Libmonster ID: UK-1354


Candidate of Geographical Sciences

Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: China, Christianity, revivel, number of adherents, growth components, geographical distribution

The history of China's Christianization dates back more than a century, but it was only in the twenty-first century that the work of Christian missionaries began to produce impressive results. Today, China is the world's leading country in terms of population and is home to one of the largest Christian communities, second only to the Philippines in Asia.

More than half a century ago, after the rise to power of the Communists and the formation of the PRC, few religious researchers could have predicted that Christianity in the Middle Kingdom would have a future, and the number of Christians in the country would grow.

Beijing's official policy towards Christianity has undergone significant changes over the years of the PRC's existence: from the initial "suppression" (1949-1966) and even "eradication" (1966-1979) in the era of the "cultural revolution" to "control with the aim of weakening" (1979-1995) during the beginning of the World War II. a country of economic reforms and, finally, "governance for containment" - from 1995 to the present1.

Thus, over time, the Chinese Communist authorities have come to terms with the existence of a Christian community in their country, and Protestantism and Catholicism, along with Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism, now constitute the country's five officially recognized religious traditions.2

Now the Association of Chinese Catholic Patriots (ACCP) and the Protestant Patriotic Movement of the Triple Independence of Christians (PDTNH), officially recognized by the state, are actively operating in the country3. Both religious associations have their own spiritual educational institutions, thousands of priests distribute more than 18 million copies of the Chinese Bible printed in local printing houses every year, and in all major Chinese cities, along with Buddhist pagodas and Taoist temples, the silhouettes of churches are clearly visible.4

Since 2013, after the visit of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia to China, it has been possible for the state to officially recognize the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church, which does not yet have its own bishop. 5 In addition, the Metropolia of the Patriarchate of Constantinople operates in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Having survived the persecution, Christians have become one of the most dynamically growing and influential religious communities in China, whose share in the country's population tends to constantly grow (see Table 1). According to official statistics, the extremely low share of Christians in China's population in 1970 (0.1%, or only 850 thousand people) is explained by the fact that at that time, for well-known reasons, many people hid their commitment to the Christian religion.

Despite the obvious manifestations of the influence of the Chinese Christian community, there are significant problems in assessing its actual size, the values of which vary widely - from 2 to almost 9% of the country's population (see Table 2).

Such a wide range of data is due to the fact that until now there is no single statistical database of the Christian population in China, and the census does not include a question about religion.

However, when analyzing data on the number of Christians in China, it should be borne in mind that this topic is extremely relevant for local authorities, who believe that its growth may be an indirect indication of the ideological and cultural weakness of the PRC.

Table 1

Dynamics of the Christian population in China


Christian population in China, million people

Percentage of Christians in China's population, %








28,7- 115,0

2,1 -8,6

2020 (forecast)



2050 (forecast)



Calculated and compiled by the author on the basis of Atlas of Global Christianity data. 1910 - 2010 // Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Edinburgh, 2009; Christianity in its Global Context, 1970 - 2020 // Society, Religion, and Mission. Center for the Study of Global Christianity. South Hamilton, 2013.

page 42

Table 2

Size and proportion of China's Christian population according to various estimates (2010)

Data source

Christian population in China, million people

Percentage of Christians in China's population, %

China's place in the world in terms of the number of Christians






















* Atlas of Global Christianity. 1910 - 2010...

** Christianity in its Global Context, 1970 - 2020...

*** Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population. Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life. Washington, D.C., 2011.

**** The Global Religious Landscape. A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Major Religious Groups as of 2010. Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, Washington, D.C., 2012.

***** Malek R. People's Republic of China: Churches and Religions. Annual Statistical Overview 2010/2011 // Religions and Christianity in Today's China. 2011. Vol. I, N 1, p. 32 - 59.

the number of Christians in the country. As for Christians themselves, they often refuse to participate in surveys, fearing that public recognition of their membership in Christianity may lead to infringement of their rights by the authorities.6 In addition, not all even regular parishioners of churches go through the official rite of baptism, and therefore their membership in Christianity can be called informal.

One of the leading experts on the study of religions in China, Professor Yang Fenggang from Purdue University (USA, Indiana), describing the situation in the religious sphere of the PRC, uses the"triple market model "7. This model consists of three structural elements:" red market "(officially authorized (registered) religious organizations), "red market" (officially authorized (registered) religious organizations).black market" (officially banned religious organizations, such as Falun Gong 8) and "gray market" (religious organizations that are not banned but do not have a legal legal status).

Thus, the official Chinese religious statistics provided by the Blue Book of Religions, published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, can be considered minimal, since they take into account only regular parishioners over the age of 18 who are officially registered, i.e. those who belong only to the "red market" of religious organizations. associations.

To estimate the total Christian population in China, it is necessary to take into account the parishioners of religious organizations of the "gray market": for this purpose, indirect statistics are used based on estimated church attendance data, the number of copies of the Bible distributed over certain periods of time, sociological surveys of parishioners, interviews with leaders of Christian communities, etc.

