Reading Christian Scriptures in China Review

Reading Christian Scriptures in China
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Reading Christian Scriptures in China ReviewChloe Starr, ed., Reading Christian Scriptures in China. London & New York: T & T Clark, 2008.*
We are all aware that Christianity, especially Protestantism, has grown at an astonishing rate in China over the past few decades, and that believers can be found among all strata of society, from the rural peasant to the university professor. What we may not know so well is how the Bible has been read and understood by Chinese.
Since the Bible serves as the main source of Christian doctrine, the nature of its reception, interpretation and influence must be understood in order for us to comprehend the varying streams of Chinese Christian faith and practice and the different responses to Christianity among non-Christians.
Despite the very modest aims and claims of the editor, this volume provides a great deal of information and insight in a dozen well-written essays preceded by a splendid introduction.
As Dr. Starr writes, because of China's millennia-long history of interpreting sacred texts, "we cannot read pre-twentieth century Chinese responses to Scripture without some understanding of the framework of imperial scholarship." The interplay of classical and biblical texts forms a prominent - and fascinating - theme in this book. Other factors influenced the way Chinese read the Bible also, notably the history of Western biblical interpretation and application that came with the translations of the Bible.
These essays also explore the tensions between "traditional Chinese heritage and scriptural mores [ethical norms]," and those "between personal and individual readings and institutional or academic ones." Readers before 1949 concentrated on the former of these, while the latter have been more pronounced under the communist regime.
A further distinction must be made within contemporary readings of the Bible in China: That between the more "literal" and the more "liberal" - the first representing the unregistered churches and the second the official state-sanctioned bodies, especially the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, or at least its leaders.
Attention to such complexities makes this book especially valuable. Indeed, as Dr. Starr states, we do learn a bit about both Christian and secular history as we watch how Chinese have responded to the Christian Scriptures over the past two hundred years.
Part 1, The Bible in China "looks at the history of readings through to the present and of contextual settings of the Bible in China, while Part 2 focuses on hermeneutics, presenting case-studies of individual Chinese biblical exegetes and their approaches to reading."
The only major deficiency in this otherwise excellent volume is hinted at in the editor's introduction: There are only a few references to the very extensive corpus of high-level biblical studies among Chinese Christians in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and North America. Several dozen of these scholars have engaged in robust studies; a number of them - and more of their publications - have exercised influence in China proper, and should therefore be considered a part of the "Reading of Christian Scriptures in China." As Dr. Starr admits, their "reading practices... offer a counterbalance to mainland trajectories, and open up avenues for comparative research."
That being said, the contents of this collection are already sufficiently rich, with each chapter contributing substantially to our understanding of the reception of the Bible in China. As the back cover says, it is "wonderfully informative."
Perhaps the most striking contribution of Reading Christian Scriptures in China is the variety of perspectives it gives us to glimpse the powerful - one might even say determinative - role which their cultural and social context has played in the understanding of the Bible by Chinese.
These studies are so valuable, in fact, that the book may be considered required reading for anyone wanting to understand Christianity in China, both past and present.*
G. Wright Doyle.
Global China Center
* For a more detailed treatment of this book, go to
God and Caesar in China: Policy Implications of Church-State TensionsChristianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the PresentJesus in Beijing - Revised and updated
Reading Christian Scriptures in China Overview

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