Official state discourse on Chinese history often conflates Christianity as a “foreign religion” and connected with Western imperialistic endeavors. Yet in recent years, Chinese Christian history is proving to be increasingly valuable, particularly at the local level where many municipal museums exhibit regional Christian history. The foreign connections to Chinese Christian history now being valued is quite paradoxical and raises important questions regarding how museum displays of Christian history fit in and negotiate with official historical narratives.
While this phenomenon is occurring throughout China, this paper focuses on two case studies: the history of the Chefoo School (China Inland Mission) has recently been featured in the Yantai Municipal Museum in Shandong; and the history and legacy of the Longheu Girls’ School (Basel Mission) in Shenzhen are now rediscovered and promoted through exhibitions and online articles. By examining what parts of the Christian history are presented and how they are highlighted in museums, this paper argues that the international dimensions to displays of Chinese Christian history raise important issues related to the current campaign to “Sinicize” Chinese Christianity. Local museums tend to present Christian history and missionary legacy in a favorable light. International historical connections make Chinese Christianity especially palatable for museum displays. The materials from this history, including objects such as old photographs, Bibles, hymnals, school uniforms, and even furniture from mission compounds, lend themselves to attractive displays of local history. These exhibits of local Christian history form alternative narratives that compete with official, national-level portrayals of foreign religion.