UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Migration, religious conversion, and transnational activism : a Vancouver Chinese church's quest to change China Tan, Joshua


Exile or migration, and religious conversion, are two powerful impetuses for people disillusioned with existing regimes to improve their predicament and find new sources of meaning and purpose. Whereas both the study of overseas Chinese, as well as religion in modern China, have flourished since China's era of reform and opening— alongside growing religions practice and reinvigorated transnational networks— scholarship in both fields has paid insufficient attention to transnational Chinese communities drawn along religious lines, and their potency to mobilize for activist causes in China. This thesis draws attention to the confluence of migration, religious conversion, and transnational activism to “change China” among a generation of intellectuals who exited China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. Taking as case study a Vancouver Chinese church which grew commensurate with mainland Chinese migrations to Vancouver since the early 1990s, this thesis argues that that conversion to Christianity among members of this congregation enacted a change in self-identify from “migrant” to “self-exile,” a transformation embodied by its activist-turned-pastor. However, despite their remaining abroad and eschewing complicity with an unjust Communist regime in China, they remain intimately concerned with Chinese politics and seek to enact change in China through performative solidarity with “persecuted” Christian groups in China.

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