chapter  4
19 Pages

Protestant reactions to the nationalism agenda in contemporary China

ByCARSTEN T . VALA

The Chinese Communist Party-state seeks continued domination over society. Like other elite groups trying to impose hegemony, it promotes an ideology of its own legitimacy to lessen the costs of governance, as David Laitin puts it (Kindopp 2004; Laitin 1986). According to the regime, this ideology succeeds among Protestants to the extent that they view all political issues through the lens of sovereignty and see defending Chinese sovereignty as the most important political issue of all (Kindopp 2004: 19; Laitin 1986: 29; Metzger 1977: 14). Among Protestants, sovereignty ranks such a high value because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views Protestants in China with political suspicion. Protestants have historic (and ongoing) ties to foreign organizations and countries that in the official historiography have been labeled as ‘foreign imperialist’ (Wu 1963). In fact, in the eyes of the Communist regime, Protestants only became ‘fully Chinese’ after 1949 when they proclaimed support for the regimebacked Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) association and cast off links with foreign missionaries and churches (Vala 2009a). As China has opened to the world in the reform era, Protestants outside the official churches that are under TSPM authority continue to be under suspicion, because they remain outside regime control and foster relations with the many foreign groups that have entered the country to strengthen Chinese Christianity. The Chinese Communist Party-state therefore propagates a hegemonic agenda to tame Protestants by socializing them in TSPM churches to be ‘patriotic’, understood to constitute loyalty to the CCP leadership. In this chapter, I investigate how Protestants respond to the party-state’s nationalist agenda by asking how effective are efforts to inculcate party-state loyalty by the regime and its official Protestant associations, the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the Christian Council (CC). I begin with a brief note on the sources of data and then discuss the contingent membership of all religious believers in the party-state’s definition of the nation. Next, I elaborate on the regime’s blend of different elements of nationalism (state-led, civic, and cultural) as they apply to Protestants. These elements provide a schema for matching Protestant responses to aspects of the regime’s nationalist agenda. After analyzing the range of responses from leaders in official and unofficial churches and seminaries, I conclude with discussion of the limited success of the party-state nationalist agenda.