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Four Historical Stages of the Indigenization of Chinese Christian Art
He Qi
March 28, 2000

China's Christian Art have experienced four stages in the process of its contextualization and indigenization:

1. The Stage of Nestorian (The Period of The Tang and Yuan Dynasties);
2. The Stage of Catholic Jesuits (The Period of The Ming and Qing Dynasties);
3. The Stage of Semi-Colonialism (The Period of the late 19th century and early 20th century); and
4. The Stage from the 1980s to the Present.

part 1 | part 2 | part 3
Part Four: The New Historical Stage of the Eighties in the 20th Century:

Since the late 1970s, the leftist idea represented by the "Gang of Four" has been thoroughly rejected. As order were restored in every field, and the religious freedom policy was gradually re-instated, Christianity also revived in the early 1980s. Indigenous Christian art thus made a firm come back. As we are in this new historical era in which everything is in a developing state, it is too early to draw conclusions.

As a matter of fact, some highly influencial Chinese Christian leaders have a vision to advocate and develop indigenous Chinese Christian art. The start could be traced back to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement launched in the early 1950s. The three principles of "self-government, self-support and self-propagation" has shaken off the manipulation of church affairs by foreign mission societies, and has educated Chinese Christians to understand how to first be Chinese.

This is a right choice for the context of China and for the progress of the Chinese society. In old China, especially from the Opium War to the Attack of Beijing and Tianjing by the Western Eight-Allies, Chinese Christians who received baptism in churches run by foreign missionaries and who hid there to seek protections when there were religious violence, were accused as "traitors" by the ordinary Chinese. There was a saying,"If China gains one Christian, it will lose one Chinese." It would be difficult for the churches to successfully spread the Gospel in new China if it did not change its image as a "foreign religion". From the perspective of church history and theology, "Self-Propagation" is always an issue the which churches need to face. Only when the universal Good News mingles with the local culture, will it be possible for it to be accepted by the local people.

It is certain that from the 1950s to the 1970s, the use of traditional Chinese art as a means to practice "self-propagation" and to change the churches' "foreign image" was not placed on the agenda by churches in China. In the 1950s, because of the movement of "thoroughly reform oneself" initiated among churches which were promoting the "Three-Self" Principles, churches were not able to spend time thinking about Christian art. And also, because of the interference of the Leftist Line, from which China suffered - - from 1960s to 1970s, all churches in China were completely paralyzed, let alone think about Christian art. It was not until the 1980s when the churches were revived after the Cultural Revolution, and the principle of "Operating the Church Well" was on their agenda, that the cause of indigenous Christian Art was promoted and supported by some of the outstanding Christian leaders. Not long after the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary was reopened in 1981, K.H. Ting, then President of the Seminary, suggested a class of Chinese calligraphy and painting be taught at the seminary and that famous Chinese calligraphers and painters be invited from Jiangsu Province to teach the course. It was the hope that indigenous Chinese Christian art be used to express the Christian faith to the seminary students. Famous calligraphers and painters came to give lectures to the class. Some were Professor Hung Yanghui, a famous painter from the Provincial Chinese Painting Institute; Director Zhu Kui, the Director of the Provincial Fine Art Museum; Professor Fan Baowen and Professor Luo Jianzao, both were from the Art Department of Nanjing Normal University. I, myself, have been blessed to be able to teach in the Seminary since the spring of 1983, and to participate and witness the work of Chinese Christian Art under the leadership of these Chinese Christian leaders. It could be said that indigenous Chinese Christian Art in the 1980s was developed under the special care of Bishop Ting at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. Besides, some local churches also gave their support to the development of indigenous Chinese Christian Art. For example, the Jiangsu Provincial Christian Council has tried for a long time to use the Chinese style paintings with Christian themes to publish their New Year calendars. Though most of these paintings have not gotten rid of the western style imitations because of the historical western influence, their painstaking efforts can obviously be seen, and which we regard as the prelude to real Chinese Christian art works.

In 1993 a Chinese Christian Art Meeting was held in Nanjing. Dr. Han Wenzao presided at the meeting. The Amity Christian Art Center was established (previously it had been under Amity Foundation).
From that time, the development of indigenous Chinese Christian art has progressed to a new and solid stage. From 1993, the Amity Christian Art Center has organized three national level art exhibitions. They were held in Hong Kong, Nanjing and Vienna.
Bishop Ting wrote the forewords for the three exhibitions. The Shanghai Three-Self Movement Committee published Mr. Yu Jiade's "Paintings Album of Water and Ink". In Nanjing, the Amity Christian Art Center published the book "Amity Christian Art Painting Album" as well as Christmas cards and other Christian folk handicrafts. Bishop Ting and Dr. Han wrote respectively the "Amity Art Painting Album's", preface and foreword.

At this time, please allow me to use the words of the preface from the Amity Art Painting Album written by Bishop Ting in April, 1995, as the concluding remarks of this composition:

"Every religion known to humankind employs the language of art to convey its message. In the course of the process, art is transformed by religion. Because of this, religious art cannot but be organically linked to human culture.

In the past 40 years, Chinese Christianity has striven to divest itself of its western image, replacing this with an eastern, Chinese identity, thereby becoming one of the components of Chinese culture. 'Three-Self'--- self--government, self-support and self-propagation is the name we have given to this effort. We feel this is the only means by which a Christianity with a Chinese identity can spread the Gospel among our people and enrich the church. It is also in this way that a Chinese Christianity can best become involved in and enrich the Church Universal."

1."The Complete Works of Matteo Racci" Volume , p. 414, Taipei Guang Qi Publishing House
2-5..Daniel Yohnron Flemirg,by Gianni Criveller, published in "Tripod", Volume 18, No.103, pp. 29, 30,32
6-7."Each With His Own Brush," published in 1938, by New York Union Theological Seminary, fifth print, 1946, pp. 11-12.

[This article and pictures are printed at the 'Christian Art Information' published by Amity Christian Art Center, number 9, 2001.2 and number 10, 2001.5']

part 1 | part 2 | part 3


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