Panel: Christianity as a ‘model religion’? Constructing global modernity in China, 1800 to the present

Schedule

Room: Kath Theol II, Hochparterre, Johannisstraße 8-10
Tag Zeit    
Mo 13:30-14:00 Kuo Envisioning Global Modernity through Religion: the Cultural Image of Christianity, 1807-1900
Mo 14:00-14:30 Klein Disavowed Model: Christianity and the Weekly Remembrance for Sun Yatsen in Republican China, 1925-1949
Mo 14:30-15:00 Kuhlmann Opening a space of reflection through “Global Modernity”? – On the Perception of Christianity in recent PRC historiographic discourse

Chair:

Hanna Acke, Thoralf Klein, Dirk Kuhlmann

Panel description:

Focusing on Christianity’s role as a point of reference in the transformation of religious and ideological discourses, this panel critically engages with the concepts of ‘globalization’ and ‘global modernity’, examining to what extent these analytical categories foster our understanding of the ideational, social and political transformation of China since 1800.

Section:

Sinology

Abstracts of the individual presentations:

Kuo, Ya-pei: Envisioning Global Modernity through Religion: the Cultural Image of Christianity, 1807-1900

Christianity’s standing in China changed dramatically during the nineteenth century. When Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary from Europe, arrived in Canton in 1807, it was a heterodox practice officially banned by the government. By the end of the century, however, it had not only gained legality through international treaties, but also enjoyed a social esteem that firmly associated it with the modern West. In late Qing political writings, Confucian elite routinely alluded to “that other religion” (bijiao), revealing Christianity’s recognized status as the principal point of reference. The reformist discourse of “religious defense” (baojiao), in particular, advocated a Confucian response to the ascendance of Christianity by adopting the Western religion’s operational model.

How was this Christian model constructed? And what made it desirable? My paper answers these questions by examining the Protestant missionary’s Chinese writings. Since the 1830s, the missionary had started to introduce Euro-American history through the lens of Christianity. In the following decades, a representational pattern emerged: Protestant Christianity not only made the modern West, but itself constituted an expansionist force in the global arena. The missionary’s representation directly shaped Christianity’s cultural image. Reform-minded leaders were particularly taken by the demonstrated power to move and to mobilize, which, to them, signified Christianity’s modernness. This modern character made Christianity a force to be reckoned with, even when conversion was out of the question, for therein encapsulated the secret to religion’s future in the new era of global contact and competition.

Klein, Thoralf: Disavowed Model: Christianity and the Weekly Remembrance for Sun Yatsen in Republican China, 1925-1949

As part of the personality cult of Sun Yatsen, the Weekly Remembrance, instituted in 1925, was a means by which the National Party (Guomindang, GMD) sought to promote loyalty amongst the political and social elites and thus consolidate its rule. In my paper, I examine the complex relationship between this ritual and Christianity, in particular Protestantism. There exists enough evidence to suggest that the concept of the Christian service directly or indirectly inspired the Weekly Remembrance: not only its weekly rhythm, but also the faith-based rhetoric which underpinned it, or the combination of liturgical with elocutionary elements. Despite the obvious parallels, party officials insisted that the Weekly Remembrance was different to Christianity in being strictly rational, scientific and this-worldly and aiming at inculcating a revolutionary work ethic. Interestingly, it was the element most reminiscent of Protestantism – the regular self-introspection, which was exclusively left to individual conscience – that most hampered the social effectiveness of the GMD’s weekly ritual.

Kuhlmann, Dirk: Opening a space of reflection through “Global Modernity”? – On the Perception of Christianity in recent PRC historiographic discourse

This paper assumes a meta-perspective on Christianity as a “model religion,” analysing the discourse on the historiography of Christianity in late Qing China. As will be shown, the discourse unfolding in the 1980s, after the left-wing anti-imperialist critique lost its political backing, can be described as a development from an interpretive pattern based on the concept of “Modernisation” to one approaching a concept of “global modernity” (“cultural exchange”). Within this process, the perception of Christianity as a model in the Chinese context changes considerably: The “Modernisation” pattern focuses on Christianity (and missionary work) as representing and propagating Western modernity, predominantly understood as and reduced to technology and (natural) scientific knowledge.

In this regard, the interpretive pattern of “cultural exchange” acts as a corrective by critically examining the proposed connection between Christianity and Western modernity as a historiographic topos. At the same time, a pluralistic and interactive model of modernity is put forth as an alternative to the concept of “catching up with the West” inherent in the “Modernisation” pattern. The model character of Christianity in constructing a global Modernity in China accordingly rests in its representing the paradigmatic “Other,” whose presence initiated a globalised – mainly Chinese-Western – discourse in the late Qing through the processes of transformation, adaption and rejection.  

In addition, the model character of this historiographic discourse on Christianity as a “space of reflection” for socio-political discourses in the PRC, e.g. on the social service activities of religious communities, shall be considered.