Christianity is helping power Chinese economy, says study

A cross being removed from Yahui Church in Wenzhou City, China.ICC video screenshot

Christianity is helping to drive economic growth in China, according to a new study – and clamping down on it makes no sense, says an expert in religion and business.

In an article for the First Things website, Brian J Grim, founder and president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, cites a study in the China Economic Review by Qunyong Wang (Nankai University, Tianjin) and Xinyu Lin (Renmin University of China, Beijing).

In spite of its official atheist regime, China contains the world's second largest religious population after India, with large Christian, Muslim and Buddhist cohorts. After analysing data from different provinces, Wang and Lin concluded: "Our results reveal that, among the different religions, Christianity has the most significant effect on economic growth."

The study says that Christian congregations and institutions account for 16.8 percent of all religious institutions, more than three times larger than the proportion of Christians in the general population, which is around five per cent.

While the safety net provided for their adherents by these institutions and the benefits gained by serving and public spaces are one factor, Wang and Lin also say that Chinese Christianity's social doctrines may also have an economic impact. They point out that Christian ethics emphasise the overall development of human beings, not just economic development; so, for instance, the belief in accountability to God and other believers might curb illicit or wild speculation.

Wang and Lin conclude that the implication is not for the country to favour one faith above another, but to "build a better-informed economics, and in the long run, better policy".

Grim said: "One clear implication is that the government policy of highly restricting religion ... must be reconsidered." He instanced church demolitions in Wenzhou, where local authorities were clamping down on Christians. "Such restrictive policies may undermine an important source of China's economic success," he continued. "Just as China has radically deregulated its economy with successful outcomes, further deregulation of religion would be one way to keep China's economic miracle alive for decades to come."