Despite decades of crackdowns and persecution by China's Communist Party, a recent Daily Telegraph article claims that mainland China's Christian community is growing so steadily that communist China could be poised to have the highest number of churchgoers in the world by 2030.
Officially, the People's Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.
Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao's death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world's number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.
"By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.
"It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."
China's Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre's Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.
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, he predicted.
Although the Chinese Communist Party remains wary of Christianity in general, the Maoist Cultural Revolution-era restrictions on religion were gradually rolled back by Mao's successor Deng Xiopeng in the late 1970s. However, the Communist Party Central Committee restricts both the Catholic and Protestant denominations to certain government-approved houses of worship where scripture that is considered subversive is avoided by clergy [typically under duress from the government- NANESB!]. However, instead of squelching the practice of Christianity within China's borders, the restrictions placed on officially-sanctioned churches have given rise to unsanctioned 'underground churches' throughout the nation since the 1990s [interestingly, Yang didn't specify if his projections included the unsanctioned underground churches in China- NANESB!]. Parishoners for these clandestine houses of worship range from elderly farmers in China's remote provinces to well-heeled cosmopolitan, iPhone toting, Audi-driving young women in Beijing. Venues for these masses and sermons can be anything from a remote farmhouse to a vacant office building in newly-constructed suburbs.
Although traders and missionaries erected houses of worship in the 17th and 18th centuries, Christianity was first introduced into China in the 8th Century, the Tang Dynasty decreed that Buddhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism be banned and that their assets be forfeited to Emperor Wuzong in 845. As for the more recent resurgence of Christianity in mainland China, missionaries and travelers from South Korea have been in contact with Chinese nationals, using that opportunity to proselytize [despite the Chinese government's disapproval of such activities- NANESB!].
While Christianity hasn't endured a recent crackdown like the government unleashed against practitioners of Falun Gong in the late 1990s, the issue has come to the forefront lately after local officials attempted to condemn a church in Wenzhou for demolition earlier this month. In response, thousands of Christians from throughout the southern province of Zhejiang engaged in civil disobedience, forming a human chain around the church while setting up a makeshift kitchen and sleeping inside the church in shifts.
Unlike Falun Gong, there Chinese Communist Party may have to proceed cautiously in regards to the condemned church not only because of the increasing number of practicing Christians, but also the advent of Chinese-language social media platforms such as Weibo [NASDAQ- WB] and public opinion turning against the party due to a number of high profile corruption scandals involving senior Communist officials.