The Chinese Perception of Christianity Explained

June 22, 2016

Christianity has existed in China since at least the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). Yet after more than twelve hundred years there are only 30 to 40 million self-identifying Christians in China. That’s less than 3% of China’s total population compared to more than 87% that are not religious who mostly follow the teachings of Confucius and/or Taoism, and Muslims (Islam arrived in China in the 6th and 7th centuries) represent less than 2% of the people.

Christianity hasn’t had much success in Japan either. The first known appearance of organized Christianity in Japan was the arrival of the Portuguese Catholics in 1549 more than four hundred years ago but only 2% of Japan’s population are Christians today.


For an answer, let’s turn to what Lin Yutang had to say on this subject.

Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976) was a Chinese writer, translator, linguist and inventor. He was one of the most influential writers of his generation. In 1933, he met Pearl S. Buck in Shanghai and she introduced him, and his writings to her American publisher.

Lin Yutang says, “For most Chinese the end of life lies not in life after death, for the idea that we live in order to die, as taught by Christianity, is incomprehensible, nor in Nirvana, for that is too metaphysical, not in the satisfaction of accomplishment, for that is too vainglorious, nor yet in progress for progress’ sake, for that is meaningless.

“The true end, the Chinese have decided in a singularly clear manner, lies in the enjoyment of a simple life, especially the family life, and in harmonious social relationships.”

“The Chinese are a nation of individualists. They are family-minded, not social-minded.  …  It is curious that the word society does not exist as an idea in Chinese thought. In the Confucian social and political philosophy we see a direct transition from family, ‘chia’, to the state, ‘kuo’, as successive stages of human organization. …

“The Chinese, therefore, make rather poor Christian converts, and if they are to be converted they should all become Quakers, for that is the only sort of Christianity that the Chinese can understand. Christianity as a way of life can impress the Chinese, but Christian creeds and dogmas will be crushed, not by a superior Confucian logic but by ordinary Confucian common sense. Buddhism itself, when absorbed by the educated Chinese, became nothing but a system of mental hygiene, which is the essence of Sung philosophy.”

My Country and My PeopleLin Yutang. Halcyon House, New York. 1938. Pgs 94; 101; 103; 172, and 108

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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