It seems credible to estimate that there are now more than 70 million Christians in China, with a large proportion of them highly educated, said sociologist Rodney Stark (Baylor University, Waco) at the CESNUR conference in Waco, Texas.
Like other scholars interested in the issue of the current state of religion in China, Stark was faced with the uncertainties related to statistics. Figures of 130 million Christians in China are often circulated, sometimes even 200 million, but those are based on no solid evidence. However, it is known that Christian groups officially registered under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) number some 16 million adherents, but such figures include neither the unofficial Catholic parishes, nor the tens of thousands of house churches currently active.
Stark and colleagues estimate that the current number of Chinese Christians is over 70 million, a figure based on a 2007 survey that they then supplemented with more recent research. This means that Christians would currently make more than 5 percent of the Chinese population, i.e. about as many as members of the Chinese Communist Party.
Stark’s data also show that Christianity is spreading more rapidly among the more affluent people. In an article coauthored with Ph.D. student Xiuhua Wang (Baylor University) and recently published this year in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (vol. 10), Stark emphasizes the impact of Christianity and rates of conversion to the appeal of the religion among Chinese students. More educated Chinese are more likely to become Christians, although the least-educated people are the second group most likely to convert.
Educated converts tend to associate Christianity with Western modernity. Moreover, the authors note that in several other Asian countries, college-educated people are also more likely than less educated people to be Christians, while the more educated they are, the less likely they will be Buddhists. There are strong variations in the percentages of adherents of each religion from one country to another, but the same pattern in China is found among Christians in South Korea (36 percent), Hong Kong (22 percent), Singapore (18 percent), Taiwan (7 percent) and Japan (3 percent), “in all six of these Asian nations, it is the more-educated who are most likely to have become Christians.”
(Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, http://www.religjournal.com.)