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Guanxi and Gospel: Conversion to Seventh-day Adventism in Contemporary China

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This article studies the symbiotic relationship between social networks and Christian conversion among some Seventh-day Adventists in contemporary China. Drawing on the Chinese Adventist testimonies, I argue that the longstanding kinship, friendship, and discipleship networks (guanxi 關係) are fundamental to the Adventist conversion process. This extensive web of human relationships helps sustain potential converts’ interest in Christianity, nurture their understanding of Adventism, and reinforce their efforts to cultivate a distinctive Christian selfhood and identity in Adventist terms. These relationships also give meaning to the Adventist congregational practices such as Sabbath observance and healthy lifestyle, insofar as the converts rely on the relational resources of the family and church for support. In addition to the positive connection between social mobility and conversion, these stories reveal the challenge of downward social mobility when the converts are confronted with the tension between adhering to Adventist doctrinal practices and pursuing higher education in secular institutions. Lastly, this study addresses the function of Christian publication in the conversion process. Through the publication of their conversion testimonies, the converts seek to make Adventism easily accessible to ordinary people by showing the relation between Adventist theology and the daily lives of Christians. Résumé Cet article analyse les relations étroites entre conversion au christianisme et réseaux sociaux parmi des adventistes du septième jour en Chine contemporaine. En me basant sur les témoignages d’adventistes chinois, je défends l’idée que les liens familiaux, amicaux et les réseaux de fidèles (guanxi 關係) jouent un rôle fondamental dans le processus de conversion adventiste. Ce réseau étendu de relations sociales permet d’entretenir l’intérêt des potentiels convertis pour le christianisme, il nourrit leur connaissance de l’adventisme et conforte leurs efforts pour construire une identité et un moi chrétiens distinctifs dans les termes définis par l’adventisme. Ces relations donnent aussi un sens aux pratiques ecclésiales adventistes, comme le respect du sabbat ou un mode de vie sain, dans la mesure où les convertis peuvent s’appuyer sur les ressources relationnelles de la famille et de l’église pour trouver un soutien. Ces récits soulignent le lien positif entre mobilité sociale et conversion. Ils montrent aussi que les convertis font face au risque de mobilité sociale descendante, lorsqu’ils se trouvent pris en tension entre leur adhésion aux positions doctrinales de l’adventisme et la poursuite d’études au sein d’institutions séculières. Enfin, cette étude s’intéresse au rôle des publications chrétiennes dans le processus de conversion. A travers la publication de leurs témoignages de conversion, les convertis cherchent à rendre l’adventisme accessible à tout le monde, en montrant la relation entre la théologie adventiste et la vie quotidienne des chrétiens.

Affiliations: 1: Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, USA


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