According to the Blue Book of Reli-

page 43

Table 3

Components of China's Christian population change (2010)

Factors of Christian population dynamics

Factor share, %

Number of Christians per year, thous.

Conversion (conversion to Christianity)






Christian population increases every year



Leaving Christianity






Christian population declines in a year



Total: dynamics of the Christian population for the year



Calculated and compiled by the author on: Atlas of Global Christianity. 1910 - 2010..

gii", there are 28.7 million people in China. Christians, of which 23 million are Protestants (1.8% of the country's population), 5.7 million are Catholics (0.3%); there are about 55,000 churches and other religious buildings in the country, mostly built in the last decade.9 On the other hand, back in 2006, the head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, Ye Xiaowen, in an interview with the Xinhua news agency, expressed the opinion that about 130 million people live in China. christians 10. According to data provided by T. Jones and K. Ross of the Center for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh (UK), there are more than 115 million people in China. Christians (8.6% of the country's population), of which about 100 million (7.5% of the PRC's population) are Protestants, 15.2 million are Catholics (1.1% of the total population); the number of Orthodox Christians is small - about 70 thousand people.11

Thus, it seems that a significant part of the adherents of Christianity are adherents of non-state-registered religious organizations ("gray market"), which are conventionally called "home" or "catacomb" churches.12 These religious communities refuse to place themselves under the administrative and theological control of official churches. Even if they are subject to certain state persecutions, they still have the opportunity to conduct their religious activities, including building religious buildings. In this regard, the terms "home" or "catacomb" church are rather a convention and do not mean that their adherents gather only in private homes or, especially, in dungeons.

In recent years, the most important direction in the development of Christianity in China has been the Christian revival movement, or revivel. The first wave of the revival is associated with Pentecostalism, the ideology and cult practice of which played a decisive role in the development of the entire movement. Later, the second wave of the renaissance affected and transformed other Protestant traditions (first of all, Baptism, Methodism, Presbyterianism), as well as Catholicism and even Orthodoxy, i.e. it took on a trans-confessional character*.

Doctrinal features of the revivalist movement-belief in the need for spiritual transformation-

* Christian churches that did not break with their tradition, but went through revivals, began to be called charismatic (author's note).

page 44

the Christian's "birth from above" as a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit; belief in the inspiration of the Bible; active use of glossolalia - speaking in other languages-in religious practice; conviction of the need to introduce as many people as possible to the faith. Churches in this direction are characterized by an active social position; some of them adhere to the" theology of prosperity "("theology of wealth"), which encourages a person's desire for wealth and success. Therefore, many Chinese become Christians in order, as Yang Fenggang writes, "to discover the secret of Western success and prosperity." The internal structure of churches of the Revivalist movement is not characterized by hierarchy, as in the traditional branches of Christianity, but by a network structure, which seriously complicates the state's control over religious organizations.

Among the "home churches" of the PRC, those who have experienced revivalism are dominated primarily by Pentecostal and charismatic churches, whose number of followers is estimated to exceed 95 million, or about 83% of the Christian community in the PRC.13 Examples of religious organizations of the revivel movement are the China for Christ Church (Fap Cheng Brotherhood) and the Chinese Evangelical Brotherhood (Tanhe Brotherhood), the country's largest associations of "home churches" built on a network basis, with an estimated 10 to 15 million followers each.14

Other religious organizations in the country that are not officially recognized by the state include the "catacomb" Catholic Church of China. Bishops are appointed by the Pope, despite the principle of triple independence, which precludes official recognition by the authorities of a religious organization whose leadership is located outside the PRC.15 According to estimates, the number of" catacomb "Catholics exceeds the number of patriotic Catholics from the ACCP - there are more than 9 million" catacomb " Catholics16.

Despite the differences in estimates of the size of the Christian community, all modern sources agree that the growth of the Christian population is an important trend in modern China. In terms of the annual growth rate of the Christian population, which allows the country to double the number of Christians, on average every 6.6 years, China ranks 2nd in the world, slightly second only to Nepal, 17 and in terms of absolute annual growth-more than 2.8 million - it has no equal in the world18. Largely due to the high Christian population growth rates in China, as well as in India and Sub-Saharan Africa, the current century has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Christians in the Global South, i.e. in the developing world.

It is estimated that about 147 million people will live in China by 2020. By 2050, it will have more than 225 million Christians, and the country will be the second largest Christian country in the world after the United States19. As the average annual growth rate of China's Christian population is very high, Christians will account for almost 11% of the country's population by 2020 and more than 18% by 2050.

There are three main sources of growth in religious adherents: the birth rate in the religious community (demographic growth), the intensity of conversion to religion (religious conversion), and, finally, the immigration of co-religionists. Accordingly, to reduce-

page 45

Table 4

Christian population in Chinese provinces (2010)

Provinces of the PRC

Number of Christians in the province, million people

Percentage of Christians in the province's population, %




























Calculated and compiled by the author on the basis of data from: Atlas of Global Christianity. 1910 - 2010...

the opposite processes lead to an increase in the number of believers: mortality, withdrawal from religion, emigration of co-religionists.

