Three Frequently Asked Questions

For the nature of my work, such as attending conferences and visiting many different scholars, I have to travel to different parts of the world.  On different occasions, I have often been asked three questions, which in them are issues that I ponder over and reflect upon. 

1. Is the movement of "Christian Studies in Chinese" a mere slogan without any substantial constructive purpose and achievement?

The brief article by Prof HE Guanghu in this Issue provides a review of the publications and achievements of the Chinese scholars in Christian studies. The Institute is grateful to be able to work with Chinese scholars in different positions and on different occasions since the 1990's.  Today, the Institute has already published nearly 100 translations of Christian classics and original studies in Chinese (so far we have published 13 such works under the Monograph Series).  These are the fruit of the labour and research efforts of Chinese scholars in Mainland China or overseas.  The first published Monograph entitled The Cultural Christians has even become a controversial subject among scholars in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and other regions.

Today, despite the fact that different scholars adopt different approaches to the problem of the transformation of the Chinese culture through modernisation, the urgent need of cultural transformation in contemporary China is indisputable (cf. the discussion of Prof. ZHAO Lin in this Issue).  Together with all Chinese scholars in Christian studies, the Institute is determined to contribute resources - through all our translations and original studies - to the modernisation of China, so as to provide Chinese scholars with reference materials. 

On the other hand, we are delighted at the establishment and the development of degree courses in religious studies in the universities in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  As Christian studies are rapidly developing under this development, a generation of young scholars are emerging. As a result, the provision of sufficient resources and opportunities to them for academic researches become the common concern of  related institutions and organisations in Hong Kong and overseas.  In line with this goal, the Institute has been engaging itself in various programmes since 1994, such as various forms of scholarships and the programme of "Visiting Scholars".  In recent years, both the number of academic conferences on Christian studies in various universities in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and the degree of communication and cooperation between Chinese scholars in Christian studies and overseas Chinese and international theologians are producing good results. 

From the mention above, we are convinced that the movement of "Christian Theology in Chinese" is not a mere slogan!

2.Given that the abilities of the Chinese scholars in Christian studies have improved significantly (their foreign language skills are admirable), what are the purposes of continuing with the translation of the Christian classics?  After all, the translation project is rather costly with regard to financial and human resources.

It seems that the question lies in the purpose of translation as a mode of interpretation and transmission. However, from the perspective of the history of the development of Chinese scholarship,  the ultimate purpose of translation is the introduction of new learning for the  development of Chinese scholarship.  It is widely recognised that the enormous translations of Western scholarship since the 19th century has opened up the floodgate of Chinese scholarship and laid down the foundation of the modernisation of China.

Therefore, reading or transmission is not the sole purpose of the translation of Christian classics. What is more important is that a reader, after reading a foreign classic, interprets these foreign concepts within their life-experience and cultural resources in China; for this reason, translation is not only an adventure but also a creation. With these conviction, we have been working persistently to uphold our belief that we must read and understand, as well as in our reflection and interpretation, Christian Studies in the Chinese language, for when we talk about Christian theology with our own thinking and language, Christian theology will naturally enter into our life experience and cultural traditions, and "Christian Studies in Chinese" will gradually come into being.  As a matter of fact, this is nothing novel, but a discovery of "sympathy", the beginning of a great, long-lasting project.

3. What is the agenda of "Christian Studies in Chinese"?  Who sets the agenda?

The idea of "Christian Studies in Chinese" was first brought up for discussion by Chinese humanistic scholars in the 1990's. Therefore, it is natural to conclude that they are the initiators of this agenda.  As Chinese humanistic scholars, they proceeded from the question of how to enrich their own disciplines with resources from Christian studies. In view of the involvement of various disciplines, the agenda of "Christian Studies in Chinese" cover a diversity of humanistic-theological perspectives.  Employing academic methodology and terminology in research is a basic requirement.  Moreover, these Chinese scholars have explored a new academic discipline called "Christian studies in Chinese" in the course of the development.  This new discipline will move along, and compete on equal terms, with other existent disciplines such as Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Marxism and other modern ideologies, as it makes its way into the academia in modern China.

As a partner with Mainland Chinese scholars in Christian studies, the ISCS engages itself in, and gives impetus to, the development of the movement of "Christian Studies in Chinese" as a "servant".  Here, the emphasis on our identity as a "servant" is related to  the history of Christianity in China.  Since the Tang Dynasty (635AD), Christianity was brought to China several times, but met intense resistance from the heirs of Chinese culture.  The Chinese scholars resisted the Christian message simply because the preachers of the Christian message often proclaim a "fragmentary" gospel of their own denominations and traditions to them with false humility and an underlying dogmatic attitude.  This situation has changed since the 1980's, as a small group of Chinese scholars found out that Christianity, the "foreign religion" treated with disregard and controversy by many Chinese scholars, was the spiritual foundation of the Western culture.  In order to understand the essence of the Western culture, Chinese scholars  regard Christianity as an indispensable or even the core element of their studies.  This was the first time Chinese scholars ever held a positive and objective attitude towards Christian studies in the history of Christianity in China in the past 1400 years.  Therefore, we should learn a lesson from history and promote Christian studies in China among Chinese scholars with sincerity and humility.  We are responsible for contributing to the resources in Christian thoughts from different generations and sources, including Judeo-Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox and Protestantism, together with all relevant institutions and organisations, with a view to nurturing scholars in Christian studies and promoting the dialogue between Chinese and foreign scholars in this field.  We believe that genuine and serious dialogue will challenge each participant and enrich his or her research agenda.  While we emphasise that it is the Chinese scholars who set the agenda, we expect their theological agenda to be open, pluralistic and universal through genuine multilateral dialogues and cooperation.