A New History of Christianity in China is an important book that contains a comprehensive survey of the history of Christianity in China. It makes use of several recent works, most notably the Handbook of Christianity in China in two volumes,* considered the benchmark reference work in the field, but with its high price and
in-depth detail, relegates this one to either reference libraries or the highly skilled specialist. The author, Daniel H. Bays, avoids both of these perils by synthesizing into one approachable survey a tool that can used either as a quick reference or as a helpful introduction.
What I found of particular interest is that Christianity has ancient origins in China. As the author points out, the Beijing City Museum has featured in its public exhibition an early depiction of a Nestorian stone cross that dates back 15 or more centuries. Perhaps an even more helpful artifact is the nine-foot-high marble stele (commemorative tablet) that contains more than 1,800 Chinese characters by a Christian monk named Jingling, claimed to have been written in 781. The stele gives a history of the early beginnings of Nestorian Christianity (a branch of the early Christian church) in China in 635 (for an overview, see pages 7–11). Truly, China has a rich and ancient Christian heritage.
Another area of personal interest was the Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864), which was inspired by Hong Ziuguan, who “received his Christian ideas from bits and pieces of the Bible, a personal audience with the Christian God, and a few weeks’ study with an American Baptist missionary, Issachar Roberts, in Hong Kong in 1847” (53). Although the author highlights the importance of the Ten Commandments to this movement, what he fails to note is that this movement was largely one that observed the seventh day as the Sabbath.
Whether you are a student of Christianity in Asia or someone who has an interest in missions or church history in China, this volume is a great place to start. Church leaders will want to read this volume to better appreciate the history that has led to the extremely complex and vibrant Christian faith as found in China.
—Reviewed by Michael W. Campbell, PhD, assistant professor of historical-theological studies, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang Cavite, Philippines.
* Nicolas Standaert, ed., Handbook of Christianity in China, vol. 1, 635–1800 (Leiden: Brill Academic Pub., 2000), and R. G. Tiedemann, ed., Handbook of Christianity in China, vol. 2, 1800– Present (Leiden: Brill Academic Pub., 2009).