Not since late antiquity has the world seen a migration of peoples like the great urbanization of China now in progress. By 2025, migrants will make up two-fifths of China’s billion-strong urban population, a fifth of all the Chinese, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.
Many analysts have observed that this great confluence of ethnicities and languages has prepared the ground for a great wave of Christian conversion. At the end of World War II, with a nationalist government supportive of Christian missions, barely two percent of Chinese were Christians. The World Christian Database now counts 111 million Chinese Christians, while an internal survey conducted in 2007 by China’s government puts the number substantially higher: 130 million, nearly 10 percent of the total population.
Far less often observed—and potentially more important—is the fact that this exponential growth of Christianity in China would not have been possible without the forbearance and tacit encouragement of the regime. In recent years, the Chinese government has shifted from persecution of Christians to subtle—and sometimes even open—encouragement of Christianity. Christianity never will be a state religion in China, to be sure, and the Communist party in China is still officially atheist. But it is not an exaggeration to say we are near a Constantinian moment for the Chinese Empire, as the government looks to Christianity—particularly Catholicism—for an instrument of social cohesion.