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  1. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
  2. Vol. 13, No. 4, August 2012, pp. 398-410
  4. Christianity, especially evangelical Protestant Christianity, has undergone a remarkably
  5. rapid growth in the last generation in China. Although numbers are in dispute,
  6. it seems likely that there are at least fifty million Protestant Christians in China today,
  7. remarkable because prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China
  8. in 1949, there were less than one million. Because of the political difficulties of
  9. studying this burgeoning population, we have had almost no in-depth ethnographic
  10. studies of Chinese Christian communities. Now in Nanlai Cao’s book we have an
  11. excellent one.
  12. There are many of different kinds of Christians in China today, flourishing in
  13. different social strata and geographical regions and enjoying different degrees of
  14. acceptance by the Chinese state. A common stereotype in the West is that the most
  15. dynamically growing segment of the Christian population is poor, rural, female, and
  16. Pentecostal. This may have been true at one phase of Christian development in the
  17. past thirty years, but Cao’s ethnography shows that it is not true today. The ‘China’s
  18. Jerusalem’ that he studies is Wenzhou, where the leaders of an extremely rapidly
  19. growing Christian community are wealthy, urban, and male*the newly rich
  20. entrepreneurs who have made Wenzhou into the most dynamic commercial economy
  21. in China. They prefer a ‘rational’ form of Christianity, leaving the ‘emotional’ forms
  22. to the women in their congregations. Their churches are not registered with the
  23. officially sanctioned Three Self Protestant Movement, but they have usually gained
  24. the tolerance of local officials.
  25. Wenzhou is a special place, protected by its geography from an excessive reach
  26. of the state for most of the history of the People’s Republic of China. Combined with
  27. the global connections of itinerant Wenzhou people, this relative insulation from the
  28. state has allowed Wenzhou to be an extraordinary incubator of commercial
  29. enterprise. But why are so many of its entrepreneurs attracted to Christianity?
  30. According to Cao, they see their faith as ‘modern, progressive, and productive’
  31. (p. 33). Their model of modernity is Western society, which they think has gained its
  32. ascendency because of its ‘Protestant ethic.’ To be truly modern therefore is to take
  33. on Christianity. And because of their Christian zeal, they can be even more modern
  34. than the West, which has been losing the devotion that made it strong. Thus, the role
  35. of the New Jerusalem has been passed to Wenzhou in particular and China in general.
  36. Since Wenzhou’s predominant churches, along with their pastors, are paid for by
  37. businessmen, the ‘Wenzhou model’ (or as the businessmen sometimes call it, the
  38. ‘Wenzhou brand’) of Christianity is conceived in commercial terms. It preaches
  39. a ‘Gospel of Prosperity’ that celebrates and legitimises entrepreneurial success. Many
  40. of its churches are financed through leveraged investments. There is a love of
  41. big worship spaces and flashy celebrations for festivals like Christmas, but there is
  42. also a constant breaking off from established churches to create new start-up
  43. congregations. Like Wenzhou’s manufacturers, they try to imitate Western forms of
  44. church building, but produce them faster and cheaper than can now be done in the
  45. West.
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