Between 1919 and 1949, posters were the most common Christian visual imagery in China. They were printed by the millions and hung in tea rooms, on city walls, and on temple gates. Posters were put up in houses and churches; they were unfolded for street evangelism. They were extremely popular because they were aesthetically pleasing and symbolically rich, yet easy to understand. Unlike theological treatises written by Chinese theologians, these images were designed by laypeople and intended for popular consumption.
On April 26, 2023, in partnership with The US-China Catholic Association and China Academic Consortium, ChinaSource hosted a lecture by Dr. Daryl Ireland of Boston University in which he showcased some of the 700 Chinese Protestant and Catholic posters he has located and explained why they are changing the way we think about Chinese Christianity. The event was held at the Barrows Auditorium at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Hall. I had the honor of being the event facilitator.
He started off by reminding us that “archives are dangerous places” because of their tendency to upend what we think we know about historical events. The 700 posters that he and his team have studied challenge what we have long thought about Christianity in China in the early 20th Century.
In his talk, Dr. Ireland showed how a collection of posters calls us to rethink Christianity in China in five arenas:
- Christians and Chinese Politics
- Fundamentalism and Modernism
- Catholic Contradictions
- Christian Innovation and Popular Culture
- Popular Chinese Theology
Following his presentation, the audience had a chance to ask questions.
The full event is on the ChinaSource YouTube channel.
It’s a fascinating lecture.
Dr. Ireland’s book about these posters, Visions of Salvation: Chinese Christian Posters in an Age of Revolution is available on Amazon.
You can read a review of the book at ChinaSource here.
note: this is an edited version of a post that was first published at ChinaSource.