John Sung: Christian revitalization in China and Southeast Asia
Ireland, Daryl R.
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This dissertation examines the powerful vortex of John Sung's revivals in China and Southeast Asia, which directly influenced ten percent of all Chinese Protestants by the end of the 1930s. It begins in 1926 with his decision to pursue theological education in the United States, and ends with his physical collapse in 1940. But the work is not focused on biographical details; it is primarily concerned with how Sung's ministry evolved. Contrary to the numerous biographies on Sung that circulate in multiple languages, he did not return to China as a newly born-again believer enthusiastic to call the nation to repentance. Instead, this work demonstrates that Sung first floundered in China, spending several years piecing together his conversion narrative, and he adopted the revivalism that made him famous only after joining the Shanghai Bethel Mission in 1931. Once those pieces fit together, however, Sung became the preeminent Chinese evangelist of the twentieth century. The dissertation uses archival material and unrestricted access to Sung's own diaries not only to reconstruct the transformations within Sung's ministry, but also to make new dimensions of his work accessible. Particular attention is given to class, women, and divine healing. Sung's revivals appealed to the xiaoshimin, or China's petty urbanites, who sought a modern spirituality that befit their urban lives, yet wanted a religious system that addressed their traditional concerns. Women appeared at Sung's revivals in disproportionate numbers, because in China and Southeast Asia revivalism and modernity fueled one another, and women could use that combustible mix to cast new places for themselves in local societies--even if it meant challenging Sung's own perception of women. Sung's practice of healing, derived from the holiness movement, temporarily challenged China's medical pluralism, before eventually becoming part of it. Analysis of Sung's ministry suggests that revivalism was a powerful tool for personal and social revitalization. Through it, Sung not only rebuilt his own life and ministry, but he also used revivalism to recreate a distinctively Chinese spirituality, though now Christianized and expressed in ways appropriate to China and Southeast Asia's modernizing cities.