Christian History Timeline: China in the 20th Century

The Golden Age of Protestantism

1900 30,000 Chinese Christians and 200 missionaries are killed during the Boxer Uprising; Wang Mingdao is born

1901 Watchman Nee and John Sung are born

1904 Samuel Pollard begins missionary work among the Miao

1905 Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM), dies

1908 Revival breaks out in Manchuria under the ministry of Canadian missionary Jonathan Goforth

1911 Revolution overthrows Qing dynasty; Sun Yat-sen becomes provisional president of new Republic of China; James Fraser arrives in Yunnan province and begins missionary work among the Lisu

1912 Sun Yat-sen founds Kuomintang (Nationalist Party)

1914–1918 World War I

1917 Paul Wei founds True Jesus Church in Beijing

1919 Treaty of Versailles awards German properties in Shantung, China, to Japan; China feels betrayed and refuses to sign; May Fourth student protest in Tiananmen Square marks new surge of nationalism and cultural reform in China

1920 Mary Stone launches Shanghai Bethel Mission

1921 Chinese Communist Party is founded in Shanghai

1922 Communists and anarchists protest Conference of World Student Christian Federations in Beijing

1923 James Yen founds Mass Education Movement; starts rural reconstruction in Dingxian three years later

1926 First two Chinese Catholic bishops are consecrated; Jing Dianying starts Christian community that later becomes known as the Jesus Family

1928 Watchman Nee starts “Little Flock” church in Shanghai; Yifang Wu becomes president of Jinling College for Women

War and Revolution

1930 Norwegian missionary Marie Monsen visits Shandong and sparks Pentecostal-like revival across the province

1931 Japan invades Manchuria

1932 Pearl Buck gives speech, “Is There a Case for Foreign Missions?”; Rethinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years is published in U.S.

1934 CIM missionary David Adeney arrives in north central China; John and Betty Stam are beheaded

1937 Wang Mingdao builds Christian Tabernacle in Beijing

1937Japan invades north and central China; Communists and Nationalists unite in war against Japan; Japanese soldiers commit atrocities during the “Rape of Nanking,” during which American missionary Minnie Vautrin harbors women at Jinling College

1939–1945 World War II

1941 U.S. allies with China after Japanese attack Pearl Harbor

1943 James Yen honored in Carnegie Hall as one of nine “modern revolutionaries”; Eric Liddell is sent to a Japanese internment camp along with other missionaries and foreigners in occupied territory (he dies there in 1945)

1944 John Sung dies

1945 China Inter-Varsity Evangelical Christian Students Fellowship is inaugurated in Chongqing and student revivals begin; Japan surrenders, ending WWII

1946 Civil War breaks out between Nationalists (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and Communists (led by Mao Zedong)

1948 Last Inter-Varsity evangelistic campaign is held in Beijing

1949 People’s Republic of China is established as a Communist state Isolation and Persecution Under Mao

1950 Protestant leaders led by Y. T. Wu meet with Premier Zhou Enlai and form Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)

1952 All foreign missionaries are expelled from China; Watchman Nee is arrested

1955 Wang Mingdao is arrested; many churches closed

1956–57 Communist Party invites public criticism in “Hundred Flowers” movement, then suppresses it

1958 TSPM enforces church unity and closes more churches; Catholic Patriotic Association appoints bishops without papal approval, splitting Catholic church in China

1958–62 Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” program of economic development is a disaster, causing a famine that kills 30 million people

1960 James Yen founds International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR)

1966–76 Mao launches Cultural Revolution and instigates Red Guards to eliminate remnants of the old culture from China; all churches and universities are closed; church leaders, students, and elite are sent to work in the countryside

1972 President Nixon visits China; first reports of secret house churches leak out; Watchman Nee dies in labor camp

1973 Miao pastor Wang Zhiming is publicly executed; later he is one of ten 20th-century Christian martyrs commemorated in Westminster Cathedral

1976 Mao Zedong dies; radical leaders of Cultural Revolution are arrested

Reform and Reopening

1978 Deng Xiaoping reverses many of Mao’s policies, pursues economic reforms, and improves relations with West

1978–1979 Churches and universities begin to reopen; church leaders are released from prison; TSPM is reestablished; house churches flourish

1980 China Christian Council is formed; Bishop K. H. Ting becomes leader of CCC and TSPM

1982 Document 19 articulates government religious policies

1983 During the “Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign,” hundreds of house-church leaders are arrested and sent to labor camps, but are released by mid-decade

1988 Billy and Ruth Graham visit China, meet high-level officials, scholars, and leaders of TSPM and house churches

1989 June Fourth Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere is violently suppressed; many protestors flee to U.S. and some become Christians 

1991 Wang Mingdao dies

1997 Hong Kong is returned from British to Chinese authority; K. H. Ting retires

2000s Thousands of campus and young professional groups are meeting in China’s cities 

By the editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #98 in 2008]

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