The Tradition of Tao Fong Shan and Sino-Christian Theology

The Norwegian missionary Karl L. Reichelt (1877-1952) is a controversial figure in the history of Christian mission in China. His mission focus was on the religious people of China, especially the Buddhist monks. In 1930 Reichelt established a centre for religious dialogue at Tao Fong Shan, to attract Chinese religious people. In 1995 the Institute of Sino-Christian Studies was established. In the first ten years it also aroused much controversy, since our target group is also special, namely the Chinese scholars. In 1938 Reichelt published a paper entitled “The Establishment of Tao Fong Shan and its Work”. Tao Fong Shan consisted of an institute for religious studies , a Christian centre and a department of religious culture . They were responsible for teaching and research, serving guests and worship, publication and assembly.

ISCS has a different target group and aim from Reichelt, but our work also shows similarities.

1.  As a Scandinavian missionary, Reichelt showed surprising wisdom and endurance to learn Chinese. He tried as far as possible to think, speak and write Christianized Buddhist concepts in Chinese. For ISCS, since the very beginning we have translated Christian classics of two millennia from various languages into Chinese. Our task is to help the Chinese academia and faith community think, speak and write Christian thought in Chinese.

2.  In 1938 the building of the institute for religious studies (Pilgrim Hall today) was finished, aiming at nourishing people for Reichelt’s vision. Today we have no institute for religious studies on Tao Fong Shan, but together with almost 20 top-ranked universities in Mainland China we bring up research students. Our aim is not evangelistic, but preparing human resources for Christian studies for the Chinese academia and promoting Sino-Christian theology.

3.  A significant part of Reichelt’s work was visiting Buddhist temples in China and Southeast Asia to conduct dialogue and establish network with these organizations and their people. Since ISCS was established in 1995, we send our own scholars or guest professors to visit cooperating universities and institutes in China and the West to enhance interaction and mutual enrichment. This work has never been interrupted in the last 15 years.

4.  In the past Tao Fong Shan was a remote place in the rural area of Shatin. It had a beautiful landscape and a hospitable lodge – Pilgrim Hall (in the past it is situated on the right hand side of the chapel). At that time it attracted Chinese religious people. Reichelt and his colleagues had much interaction with them. Since 1994 ISCS has developed the visiting scholar program. Every year we invite more than 10 scholars to come for the purpose of academic exchange. There are often seminars and reading salons conducted in this place with the purpose of academic exchange.

Today we live in a pluralistic society. We cannot and should not plan to convert a particular religious community to become Christians. This kind of strategy will arouse competition between religions and ethnic groups, leading to controversies and hatred. Reichelt had the courage to leave his own tradition and enter into another brand new one, in which he learned humility, and then return to his own. Following that he carried out reinterpretation and reflection to enrich his own tradition and to be able to respond to the contemporary challenges more adequately. This courage and wisdom should be respected and learned for today and for the future.