In 1949 the number of Christians in the newly communist nation was estimated at just one million. But by 2010, according to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, that number had skyrocketed to more than 58 million Protestants alone, compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, two traditionally Christian nations.
Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule, predicted recently that “China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.” Yang, considered one of the leading experts on faith and religion in China, said that China's Protestant population is set to swell to some 160 million, putting it ahead of the United States, whose Protestant population topped out at around 159 million a few years ago, but which has reportedly been declining as of late.
By 2030, the total number of both Protestant and Catholic Christians in officially atheist Red China could exceed 247 million, putting it ahead of Mexico, Brazil, and the United States as the most Christian nation in the world, predicted Yang.
He said that while China under Chairman Mao brutally repressed Christianity, after Mao's death in 1976 churches slowly began to reopen — most of them underground and off the official radar. “Mao thought he could eliminate religion,” Yang told The Telegraph newspaper (U.K.). “He thought he had accomplished this. It's ironic — they [China's communist regime] didn't. They actually failed completely.”
The Telegraph noted that today across China, “congregations are booming and more Chinese are thought to attend Sunday services each week than do Christians across the whole of Europe.”
In addition to the many Protestant congregations which are sanctioned under the Chinese government's Three-Self Patriotic Movement, there are tens of millions of additional Chinese individuals and families who have opted to worship in the nation's underground churches, an illegal but growing movement that the Beijing government has spent the past nearly four decades trying in vain to eradicate.
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