Research Projects

Christianity on the Move: Routes and Religious Mobility in Late Imperial and Modern China from 1750s to 1950s

(Funded under General Research Fund Scheme 2020 – 2021 Exercise, Research Grants Council, Hong Kong)

Principal Investigator

Li Ji, Assistant Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Modern Languages and Cultures

Total Fund Awarded

HKD 604,938

Project Duration

36 months

Project Description

This project studies the intricate and largely overlooked relationship between religious circulation, transportation routes and urban space in the historical context of state building and global connection in mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth-century China. Focusing on the case of Christianity, it examines three cities and regions that have played a significant role in the flow of Christian groups, institutions and practices. In an era that China’s connection with the world increasingly relied on new transportation routes and means, these cities served as strategic hubs reinforcing the transnational religious exchange and the construction of indigenous religious identity. Case studies include borderland capital city of Shenyang in northeast China, coastal port cities of Hong Kong and Canton in southeast China, and inland city of Chongqing in southwest China. With geopolitical significance in different regions, they demonstrate how different cities in different historical and spatial contexts would construct ties within China and between China and the rest of the world through religious engagement. These case studies offer a multi-dimensional examination bringing religion firmly into conceptualizations of China’s state building and new century positioning embedded in its strategic initiatives such as the Belt and Road (BRI). Routes, religious space and mobility are crucial sites where social power is generated, deployed and institutionalized. Specifically, the case of Shenyang investigates how Christian Church, Qing government, regional leaders and Japanese in the borderland of northeast Asia have created religious power nexus by controlling Christian sites and communities, and how domestic migration and transnational railway capitalism have fundamentally changed the region’s religious spatial dimension. The case of Hong Kong and Canton examines Christian Church’s exploration of evangelistic strategy along the southeast coast and disputes on shifting the mission center to Shanghai around 1850s. Mobility is an important mission strategy. Geographic movements of missionaries and local believers on a regular and frequent basis, as well as this region’s exceptional transnational migration by overseas Christians challenged conventional social and cultural boundaries in Chinese society. Finally, a former treaty-port on the upper Yangtze River connecting the inland to the east coast, Chongqing has been striving to build up a logistics network in surrounding southwest China in the past decade. The Chongqing case looks at its historical trajectory of outward contact by examining two significant routes: the eastward water route and the westward railway. It asks whether such religious legacy contributes to the conceptualization of China’s intensification of ties and infrastructures along the BRI.