chapter  14
14 Pages

Making sense of China’s state- society relations: unregistered Protestant churches in the reform era


Data sources and approach Supplementing the rich data that can be found in the existing scholarly literature on unregistered Protestant groups, this chapter taps several additional sources. First, it consults reports prepared by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and the China Aid Association. Second, the chapter examines primary documents produced by various levels of the Chinese party-state, as well as primary documents and auto-biographical accounts produced by members of unregistered Protestant churches. Third, the chapter references non-academic studies by foreign journalists and observers who have extensive contacts with mainland Chinese unregistered Protestant churches.3 Fourth, the chapter utilizes information reported in nine roughly two-hour interviews undertaken in 2009 and 2010 by the authors. The respondents included former unregistered Protestant church leaders and members currently residing in the US who are still in contact with unregistered churches throughout China, and human rights lawyers who have defended these individuals. Five of the nine respondents were in leadership positions in large unregistered Protestant churches or church networks when they were in China. At the time of the interviews, all of those respondents were active in Chinese Christian churches in the US that minister to unregistered Protestant churches throughout China. Fifth, this chapter draws on the personal experience of one of the co-authors. Teresa Zimmerman-Liu was a member for

30 years (1978-2008) of a Christian church that has been illegal in China since 1952. She was employed and later volunteered as a translator in the church’s publishing com panies in Taipei and the United States from 1983 to 2001. Since 2002, she has helped nearly 100 mainland Chinese members of her church and other unregistered churches obtain asylum and become settled in the US. She also has done freelance translation and interpretation work for the China Aid Association. Clear patterns emerge from these data sources, revolving around the four variables listed above. To be sure, one could also posit other variables that might impact unregistered Protestant church-state relations. However, our consultation of available data on the topic indicates that these four variables capture the most important influences on these relations. Our approach does not purport to be scientific; rather we employ a Weberian methodology wherein we review the array of details at our disposal, and search for patterns within the complexity. At the same time, we recognize that our four variables often overlap. Yet by examining each variable separately, it is easier to see when and why a given interaction may be more or less conflictual, and when and why it might shift.