought and church unity tradition can still be perceived and understood.

In the new context of China's opening up to the outside world in the age of "globalization," the Chinese Church has been facing various challenges and complex issues in its new development. The new generation needs to find new paths of development in retrospect and prospect. Therefore, if we look back and summarize the century-long experience of the Anglican Church in China and grasp the richness of its history and experience, we may be able to provide important inspiration and innovative wisdom for the Church in China to meet new challenges and solve new problems today.