Today any visitors to China are impressed by seeing the astonishing
degree of economic and technological development such as exhibited
on the east side of Shanghai.
It is very challenging to see the enormous economic development
as indicated by the figure of 6% per year of national growth. Equally
astonishing is the growth of the Christian population in the last
50 years. We are told that the Christian population is about 16
million including Catholic Christians which count roughly 6 million.
This means the Chinese church has grown 16 times while the population
increased only 3.5 times in the last 50 years.
Bishop K.H.Ting in his recent book indicates that this growth
is not a result of natural course but came about through the experience
of resurrection after the days of cultural revolution:
"Not a single church remained open. There was left no
government organ to protect us from lawlessness. We had, no rebel
group of our own to support us, nor any bandwagon to ride on. It
would have been fortunate if we could just flock together. By all
human reckoning Christianity, perhaps for the fourth time in Chinese
history, was again breathing its last breath.
What we were blind to was that when we were weak and dying life
was in the offing. As Shelley wrote, If winter comes, can spring
be far behind ?' Strength is found in weakness, as life in dying.
As Paul put it, what you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable; it is
sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness,
it is raised in power." (K.H.Ting, Love Never Ends, 2000, p.87)
We were very much impressed by participating in the vital worship
service on Sunday in St. Paul Church in Nanjing in which the choir
from Suchan sang beautiful Chinese hymns and songs. Over two thousand
people attended three services over the weekend.
In Nanjing, at the Amity Art Center we saw precious pieces of
Christian art works which are ready to ship to Austria for a special
exhibition at the National Museum in Vienna to be held from September
17 - October, 2000. They are rich and creative expressions of Christian
faith in the Chinese context. We are told that about 100 pieces
of artworks will be displayed in Vienna including 30 pieces from
the Catholic church.
While we were In China from April 29 - May 5, 2000 for the executive
committee meeting of Asian Christian Art Association, we continuously
pondered such questions as the process of indigenization, significance
of art in the life and mission of the church and above all, what
is Christian art. It seems there are three stages in the process
The first stage advocates the need of
indigenization. Against the background of the predominant Western
culture, the need to express the Christian Gospel through the traditional
culture is emphasized. Many churches in the Non-Western World have
advocated the need but not provided the necessary support and encouragement.
The second stage is the experimental
stage. It is the stage of various attempts to express the Christian
Gospel through the traditional culture. Among the various experiments,
such attempts as to put Christ and the disciples into Chinese clothes
is easily discernable. In Shanghai, we have received a beautiful
book which contained 43 pieces of Yu Jiade. The fact that this book
was published jointly by the Three - Self Committee of the Protestant
Churches in China and China Christian Council indicates the considerable
interest and support of the Chinese church to the effort of Christian
artists. The concern to communicate the Christian Gospel through
Chinese traditional culture is expressed in the following sentence
of Luo Guanzong, one of the key leaders of the Chinese Church.
"Art is able to touch man's heart and soul, and is also
able to connect with the long and unique history of Chinese culture.
Therefore it is art which can manifest the good tidings of the coming
of God's only begotten son Jesus Christ to the world through incarnation
in a better way." (Preface of the book, 'Jesus, Son of Man' by Yu
Another good example is the paper cutting works of Fan Pu, a female
artist who works in the Amity Christian Art Center in Nanjing. Following
in her father's footsteps, who was a dedicated pastor and calligrapher
in Nanjing, she does intricate Chinese paper cutting works to express
Biblical messages. She also edits the information sheets which Amity
Christian Art Center publishes for the exchange of information among
the Chinese artists and those who are interested In Chinese Christian
art around the world.
It is very inspiring to see the development of indigenization
in this stage. It is like spring to see many flowers bloom at the
same time. Yet, one also needs to examine them. While some of the
works contain vigorous creative power, some tend to become static
rather than dynamic, formal rather than creative. They give the
comfort and peace to the older generation but may not appeal to
the younger generation. To put it bluntly, they put Christ in old
China, but not necessarily in the new China.
The third stage tries to carry the struggle
of the searching spirit to find the new frontier. It may be called
the stage of new breakthrough. It is not either entirely Western
nor old Chinese but tries to find new identity in the new China
or the contemporary China. It openly accepts the impact of old West
and old China but also attempts to find unique new expression in
contemporary China. For example, I can name three prominent artists.
Ding Fang (Beijing), He Qi (Nanjing) and Wang Ro (Shanghai).
They studied during a similar period at the Nanjing Art Institute.
To be sure, their art works exhibit different characteristics, but
indicate the struggling effort to be on the new creative front which
contains universal appeal. In this stage even the term of indigenization
may not be adequate, since it has universal quality in the world
context. Also this universal openness provides the ground of dialogue
among the people of other religions, by pointing out the ultimate
source of life. Their effort is to find the new language to respond
to the transcending light in the reality of the Bible.
As some of our Chinese friends expressed this is the beginning
of the exercise. We like to continuously support and understand
the creative expression of Christian art in China today, from which
we have much to learn.