Conversion or protection? : collective violence and Christian movements in late nineteenth-century Chaozhou, South China.
This doctoral thesis examines the relationship between Protestant Christianity and
collective violence in rural China during the turbulent period of the late nineteenth century
(1860-1900). It focuses on the creation of some Chinese Baptist and Presbyterian village
communities in the prefecture of Chaozhou in Guangdong province. Set in this highly
competitive and violent environment, this study singles out intra-lineage and intra-village
conflicts as a key to understanding the Protestant expansion into the interior. It argues that
Protestant Christianity advanced in some inland areas with a long history of rural violence.
Conversion, especially of an entire lineage segment or a substantial number of villagers, often
followed the pre-existing communal divisions and rivalries. When the American Baptist and
English Presbyterian missions became entngled in the longstanding intra-lineage and intravillage
conflicts, they added a new dimension to the competition. The missionary presence
enabled the local Christians to mobilize external resources to strengthen themselves against
their rivals. Apart from appealing to the missionaries for help, the Christians also took the
initiative to integrate the church into the extensive kinship, lineage and territorial networks. It
was through these networks that the Christians could come together to form a regional church
alliance for mutual support and protection. In this process of church-building and alliancemaking,
the Baptist and Presbyterian communities emerged as some kind of protective
organizations and created a new balance of power in the local politics. This political nature of
the Protestant movements not only fits well with David Faure's characterization of popular
religious activities as "a demonstration of power" but also permits a comparison with Maurice
Freedman and Hugh D. R. Baker's studies of lineage politics in southern China.
This argument is tested against four incidents of collective violence. In the Zhazi (1878)
and Caikou (1898) cases of intra-village disputes, the rival segments split into Christian and
non-Christian factions. When the non-Christian power holders sought to get rid of a handful
of Presbyterian worshippers, the Presbyterians had to rely on the English mission for help. In
the Kuxi (1896) and Liugang (1897) cases of intra-lineage conflicts, the hostile lineage
segments divided into the Baptist and Catholic, as well as the Baptist and Presbyterian camps.
They continued to struggle against each other under the respective covers of the churches. In
all the cases, the Christian communities employed conversion as a political strategy to pursue
their own agendas, which were different from the religious concern of the missionaries. In this
perspective, many incidents of violence involving local Christians should better be understood
in the wider context of communal conflicts in southern China generally, and not just be seenas the results of anti-imperialism, anti-foreignism and cultural antagonism between
Confucianism and Christianity. The violence was in fact the manifestation of factional struggles
which had long predated the arrival of the Baptist and Presbyterian missions.
This research has consulted a wide range of primary sources, ranging from the Baptist
and Presbyterian missionary accounts to the American and British consular correspondence,
and from the Chinese local magistrates' reports to some ethnographic data which was collected
in several Christian villages in 1998. By supplementing the archival materials with the
ethnographic data, this study has been able to probe more deeply into the inner dynamics of the
Christian communities than have many current studies of Chinese Christian movements. It has
also gone beyond the conventional focus on inter-group violence to explore the significance of
intra-group fighting at the grass-roots level.