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Lost in the Market, Saved at McDonald's: Conversion to Christianity in Urban China

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Protestant Christianity has been growing very fast in China under communist rule. This article shows that the converts are not all marginalized individuals deprived of material and social resources. An increasing proportion of the converts are well-educated young people in urban China. To explain this conversion to a nontraditional religion, the micro-level factors of individual crisis, individual choices, and personal bonds are inadequate. The meso-level institutional factors of organizational strengths and competitiveness are important, but religious organizations are severely constrained by restrictive regulations in China. I argue that the macro-level contextual factors are very important to understand the phenomenon of large-scale conversion to Christianity in China today. The crucial contextual factors are the increasingly globalized market economy under political repression. Christianity provides peace and certainty in facing wild market forces. The Christian faith is liberating amid a stifling political atmosphere. McDonald's is a prominent symbol of the globalized market, which, like Christianity, is perceived as modern and cosmopolitan within the Chinese context.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Fenggang Yang is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Purdue University, 700 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907., Email:

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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