Until now, scholars have remembered the story of Chinese revivalist John Song (Song Shangjie) primarily in the form of variations on a single theme: that of Song’s dramatic encounter with Jesus and resultant conversion experience while a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York, of his facing discrimination under modernist professors who lured him into a mental institution, and of his returning to China to propagate a fundamentalist expression of Christianity through his influential revivals. Daryl Ireland, in John Song: Modern Chinese Christianity and the Making of a New Man, draws on previously unreleased archival material to promote a different version of the story: one featuring Song’s repeated revising of his own faith testimony. Ireland makes the case that Song’s continual reinvention of himself corresponded to the cultural movement in twentieth-century China centered on renewal on both the national and individual levels.

The introduction, subtitled “The Quest to...

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