Growth of the Christian population in China (see Table). 3) occurs primarily due to religious conversion. According to the Center for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, about 2.8 million people converted to Christianity in China in 2010, accounting for almost 17% of the world's newly converted Christians.20 The data provided in the Blue Book of Religions also show the impressive extent of Chinese conversion to Christianity: almost three-quarters of the country's Christians have been converted since 1993.21

The distribution of the Christian population in China has clear regional features: the majority of Christians are concentrated in the provinces belonging to the eastern and central regions of the country, located on the Pacific coast and in the Yellow River and Yangtze valleys. Almost 60% of the country's Christians are concentrated in 9 (out of 22) provinces of the PRC, where the Christian community is more than 4 million each, and Henan Province has the largest Christian population in East Asia among the first-order administrative divisions - more than 17.5 million (see Table 4).

The localization of Christians in China in the most economically developed provinces of the country confirms the view of many experts22 on Christianity, primarily Protestantism, as an important condition (or consequence) of economic development.

1 Why Christianity is thriving in China today

2 For more information, see: Fellman F. Is opium useful? "Adapted religion "and" harmony " in modern China // New scientific approaches to the study of religions of China (Modern foreign religious studies). Moscow, IDV RAS. 2013. (Fellman F. 2013. Polezen li opium? "Adaptirovannaya religiya" i "garmoniya" v sovremennom Kitae // Novye nauchnye podkhody k izucheniyu religiy Kitaya (Sovremennoe zarubezhnoe religiovedenie). M.) (in Russian)

3 "Triple independence", or san tzu, is understood as the unity of three principles that ensure the official recognition of religion in the PRC: self-government (zi zhi), self-sufficiency (zi yang), self-distribution (zi chuan). See: Datsyshen V. G. Christianity in China: history and modernity. Moscow, Scientific and Educational Institute forum on international relations. 2007, с. 177. (Datsyshen V.G. 2007. Khristianstvo v Kitae: istoriya i sovremennost. M.) (in Russian)

4 Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population. Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life. Washington, D.C., 2011.

5 Hilarion: there are all conditions for the revival of the Orthodox Church of China / / RIA Novosti. 14.05.2013.

Stark R., Byron J., Carson M. 6 Counting China's Christians -

Fenggang Y. 7 The Red, Black, and Gray Markets of Religion in China // The Sociological Quarterly. 2006. N 47, p. 93 - 122. In his model, Yang Fengan draws on the ideas of the American sociologists of religion R. Stark and W. A. McCarthy. Bainbridge researchers who use economic terminology to explain the religious situation in the modern world, seeing in it the relations of competing religious organizations operating in the "market" of religions (author's note). See: Stark R., Bainbridge W. S. A Theory of Religion. Bern, Lang. 1987, p. 27.

8 Syncretic religious teaching, created in 1992 by retired officer Li Hongzhi, combining health practices with elements of the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism, characterized by an ordered hierarchical structure like a military one. See for more information: Galenovich Yu. "Falun Gong", or a holy place is never empty //Asia and Africa today. 2001. N 11. (Galenovich Yu. 2001. "Falungun", ili svyato mesto pusto ne byvaet // Aziya i Afrika segodnya. N 11) (in Russian)

Lam A. 9 A Review of the Development of Christianity in China from the latest edition of Blue Book of Religions (2010) // Tripod. 2010. N 159, p. 54 - 62.

10 Подробнее см.: Hattaway P. How many Christians are there in China? - How%20Many%20Christians%20are%20There%20in%20China.pdf

11 Atlas of Global Christianity. 1910 - 2010. Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Edinburgh, 2009.

Lee J. 12 Christianity in Contemporary China: An Update // Journal of Church and State. 2007. N 49 (2), p. 277 - 304.

13 Atlas of Global Christianity...

Wesley L. 14 Is the Chinese Church predominantly pentecostal? // Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies. 2004. Vol. 7, N 2, p. 225 - 254.

15 For more information, see: Leksyutina Ya. V. China - USA and the problem of freedom of Religion / / Asia and Africa today. 2011. N 2. (Leksyutina Ya.V. 2011. China - USA i problema svobody veroispovedaniya // Aziya i Afrika segodnya. N 2) (in Russian)

16 Atlas of Global Christianity...

17 You might be surprised at the Top 20 countries where Christianity is growing the fastest -

18 Atlas of Global Christianity...

19 Christianity in its Global Context...

20 Atlas of Global Christianity...

21 For more information, see: Global Christianity: A Report...

22 For example, P. Berger claims that "Evangelical Protestantism, especially Pentecostalism, is the most serious mass movement that serves as a means of cultural globalization". See: Berger P. L. Cultural dynamics of globalization / / Many Faces of globalization: cultural diversity in the modern world / Edited by P. Berger and S. Huntington, Moscow, Aspect Press, 2004.


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