Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief for Time, starts his impressive analysis of the state of Christianity in China with a solid review of its early history, from the Nestorians and Jesuits to the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions. Most of this book, however, is devoted to the current scene, which consists of Communist Partysponsored Protestant and Catholic churches and thousands of "home churches" that are technically illegal but often have large, conspicuous buildings. Indeed, the authorities are more than a little ambivalent about how to treat Christianity: the party faithful continue to regard all religion as a threat, whereas researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences assert that it was Christianity that made the West strong. Aikman builds his analysis around a diverse array of individual Christians, from entrepreneurs and entertainers to foreign service officers and party officials. He estimates that "Christian believers in China, both Catholic and Protestant, may be closer to 80 million than the official combined Catholic-Protestant figure of 21 million" and that "it is possible that Christians will constitute 20 to 30 percent of China's population within three decades." Like the many observers who get carried away speculating about China's economic growth, Aikman proclaims that this spread of Christianity will ultimately change the global balance of power. But one does not have to agree with such a prediction to find much of interest in this book.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.