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Alexander F. Yuan, Associated Press
Faith

Next big Christian nation? China, one expert says

Amid the hand-wringing about the fate of Christianity in the West, there is a part of the world poised for exponential Christian growth in the coming years: China.

The officially atheist People's Republic of China is, according to Purdue University professor Fenggang Yang, moving toward a massive outbreak of Christian belief, according to The Telegraph newspaper in Britain.

Yang, a sociology professor and director of Purdue's Center on Religion and Chinese Society, predicts the 58 million Christians in China in 2010 "will swell to around 160 million by 2025," the newspaper reported.

"By 2030, China's total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, (Yang) predicted," according to the Telegraph.

Already in China, "It’s easier to talk about Jesus than Chinese President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping on Weibo, China’s massive Twitter-like social media platform," an online Tea Leaf Nation report states, quoting information from its sister publication, Foreign Policy.

"For example, a search for the word 'Bible' yielded over 17 million recent results, while the iconic Quotations of Chairman Mao, a widely distributed collection of writings by the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party known in the West as the Little Red Book, received fewer than 60,000 mentions. 'Christian congregation' was mentioned over 41.8 million times, whereas 'the Communist Party' clocked in at just 5.3 million mentions," contributor Bethany Allen wrote.

Allen noted, however, that the activity of Chinese censors and the vagaries of the Internet — a term may be popular at one time and then decline at another — may factor into the results.

"Posts containing content deemed 'politically sensitive' are often deleted, as are many posts containing the names of China’s top leaders, perhaps as a measure to deflect controversy and criticism," she wrote. However, she added, "the comparative search data demonstrates that Christian-related content is either more popular or more permissible on Weibo than Communist-related content."

China is not only a nation where interest in Christianity is growing, but it also is one of the world's top Bible publishers — with most of the output going for export consumption. In 2013, The Economist reported on the growth of Amity Printing, the only firm permitted by the government to print Bibles.

The firm's factory in Nanjing, an affluent eastern city near Shanghai, "has the capacity to produce around 18 (million) Bibles a year in more than 90 languages, including English, Swahili, Zulu and Russian, as well as Braille editions. The 100-millionth Bible, printed last year, is displayed proudly in the lobby."

Tensions do exist, however, in Chinese Christian circles between the officially sanctioned churches and those in the so-called "underground church" movement there. Recently, members and supporters of the Sanjiang church in the eastern port city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province formed a human chain around the massive sanctuary after reports of a pending demolition by local authorities. The alleged plans were called off, according to the South China Morning Post.

"The protest started on March 25 after authorities said the government-approved Protestant church had illegal structures and additions that violated building codes. The stand-off took on an increased urgency on April 3 when pastors affiliated with the church were notified that authorities planned to demolish the building within 15 days," the paper reported.

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @Mark_Kellner