The story of how the Lisu of southwest China were evangelized one hundred years ago by the China Inland Mission is a familiar one in mission circles. The subsequent history of the Lisu church, however, is much less well known. Songs of the Lisu Hills: Practicing Christianity in Southwest China (Penn State University Press, 2020) brings this history up to date, recounting the unlikely story of how the Lisu maintained their faith through twenty-two years of government persecution and illuminating how Lisu Christians transformed the text-based religion brought by the missionaries into a faith centered around an embodied set of Christian practices.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork as well as archival research, this volume documents the development of Lisu Christianity, both through larger social forces and through the stories of individual believers. It explores how the Lisu, most of whom remain subsistence farmers, have oriented their faith less around cognitive notions of belief and more around participation in a rhythm of shared Christian practices, such as line dancing, attending church and festivals, evangelizing, working in one another’s fields, and singing translated Western hymns. These embodied practices demonstrate how Christianity developed in the mountainous margins of the world’s largest atheist state.
A much-needed expansion of the Lisu story into a complex study of the evolution of a world Christian community, this book will appeal to scholars working at the intersections of World Christianity, anthropology of religion, ethnography, Chinese Christianity, and mission studies.
Byung Ho Choi is a Ph.D. student in the Department of History & Ecumenics, focusing on World Christianity and history of religions at Princeton Theological Seminary. His research interest lies in Indonesia and the Muslim dominant regions of Southeast Asia, from the postcolonial approach to Christianity and the coexistence of various religions, including the study of Christianity and the Islamic faith in a Muslim dominant society that includes challenges of ethnic diversity.
Briana Wong is Visiting Assistant Professor of World Christianity and Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Her interests include Christianity in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.