Our methods of collection of data for this book comprise in-depth, semi-structured, and structured interviews. Between 2013 and 2017, we also engaged in periods of fieldwork, totalling eight months in mainland China alone, and the rest of the time, in Hong Kong and Singapore. Our research respondents comprised 45 Chinese Christians who are based in mainland China (Chengdu, Kunming, Shenzhen, Wenzhou), Hong Kong, and Singapore. The respondents in Mainland China and Singapore were all mainland Chinese, consisting of lay Christians and members of the clergy who belong to both official and independent Catholic and Protestant churches. We recruited these respondents through snowball sampling, starting with the Chinese Christians we know personally in these three countries. For many years, one of us had been a volunteer with a foreign Christian development NGO which has been engaging in poverty alleviation and medical and educational projects in southwestern China for two decades. We conducted in-depth interviews with five past and present volunteers and full-time workers at the NGO. Data was also collected from participant observation in the NGO’s activities and its official publications. We also conducted online participant observation in Chinese Christian groups on various social media platforms (e.g. QQ, WeChat, Facebook). The political sensitivity of the topic meant that we had to establish high levels of trust with our informants and ensure strict confidentiality. The Chinese Christians agreed to us joining their groups in social media because one of us is a Christian and has been involved in teaching the mainland Chinese Christians in a theological college and church in Singapore. Another of us was introduced to the Catholic and Protestant clerical informants in Mainland China and Hong Kong through personal acquaintances in these two places.
Organisation of the Book
In Chapter 2, we present our main theoretical approaches and the various concepts we utilise for analyses in the subsequent chapters. We first discuss the theoretical approach of viewing religion as an everyday practice and how this form of conceptualising religion is appropriate for analysing Christianity and social
Gifts from above 19 change in the context of China. This is followed by theoretical elaborations on the concepts of atheist secularisation and unobtrusive social engagements. This chapter highlights how these concepts are used in the subsequent chapters on religious use of social media, pursuits of “holistic development”, and the practice of Christianity in the workplace.
One of the most remarkable social trends in China in recent years is the explosion of mobile internet and social media usage. In Chapter 3, we use the concept of intercontextuality to analyse the processes in which the Chinese Christians integrate spiritual and religious capital on social media, such as WeChat, QQ, and Facebook. Through what we call networked transmission of religious values, social media enabled our Chinese Christians respondents to discuss different aspects of their lives such as religious practices and activities related to daily lives and work. At the individual level, this amalgamation of religion with daily activities often blurs or ignores the institutional distinction between the “religious” and “non-religious”. While neither openly discusses “sensitive” issues nor mobilises on social media, many of our respondents nevertheless wish to disseminate Christian values through online social networks. We end this chapter with a discussion of the limitations of using social media for the transmission of religious values in China.
In Chapter 4, we analyse how Chinese evangelical Protestant employees view work and the workplace from a religious perspective, and how they seek to influence the broader society through the workplace. While existing China-focused studies have mainly examined the experience of the Christian business elite (Chan and Yamanori 2002; Cao 2011; Lee, McCann and Yuen 2012; Tong 2012), in this chapter, we enquire into the experience of the employees. Working in predominantly non-Christian and secular workplaces, these employees discursively construct a distinction between their own Christian work ethos and that of their non-Christian colleagues. They regard the workplace as an arena where Christian evangelism, the perceived moral decline of contemporary society, and the supposed solution to the crisis are entangled. For these evangelical Protestant employees, the cultivation of personal piety and engagement in the subtle proselytisation in the workplace is not only a matter of saving souls but also transforming the moral fabric of society.
Chapter 5 presents a case study of an international Christian NGO, GMV (a pseudonym), which has been working in China for decades. Given the Chinese government’s increasing strict regulations on the activities of civic and religious groups, especially foreign ones, how can foreign Christian groups such as GMV pursue their aims of transforming Chinese society, spread Christian messages, and seek new converts? To answer this question, we demonstrate how ideological disguise shapes the discursive practice of development of both GMV and the partystate in their interactions with each other. For the officials and bureaucrats of the party-state, the practice of ideological disguise involves, first, the insistence on the “secular” or “non-religious” dimension of the work conducted by the religious NGOs. At the same time they choose to downplay or publicly ignore the fact that the volunteers and workers may be religiously motivated. Communitydevelopment entails the improvement of local infrastructure, literacy, healthcare provisions, skills training, and other competencies and capabilities that are not ostensibly related to religious ideology and matters. For religious NGOs such as the GMV, ideological disguise involves downplaying, or even publicly disavowing, the religious messages and intent in their community work as they interact with an officially atheistic government.
In the concluding Chapter 6, we summarise the major arguments in our book. We reiterate the need to go beyond the civil society approach to understand the role of religion in ameliorating social suffering through social engagement and changing moral and behavioural norms in China. While not denying the fact that the party-state continues to actively monitor and bend religion to its will to achieve its goals, we argue that religion often slips outside the arenas in which they are circumscribed. Much of existing scholarship has demonstrated that religious organisations and individual actors have done so by negotiating, accommodating, or collaborating with, and sometimes resisting, the authorities. We argue in this book that there is another story which has not been adequately told. This is the story of how religion is infused into society through popular technological culture and the workplace, and this is facilitated by religious actors who find connections with a global discourse of holistic development.
1 The purpose of this section is to set the context for the subsequent discussions in this book and hence not an exhaustive survey on this subject. From among a voluminous body of work, see e.g. Harnack (1961); Winter (1994); Bosch (2007); MacCulloch (2010); Jenkins (2011); Wilfred (2014); Hovey and Philips (2015); Akanbi and Beyers (2017); and Gutterman (2018).