“The Role of Christianity in Modern China: The Bible in China” Seminar

Mr David Smith (left) giving his Opening Ceremony speech on behalf of BFBS with Dr Yu Suee Yan (right) as his interpreter. Photo: UBSCP/Davis Yap

The day 20 October 2011 marked a new milestone for UBS partnership ministry in China.  An inaugural seminar entitled “The Role of Christianity in Modern China: The Bible in China” was jointly organized by The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) and Centre for Studies of Religion and Culture, with the support of British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) and United Bible Societies (UBS).

Professor Yan Kejia, Director of Institute of Religious Studies with SASS, in his Opening Ceremony speech warmly welcomed Archbishop John Chew, Vice President of UBS, Mr David Smith, International Programme Manager of BFBS and Rev. Xie Bingguo, Chairman of Shanghai Christian Council. The seminar was well-attended by more than 30 participants, 20 of whom were Chinese local academicians and church leaders, while the rest were invited guests and representatives from BFBS and UBS.

In his keynote address, Archbishop John Chew shared on the role of Christianity in modern Singapore in the context of globalization and its impact on Christianity in the world, including Singapore.  He noticed a shift from routine contribution to a more conscious and intentional participation. “There is a definite noticeable and increased duty-consciousness of Christianity to challenges of Singapore in light of globalisation (economics and politics and cultural-moral).  Christians, as concerned citizens, are coming forward to participate and contribute in the public square. They are “seeking the welfare of the city”, especially both in community and public services, to see Singapore through as a better and stronger nation, contributing globally,” Archbishop remarked.

The relationship BFBS has with China goes back more than 200 years ago, with BFBS’ support of Robert Morrison.  “Since the early 1800s, through the work of pioneers like Robert Morrison, who translated the Bible into Chinese, BFBS has had a deep respect and a warm heart for the people of China,” Mr David Smith explained in his speech at the Opening Ceremony.  It is this passion for the people of China and the Bible that led to BFBS lending its strong support to this Seminar.

Over the course of the next two days, a total of 17 papers were presented across 5 broad themes: The Bible and Chinese literature, The Bible and Chinese Education, The Bible and Chinese Society, Biblical Studies in China and The Bible and United Kingdom.

The papers presented by the local presenters highlighted the influence of the Bible on certain Chinese literature and educational studies, as well as its growing impact on community services.  Among the local papers presented, great interest was generated over the surveys undertaken by SASS on three focus groups in Shanghai: (a) Young People in Churches (b) University students and (c) Theological Seminary students.  Their attitudes and understanding of Christianity and the Bible were examined.  In particular, the results of the survey showed that church-going young people are well-educated, doctrinally sound and evangelical. They read their Bible and pray regularly. Most of them viewed Christianity as having a positive impact on the Chinese society.

Out of the 17 papers, four of them were presented by overseas speakers.  BFBS invited two speakers from the UK: Dr Paul Cavill, Lecturer of School of English Studies at The University of Nottingham, presented his paper on “The Bible in English Literature” and Mr Nick Spencer, Research Director at Theos, a public theology think-tank, spoke on “The Influence of the Bible on English Institutions”.  Prof Choong Chee Pang, UBS Honorary Academic Consultant, spoke with much passion on “Twenty-Five Years of Biblical Studies in the Chinese Academia” while Dr Yu Suee Yan, UBS Translation Consultant, shared about the Bible translation work with ethnic minorities in Yunnan.  These presentations were very well-received, generating many robust discussions and debates among the participants.

Delegates at opening of Bible in China Seminar. Photo: UBSCP/Davis Yap

Praise God that the seminar was a success!  Many of the participants interviewed were excited about being a part of this seminar.  Prof Chen Qijia of Renming University said, “I have attended similar seminars in the past but this is the first time that the focus is on the Bible.  I am very encouraged by Dr Yu Suee Yan’s sharing on the Bible translation work amongst ethnic minorities.”

Mr Kua Wee Seng, UBS China Partnership Coordinator, expressed his gratitude saying, “We are truly thankful to God for this breakthrough in our Bible advocacy efforts in China.  We want to thank the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, especially Prof Yan, for organizing this seminar.  We also acknowledged the great support from the Shanghai Religious Affairs Administration and thank BFBS for its great help and support in this strategic initiative.”

Riding on the first wave, there are plans to expand and hold this Seminar on an annual basis.  Some possible themes for the following years include: The Role of Christianity in Modern China: The Bible and Social Service or The Role of Christianity in Modern China: The Bible and Harmonious Society.  Join us in praying that the religious climate in China will continue to be favorable and our target audience for the upcoming Seminars will be enlarged to include more participants from the government and society.

Written By Mr Davis Yap
Photos taken by Mr Davis Yap