Eury (Ricepaper editor) and I were happy to attend New Asia Film Festival’s DocuAsia showing on Wednesday at the Minoru Cultural Centre, where China’s Leap of Faith Part 1 “The Bamboo Cross” was shown. The documentary gave a fascinating look into the presence of Christianity in the officially atheistic and Communist China. The discussion forum afterwards consisted of producer and director Christopher Sumphton, Dr. Li Yu from Langara College who has published articles on Chinese social history and intellectual history in several leading Asian studies journals and Pastor John Zhou, who has had experience both with Chinese churches in Vancouver and churches in China.
The CIA World Factbook states that 3-4% of China’s population is Christian. This may seem like a small number, but remember that China’s population is 1.3 billion people. Doing the math, this means that there may be 39-52 million Christians in China. As one of the speakers in the forum afterwards noted, the number of Christians in China may well equal or exceed the number of people in Canada.
One point of interest in the documentary was the contrast between government-sponsored, “above-ground”, Three Self churches and the “underground” house churches who often find themselves persecuted by the government because of their need to meet to worship outside the boundaries of the physical building of the church. Although I was aware of both the government-sponsored and the underground churches, I wasn’t aware of the often testy and sometimes antagonistic relationship between these two kinds of churches. While the government-sponsored church leaders stated that they wanted to be both good Christians and good citizens, the underground church leaders countered that it was not possible to truly worship and live the life of a Christian within the strictures that the government had placed on them. As well, I was surprised at the support that the churches (at least the government-sponsored churches) received – including seminary scholarships and funds for new church windows. Overall, it was a thought-provoking and often surprising look into the relationship between Chinese Christians, the church structures, and the government. After the documentary showed, the audience asked a lot of questions to the panel participants, including questions on the estimated number of Christians in China, the motivations behind filming the documentary, the challenges faced in documenting such a sensitive subject in China, and the connections between Chinese churches here in Canada and churches in China.
New Asia Film Festival’s DocuAsia will be showing Part 2 of China’s Leap of Faith “The Gods Come Home” tonight at 7pm at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings, Vancouver). This documentary will focus on the role of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and folk religion in contemporary China today. If you can somehow maneuver it, you can also come to our 15.2 issue launch party which is happening the same night!