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189/365 – China

China is the most populous nation on earth. With more than 1.2 billion people, it contains one-fifth of the world’s population.

Approximately 93 percent of the people are Han Chinese; the remainder is made up of 350 minority groups — 55 of them are commonly recognized — which have their own language, culture, and religion.

China has the third largest landmass of any nation. Only Russia and Canada are larger. China is slightly larger than the United States.

There are 31 provinces, autonomous regions and special municipalities. Hong Kong, which reverted to China in 1997, is referred to as a special administrative region.

The four largest cities, Chongqing, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin are administered directly by the central government.

Approximately half the land is occupied by minority people groups such as Mongols, Tibetans, Yugur, and Bai. Only about 15 percent of China’s land is farmable, so there is a great strain on the land to feed so many people.

Mandarin Chinese (also known as Putonghua) is the primary language, and is spoken by more than 70 percent of the population. Cantonese prevails in Hong Kong and in parts of the Guangdong Province. Many other dialects abound.

With its first recorded history dating back to 1500 BC, China claims the world’s oldest existing civilization.

During most of its history, China was ruled by a series of dynasties. The last dynasty ended in 1911 with the establishment of a republic by Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

From 1911 until 1949 there was great turmoil in China as various factions fought for supremacy, ending with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

Since 1949, the country has been under communist rule. China’s governments claims that during that time there has been an eradication of opium, an increased life expectancy, and a reduction of the infant mortality rate.

But, there have also been periods of great turmoil, the worst of which was the Cultural Revolution, officially lasting from 1966-1970, though many historians extend its effects until the death of Mao Ze-dong in 1976.

The Cultural Revolution was a period of unprecedented turmoil in which society was virtually turned upside down.

Students, in the form of Red Guard, went on a rampage. Schools and universities were closed, intellectuals and artists of all kinds were dismissed, persecuted, sent to labor in the countryside, or killed.

Temples, monuments, and works of art were defaced and destroyed. All religious institutions were closed and religious workers were sent to prison or to work in factories or in the countryside. This was a time of suffering for all the Chinese people. Its effects are still felt in society.

Except for a few minority groups and some rural dwellers, families are strongly discouraged from having more than one child.

Those who ignore the admonitions can be severely penalized. The government takes pride in this intrusive manner of population control.

China’s economy has been improving rapidly since 1979 when China opened the doors to foreign investment and opened the economy to more private initiative.

This has resulted in a vast increase of consumer activity, so that upper middle class families have many symbols of middle class affluence: refrigerators, telephones, color televisions, video CD players, and more.

Commercialism and materialism are increasingly popular in China. However, there is still terrible poverty as well.

Even though the Communist government encourages atheism, there are five recognized religions in China today: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity.

Ancestor worship is a daily practice for many. Confucianism is not officially a religion, though through the centuries, there have periodically been temples devoted to the worship of Confucius.

In any case, Confucianism remains a major element of the Chinese value system. The government cracked down on a very popular Falunggung religious practice in 1999, terming it a dangerous cult.

Robert Morrison was the first Protestant to introduce Christianity in China. He arrived in Canton in 1807.

From that time until 1949, hundreds of sending agencies sent thousands of missionaries to serve in China. China was a difficult mission field; converts came slowly. In 1949 there were no more than 750,000 Protestant Christians in China.

After all the foreign missionaries left China in the early 1950s and all religious institutions were closed from about 1966 because of the Cultural Revolution, it was feared that Christianity might have died out once again.

But, when the churches began to open up in 1979 it was discovered, even to the Chinese Christians’ amazement, that there were at least 6 million Christians.

No longer foreign, all Chinese churches are just that: indigenous Chinese churches, and thousands of Chinese, young and old, are turning to Christ every day.

Nobody really knows how many Christians there are in China. Accurate statistics are hard to come by because there is no systematic or standard reporting system and the numbers change rapidly.

Estimates for members of registered (government sanctioned) congregations range up to 15-20 million, with more than 37,000 congregations meeting in church buildings referred to as churches and 25,000 meeting in other locations, referred to as meeting points.

But there are also many millions of believers, perhaps 45-80 million of them, who meet in house churches that are not government approved.

Even by placing the estimate at the high end of 100 million total Christians, one is reminded that there are still more than one billion Chinese who don’t know Christ!

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