Church architecture shaping Christianity’s presence in China

Christianity is exerting a growing presence in China not only through proliferating churches but also due to their architectural style and geography, writes Michel Chambon in the journal Studies in World Christianity (July/August). The anthropologist studied the locations and architectural styles of congregations in the city of Nanping and the province of Fujian, an area which reflects the urban-rural makeup of the rest of the country. The churches tend to be built in locations distinct from Buddhist temples and other religious groups in that they are inside residential areas (most temples are on town borders near burial places), on the top of hills (temples are often constructed on the slopes of hills in a concern to follow folk practices of fengshui, “Qi energies,” and geomancy), and decorated with lights while temples’ interior lights are not visible at night. Chambon adds, “Echoing the positioning at the top of hills, there is an overall emphasis on verticality for churches. A tall building, a high tower, a cross on top….” In fact, “Christian prayer hills” are numerous in China, many of them referring to material entities, such as a rock or snake.

Churches tend to be associated with modernity, especially as other religious buildings are becoming more traditional in style. While the tops of mountains are traditionally inauspicious or seen as negative, “Christians use this position, suggesting that their building, like their God, does not depend on occult powers…. Their God does not worry about the Qi of the mountain, the wind of the typhoons, or other worldly powers,” Chambon writes. These churches “speak to Christian and non-Christian…[and] advocate for another kind of religiosity, presence of a specific actor, the Christian God, and encourage a worldview where this God could be the center. They play an active role in the process of making the presence of the Christian God tangible.”

(Studies in World Christianity,