Launch of “China’s Christian Historical Database” digital tool

On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University launched and presented the first version of the China Historical Christian Database (CHCD) via a zoom meeting.

Contributed to the joint efforts of more than 30 scholars, assistants and a number of global institutes, CHCD is a digital tool that quantifies and visualizes the place of Christianity in modern China (1550-1950).

According to the project’s introduction, it “provides users with the tools to discover where every Christian church, school, hospital, orphanage, publishing house, etc. were located in China, and it documents who worked inside of these buildings, both foreign and Chinese. Collectively, this information creates spatial maps and generates relational webs that reveal where, when, and how Western ideas, technologies, and practices entered China. Simultaneously, it reveals how and by whom Chinese ideas, technologies and practices were transmitted to the West.

Joined by around 100 attendees, the virtual launch featured the project’s three principal investigators – Eugenio Menegon, Daryl Ireland and Alex Mayfield.

Eugenio Menegon, an associate professor of Chinese history at Boston University, said the database focuses on Christianity in the geographic area of ​​China as it is defined today, including Taiwan and Hong Kong. Kong, over a period of 400 years between 1550 and 1950.

Alex Mayfield, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Global Christianity and Mission, explained that the project began in Professor Menegon’s course when exploring digital humanity tool sets. The archives and recordings of several languages ​​provided by the partner institutes have been unearthed, cleaned and analyzed to develop this digital tool.

“Our main goal was to create through interface and technology, so that we could increase digital literacy, and people could truly understand and visualize the history of Christianity in China, a history that is unfortunately often hidden from view. many people around the world,” says Mayfield. The site is free, open and accessible to all, without prior registration.

Daryl Ireland then showed how this open source database provides insight into institutions, places and individuals involved with Christianity in China. The associate director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission demonstrated that users can search for “people”, “institutions” or “events” in the “map” tab to see their number, location, current time and other information displayed on the map. Using a “heat map”, users can also see the density of searched objects.

Director Ireland explained that this database was intended to show spatial and relational information, rather than a biographical introduction. By clicking on each entity, basic information such as Western name and/or Chinese name, religious family, category and start year are displayed, while the other boxes, personal/institutional relationships and Corporate connections allow users to further explore the network, which could provide unusual insight into the life of a missionary in China.

To use this tool wisely, Director Ireland has recommended that users refer to the “documentation” tab to understand what data has been collected for each category. “If you look at this, you will quickly realize that there will be some things you can do with our data, and some things you can’t. For example, we record when someone has arrived in China and when someone has left. So you can make a comparison between men and women: how long did the men stay in China versus how long did the women stay in China? You can’t do that with the interface because we didn’t design it for that, but you can download the data and analyze it.

The team was still working on expanding and optimizing the project, the lead researchers said. The website has interfaces in Chinese (simplified/traditional), but the Chinese search engine is rather limited at the moment and therefore should be improved. The investigators also suggested that they hoped to obtain more data on Christians and Chinese organizations, so that the current tilt towards Western missionaries could be corrected.

Inevitably, the website may contain errors, source errors and incomplete data. The team encourages users to contact them through the website to report errors and suggest data sources.

Launch of “China’s Christian Historical Database” digital tool