Stories of Chinese Christianity
Introduction to the BDCC Project
Christianity has an ancient history in China, dating back at least to 635 A.D. when an official mission of the Church of the East was invited to the Tang court. The first Roman Catholic presence was recorded in the 13th-century; the Russian Orthodox faith entered China in the late 17th-century and Protestantism with Robert Morrison in 1807.
One hundred fifty years later, Chinese Christians numbered about 1,700,000. During the past fifty years, Christians in China have not merely survived severe persecution, but have multiplied themselves many times, with estimates ranging from fifty to a hundred million. Christianity has spread its influence in Chinese communities around the world, where Chinese churches are growing rapidly.
Who are the persons who have played important roles in this tremendous growth? In the early modern era, Western missionaries carried the Gospel message throughout the land of China. But what are the names and stories of Chinese indigenous church leaders and lay persons who embraced the Gospel, pioneered and nurtured the churches, led independent Christian movements, and applied biblical values to Chinese social and political challenges? Incredibly, the majority of them are virtually unknown. Other than a few dozen church leaders, theologians, and evangelists, their stories have been lost even to Chinese Christians, as well as to the rest of the world.
Concern about this situation brought a group of China scholars to a consultation at the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC), in New Haven, Connecticut, in October 2005 to consider how to narrow the gap between current reference materials and contemporary Chinese Christian demography. They decided to begin by founding the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, an electronic database modelled on the Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB). Under the direction of BDCC Project Manager Dr. Yading Li, and with significant help from OMSC/DACB, and especially Dr. Jonathan Bonk, and Ms. Michele Sigg, the BDCC website was designed and launched by June 2006, with stories in English. By September 2008, the website was redesigned by Mr. Jason Truell and updated, with stories in Chinese.
The BDCC is an electronic database containing the essential biographical facts of Chinese and foreign Christian missionaries, church leaders, evangelists, and laity chiefly responsible for laying the foundations and advancing the growth of Chinese Christian communities and their influence in societies around the world. While the database is widely inclusive of time periods and faith traditions, the distinctive focus of the project is on the lesser-known Chinese Christians of the modern era (1800 to 1950).
An international team of scholars collaborates to facilitate the project. Contributors are drawn from academic, church, and mission communities in China, Asia and the West. The project aims to stimulate local data gathering from universities, churches, seminaries and colleges, and para-church agencies, with faculty members, graduate students, and organizational staff doing research and writing. With a solid base in academic expertise, the project nevertheless introduces the personal stories of grass-roots Chinese Christians and their communities in a lively writing style for a general audience.
Scope and Selection of Subjects
The database began with entering already published biographies from quality reference materials, and was designed to complement the Ricci Roundtable at the University of San Francisco, an existing digital source of Chinese Christian biographies, mainly those of Roman Catholic missionaries and Chinese Catholic clerics, primarily in English and French.
The dictionary eventually will cover the whole of Chinese Christianity from earliest times to the present and in every country where Chinese communities are found. Biographical subjects are discovered and selected on the basis of their perceived local, regional, national, or international importance. No subject is excluded if, in the opinion of communities of local believers, his or her contribution is deemed singular. Project staff will evaluate and edit contributions to add to the electronic database.
An invitation is hereby extended to researchers, writers, and institutions to join in our team effort. Guidelines for compiling the biographies may be found in the "Contribute" section of this website. BDCC staff and advisors will assist researchers in selecting stories and finding resources, and will provide expertise in oral history and archiving for the task of interviewing to record the stories of specific church leaders and influential laypersons.