Compiled by Michael Nai Chiu Poon
Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Trinity Theological College, Singapore
Strictly for personal and academic use (Updated 05 June, 2006)
Sheng Kung Hui (Sheng Gong Hui), literally 'Holy Catholic Catholic Church', founded in April 1912, was the church formed by the coming together of churches pioneered by Anglican missions in China in the 19th and 20th century. Sheng Kung Hui General Synod met ten times between 1922 to 1949; it was only in the Tenth General Synod in 1949 that it finally resolved to set up a National Office and a Central Theological College in Shanghai. The effort was however too late and too meager. The Church was caught up with the political upheavals in the time. After the founding of the new People's Republic, Sheng Kung Hui was never formally dissolved. The last time the bishops formally met was in 1956. See the Pastoral Letter below.
The history of Sheng Kung Hui offered an important lesson in how Anglican missionaries from Britain, America, and later Canada attempted and failed to establish a church in China that was rooted in its cultural and social contexts. The failure to do so is due, not so much to the political changes in 1949, but to the unimaginative mentality that foreign mission boards could bankroll the 'daughter' church in China.
Sheng Kung Hui was problematic to the Communion from the start, and provided the first opportunities for Anglicans to deal with issues initiated by member churches outside the British Empire. It was not until 1930 when the 'mother churches' in Britain, Canada and the United States formally recognised Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui in the Lambeth Conference. Bishop Ronald Owen Hall's decision to ordain Florence Li in 1944 (now ideologically correct!) provoked an uproar in the Church of England that led Florence Li to rescind her priestly office to quiet the storm. However, I believe that the deeper lessons of Sheng Kung Hui remain yet untold. The church in China offered a new paradigm of how Christian communities lived and witnessed in a world that was not informed by the capitalistic dream in the 'Wealth of the Nations'. The best reflections from these 'Anglicans in China' -- whether missionaries and local -- occurred during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s to 40s, and in the course of the mission initiatives among the Chinese clergy to form a Missionary Diocese in Shanxi -- an area of abject poverty and hotbed for political revolutionaries -- in the 1920s and 1930s, a diocese that was meant to be completely funded and pioneered by Chinese. Those experiences led some of the best minds among the Chinese Anglicans to see firsthand the moral bankruptcy of the ruling Guomingdang, and regard the Communists as providing a hope for the nation (See e.g. the stories of Rev. Dong Jianwu and Rev. Pu Huaren [see his testimony below shortly before he left for the mission to Xi'an, Shanxi.], both from Saint John's University, Shanghai). Bishop R O Hall's support to the revolutionaries during wartime was openly acknowledged and appreciated by Bishop Shen Yifan and the Church in China today. The contributions of Chinese Anglicans towards the birth of the new China in 1949 were a story that still needs to be unraveled. The tragedies of these sensitive Chinese Anglicans revealed how difficult it was to envisage Christianity outside of the values of the western world. The future of Christianity would surely be very bleak if we have not learnt from this failure.
Anglicans in the west today would do well to rediscover a vision of a truly ecumenical church that is woven with different histories, cultures, languages, and political experiences. These sets of documents are posted here to further this purpose.
Readers may wish to refer to my article Prayer Book Translation and the Birth of Sheng Kung Hui (¹«µ»ÊéµÄ·ÒëÓëÊ¥¹«»áÃüÃûµÄÀúÊ·¹ØÏµ) as a introduction towards understanding 'the Holy Catholic Church in China' and the significance of the name 'Sheng Kung Hui'.
Singapore, the Feast of Thomas Cranmer, 21 March 2006