PhD Thesis

Christianity in a Colonial and Chinese context – The Internal Organisation and External Relations of the Swatow Baptist Church in Hong Kong.

London School of Economics, University of London, 1980

This thesis is a study of several Swatow Baptist churches that serve the Chaozhou ethnic minority in Hong Kong. Ethnographic data are provided by field analysis of the founder church, a dissenting church and a compliant church.

Part One considers church history, structure and external ties. It identifies environmental factors contributing to church expansion and highlights social service and conflict as important aspects of growth. An examination of church organization reveals informal concentrations of power, kinship solidarities, and significant changes in the type of problem facing deaconries. The discussion of the American Baptist missionary work in Hong Kong explores a transformation in relations with the Swatow Baptists and demonstrates marked contrasts with Southern Baptist missionary work. Traditional Baptist ideals, social service and land grants are shown to affect Swatow Baptist-Hong Kong Government relations. The Baptist Association is characterized by the typical attributes of bureaucratic organization and dominated by Cantonese Baptists.

Part Two deals with the wider socio-historical context within which the Swatow Baptist Church has developed. In examining evangelism in the Chaozhou homeland the importance of missionary strategies, traditional religious conceptions, and Baptist morality is stressed. Discussion of evangelism in contemporary Hong Kong centres on religious competition, the urban environment, and the continued importance of traditional morality and belief in ghosts. Attention is also given to the indigenous church ideal and to syncretism.*

Although Hong Kong’s two leading Swatow Baptist churches share a common environment, ethnic constituency, and ecclesiological tradition, they exhibit marked differences in structure and dynamics. Accordingly, the Joint Committee of Swatow Baptist Churches had to be dissolved. It is argued that these contrasting developmental patterns are the result of ambiguities in Baptist traditions, leadership conflicts, and environmental factors. If the two churches were incorporated into the People’s Republic they would probably continue to pursue divergent paths.

* A theme taken up further in a published essay, available in PDF