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This page last updated 1 April 2017  

A review for Anglicans Online
by Richard Mammana

A review of
Christian Encounters with Chinese Culture: Essays on Anglican and Episcopal History in China
Edited by Philip L. Wickeri, ISBN 9789888208388, Hong Kong University Press.

This important collection of nine essays forms the second volume of the series Sheng Kung Hui: Historical Studies of Anglican Christianity in China, co-published by Hong Kong University Press and Columbia University Press. Under the editorship of Philip Wickeri, the purpose of the series “is to publish well-researched and authoritative volumes on the history of Anglican-Episcopal Christianity as a contribution to the intellectual, cultural, and religious history of modern China” “with an in-depth focus on one particular denominational tradition, which has been in China for almost two hundred years.”

Anglican life in China began in 1819 with the arrival of the first British East India Company chaplain in Macao, then a Portuguese possession. By 1835, the Protestant Episcopal Church had appointed two missionaries who began their work in Guanzhou. The Church of England worked separately from the Episcopal Church, appointing a colonial chaplain for Hong Kong only in 1943 after it became a British colony following the First Opium War. William Boone was consecrated in Philadelphia in 1844 as a missionary bishop whose work would center on Shanghai, and in 1849 George Smith was consecrated as Bishop of Victoria (Hong Kong), whose diocese initially included all of China and Japan. The ensuing century was a period of remarkable missionary activity, involving all the usual spheres of Anglican church development: the building of churches and the establishment of schools, the arrival of missionary societies (the Church Missionary Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), the opening of hospitals and orphanages, the publication of religious texts, and the eventual ordination of indigenous Christians. (Wong Kong Chai 黄光彩 became the first Chinese deacon in 1851 and was ordained the first Chinese Anglican priest in 1863.)

The subdivision of the Chinese missionary area into dioceses—and the separation of Japan as a separate field in 1874—set in motion the process by which in 1912 the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (中華聖公會) was prepared to hold its first independent synod as a province of the Anglican Communion following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. Against the background of the vicissitudes of Chinese history in the first half of the twentieth century, including Japanese invasions and the 1949 Revolution, the CHSKH continued its work of parochial and educational ministry, newspaper publication, medical training, and also ministry to English-speaking expatriates working especially in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The expulsion of foreign missionaries from mainland China began in 1950, even as the House of Bishops of the CHSKH affirmed its support for the People’s Republic of China and the necessity of the church’s independence from foreign control. Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan each detached from the central church administration in China before the election of the last three bishops of the CHSKH—all of whom would become members of the Chinese Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The “de facto end of the CHSKH and all [non-Roman Catholic] denominations” took place in 1958 with the Unification of Worship in China, meaning that the substance of distinctively Anglican history in China takes up a period of just over 120 years.

Against the background of this relatively brief period of engagement, a significant historiography has emerged in the biographies or autobiographies of individual missionaries and Chinese Christian leaders, in institutional histories, in the collected works of Chinese Anglican writers, and in journal articles or dissertations examining specific aspects of Anglican life in China, even as it continues institutionally in Taiwan and Hong Kong and Macau—as well as in Chinese-speaking Anglican diaspora in the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Canada and other places. The 2015 collection Chinese Encounters with Christian Culture offers a first sustained collection of scholarly explorations of this experience.

Wickeri arranges the essays in Christian Encounters with Chinese Culture into four groups: three essays on Society, Education, and Culture; two essays on the Prayer Book; two on Parishes; and two on Theology. In each group, specialists examine topics as diverse as the work of American Episcopal missionaries (Edward Yihua Xu), the education of women in Hong Kong from 1865 to the 1900s (Patricia P.K. Chiu), Chinese nationalism in a Shanghai church (Qi Duan), the work of Chinese Anglican theologians in Republican China (Peter Tze Min Ng), and the later development of Anglican soteriological thinking in China (Yongtao Chen). Of special interest are two extended essays on the translation and development of Anglican liturgical texts in China, Chloë Starr’s “Rethinking Church through the Book of Common Prayer in Late Qing and Early Republican China” and Feng Guo’s “Analysis of the Compilation and Writing of the Book of Common Prayer in the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui.” In the absence of comprehensive bibliographies of Anglican liturgical material in Chinese, these essays point toward a phase of remarkable liturgical-linguistic vitality—first in the context of missionary work, and subsequently as an expression of indigenous Chinese Christian thought.

The book’s first appendix is one of its most important contributions to the raw data of the history of Anglicanism in China. Entitled “The Succession of Anglican and Episcopal Bishops in China, 1844-2014,” the appendix offers in one place the English and Chinese names of every bishop to serve in China, along with his dates of birth and death, date and place of consecration, episcopal jurisdiction, and the duration of his tenure. The chart includes material from the missionary period (1844-1912) with American, English, Scottish, Irish, and Canadian bishops; the independent duration of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (1912-1958) with Chinese and non-Chinese bishops; the succession of bishops of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (1951-present) and the ongoing succession of bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan from 1954 to the present. The full range of this information is not available in any other place with the same broad scope and completeness, and the data alone offer important paths forward for research in the fields of missiology and prosopography.

The series Sheng Kung Hui: Historical Studies of Anglican Christianity in China offers a model of geographical and topical focus for the work of scholars concentrating on particular phases of religious history, and subsequent volumes will be welcome additions to collections on missionary life, indigeneity, religious engagement with government, and liturgical scholarship.

AO staff member Richard J. Mammana is the archivist of the Living Church Foundation and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a parishioner and clerk of the vestry at Trinity Church, New Haven, Connecticut.