China’s Five-Year Plan for Adapting Christianity to Chinese Socialism

China’s Five-Year Plan for Adapting Christianity to Chinese Socialism May 23, 2018

Many people have heard about China’s plan to “sinicize” Christianity. What does that mean? The government has published its plans online, both in Mandarin and English. Below are some of the highlights.

A Snapshot of Sinicization

To catch the flavor of the government’s plan, you can simply observe its language. The word-cloud below identifies the most frequently used words in the report.

Here is a selective list of key words that illustrates the plan’s emphases. I note the number of times certain words appear.

80x  Sinicization (73) or “sinicized” (7)
30x  “socialism” (22) or “socialist” (8)
24x “national” or “nation”
18x “patriotic” or “patriotism”
17x “core values of socialism”
17x “society”
14x “social”
8x “Chinese culture”
6x “traditional culture”
5x “Party”
4x “Communist”
4x “government”

9x “Bible”
2x “Christ”
0x “Jesus”

The document notes the importance of “interpretation,” mentioning it 6 times. At first, this sounds great. But you have to see how the term is used. Observe these examples, leaders will…

  • organize “seminars for promoting Sinicized biblical interpretation.”
  • “adopt China’s “elucidation” by conforming interpretations of church doctrines and rules to distinguished Chinese culture and to form a Sinicized way to express Christian faith
  • “Sinicized interpretation of beliefs and teachings”
  • “for reinterpreting the Bible and writing annotations for it.”
  • “Encourage original interpretations of the Bible”

What does “sinicize” mean?

For a culture that often uses indirect communication, the plan clearly states the meaning of “sinicized.” Here are a few excerpts:

To drive forwards the process on the Sinicization of Christianity, the following principles must be observed: Embrace and support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Be guided by the core values of socialism and endorse the system, ways, theories and culture of our country’s development.

“The persistence of Sinicization by the religions in our country is guided by the core values of socialism, promoting the excellent traditions of the Chinese nation, nurturing the concepts of unity, progress, peace and tolerance…. Based on the Bible, the Sinicization of Christianity… practices the core values of socialism, spreads the gospel, witnesses Christ and manages the church well.”

The plan is specific and holistic. It mentions key activities, celebrations, and objectives to be achieved by certain dates.

Accordingly, the Chinese Three-Self church will celebrate various anniversaries, such as the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (2019), the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (2020), the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (2021), etc.

Credit: Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The government will organize various conferences, create journals, and encourage publication. Therefore, it will

“solicit articles on the theme, display, exhibit and propagate through preaching groups and other activities so the majority of believers inherit the excellent traditions of their predecessors’ love of the country and the church and promote the conscious recognition of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party of China and the road of socialism.”

Furthermore, it will use art exhibits and cultural performances. Also, leaders will

“start work on compiling and publishing Sinicized hymn books to further blend Christian and excellent Chinese traditional culture and advanced socialist culture.”

Confused or Passive-Aggressive?

The statement’s directness does not mean it doesn’t dabble in a bit of double-speak, or, should I say, “less clear speech.” One of the plan’s stated goals says,

Promote prosperity, democracy, civilization, harmony, freedom, equality, and justice, the rule of law, patriotism, industriousness, honesty and friendliness as core values of socialism.”

I’m not sure how “promoting democracy” squares with the propagation of socialism, embracing communism, and the lack of term limits. However, my confusion might simply show my own lack of intelligence or insight.

What is unmistakable is the anti-Western sentiment throughout the document.

“Maintaining the direction of Sinicization requires Protestant churches to take off the “tether” of the West and adopt China’s “elucidation” by conforming interpretations of church doctrines and rules to distinguished Chinese culture and to form a Sinicized way to express Christian faith.”

“Persist in the independence, autonomy and self-administration of the church and defend against foreign infiltration in the new era.”

I’m not sure how that relates to the goal (stated elsewhere) to “persist with the direction of ecumenism.”

What about the Bible?

From the writers’ perspective, an honest answer to that question might be “What about it?” The five-year plan obviously regards the Bible as a tool for political, cultural, and social ends.

“Bible study needs to be strengthened to establish a correct view of the Bible and the biblical hermeneutics in conformity with the situation in China as a foundation for deepening the development of theological thought.”

“Contents of the Bible that are compatible with the core values of socialism should be deeply researched in order to write books that are popular and easy-to-understand. “

If you know anyone working on a theological dictionary, let them know about these statements so they can quote them under the term “eisegesis.” This is not biblical contextualization.

Apparently, the government has no immediate plans to replace the Chinese Union Version. A celebration of its 100th anniversary is planned for 2019.

“Sinicized” Theological Education?

Of course, an important aspect of the 5-year plan involves theological education.

“Curriculums require a higher proportion of teaching on the core values of socialism, patriotism, Chinese history, literature, philosophy and arts along with other traditional culture.”

What materials will the government church use? They will…

“Compile and publish relevant historical materials on patriotism to make patriotism deservedly righteousness for Christians.”

In 2019, the plan has the following aim:

“Conduct patriotic education, stay in line with people’s hopes and be devoted to construction of a great socialist motherland.”

The document speaks for itself. I’ll conclude will a single thought.

If this does not motivate Christians to establish and prioritize theological education in China, nothing will.

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