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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Creating Emergent Futures in Chinese Communities
1: "When the Police Come Knocking": Chinese Christianity and the Futurity of Conversion
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Whitman College, United States
As incidents of police crackdowns on illegal or unregistered Christian activities have intensified in China since the mid-2010s, so too have police encounters emerged as productive sites through which Christian groups construct imaginations of conversion and futurity. This paper examines the encounter between police and underground Christians in China as a site of meaning- and future-making. Rather than simply understanding crackdowns as spectacles of violent state suppression, I ask the following: How do police animate Christian imaginations of conversion? How does contact with police become ritualized and co-constituted by Chinese Christians as a site of meaningful exchange? What is produced and transacted in these manifestations of police violence and state power over religion? I explore these dimensions by looking at the different ways in which Chinese Christians represent the police encounter and incorporate it into larger spiritual and moral imaginaries. First, I examine the open letter that inspired this piece — Pastor Wang Yi’s “When The Police Come Knocking,” addressed to underground churches — and follow up with ethnographic examples from my fieldwork with an unregistered Christian church in Nanjing. These examples demonstrate how underground churches produce new futures from threats of closure and incarceration.