Protestant Funerals in Contemporary Xiamen: Change, Resistance, and Proselytizing in Urban China

H.A. Colijn

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Following its designation as a Special Economic Zone in 1980, the Chinese island city of Xiamen has once again become an affluent urban center. This paper explores recent changes in discourse and practice in Xiamen’s historic Protestant community, focusing on funerals and how they could become major platforms for proselytizing. Based on data derived from interviews, participant observation, and documents issued by secular or religious authorities, four key processes are identified. First, urban modernization policies of the local state have outlawed—but not quite eradicated—cherished funeral rites like lighting firecrackers and holding funeral marches accompanied by brass bands. Second, modernization efforts by Xiamen’s church leadership have reduced the prevalence of sackcloth and led to changes in services in funeral parlors. Third, large-scale immigration established Mandarin as the dominant language and gave rise to so-called Protestant funeral groups, whose charity work is focused on proselytizing among bereaved families. Fourth, the increasing human and financial resources of Protestants in Xiamen facilitate the mobility of large funeral groups and their use of items such as decorative crosses, musical instruments, and songbooks. The paper concludes that change, resistance to change, and proselytizing at funerals can provide insights for the study of Protestant Christians and their ritual events in China’s burgeoning urban societies.
Original languageEnglish
Journal Review of Religion and Chinese Society
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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