A blessing from heaven?
While copy-editing my new book on China's religious revival, I came across this photo in my files of a 2011 trip I took to the heart of underground Christianity in Xinyang. I'm in a house church run by the pastor and historian Zhang Yinan.
Xinyang was also an epicenter of the worst recorded famine in history, which killed about 35 million people between 1958 and 1961. I asked Zhang about this--the massive destruction, broken social structures, dislocation, and so on--and he said that it really had been terrible. Corpses had lined the roads but people had mainly just died at home, silently, because travel was a crime.
But for Christianity, it had been a blessing in disguise. With traditional structures eliminated, Christianity could take off in the Cultural Revolution and the decades afterwards. As I recount in my forthcoming book "The Souls of China," Zhang told me:
"They destroyed almost all the temples and Confucianism was destroyed too," Zhang said to me. "It was a blessing from heaven."