Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription Access

Conversion of First-Generation Ethnic Chinese Migrants in America: A Critical Social Analysis

Tony Chuang


This paper examines the interplay of the various identities of first-generation migrants in America (i.e. Christian vs. non-Christian, Chinese vs. American) to see how the identities influence their religious journey. Research shows that the hybridized identity shows itself in the migrant’s desire to (at different times) become more Chinese, more American, and more Christian. The paper uses a critical social analysis that looks at historical events, economic forces, demographics, socio-psychological issues, cultural backgrounds, political factors, religious effects, and more. The analysis results in a deeper understanding of both the migrant experience as well as conversion experience for these migrants. Implications are given for continuing evangelistic work for Chinese churches in America, including the relationship of conversion and assimilation and the reconstruction of various socio-religious identities.


Evangelism; Conversion; Assimilation; Chinese; Church; Sociology; America; Identity

Full Text:



Busto, Rudy V. 1996. “The Gospel According to the Model Minority?: Hazarding an Interpretation of Asian American Evangelical College Students.” Amerasia Journal 22 (1): 133–47.

Carnes, Tony, and Fenggang Yang, eds. 2004. Asian American Religions: The Making and Remaking of Borders and Boundaries. New York, NY: NYU Press.

Central Intelligence Agency. 2021. “Countries - The World Factbook.” CIA. March 25, 2021.

Cha, Peter T. 2001. “Ethnic Identity Formation and Participation in Immigrant Churches.” In Korean Americans and Their Religions: Pilgrims and Missionaries from a Different Shore, edited by Ho-Young Kwon, Kwang Chung Kim, and R. Stephen Warner, 141–56. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

Chadwick, William. 2001. Stealing Sheep: The Church’s Hidden Problems of Transfer Growth. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Chai, Karen J. 1998. “Competing for the Second Generation: English-Language Ministry at a Korean Protestant Church.” In Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration, edited by R. Stephen Warner and Judith G. Wittner, 295–331. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Chen, Carolyn. 2005. “A Self of One’s Own: Taiwanese Immigrant Women and Religious Conversion.” Gender & Society 19 (3): 336–57.

———. 2008. Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Chiu, Chui-Liang, Leong H. Liew, and C. L. Chiou, eds. 2000. Uncertain Future: Taiwan-Hong Kong-China Relations After Hong Kong’s Return to Chinese Sovereignty. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

Clark, David. 2003. Urban World/Global City. 2nd ed. London, UK: Routledge.

Collier, Paul. 2015. Exodus: How Migration Is Changing Our World. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Ebaugh, Helen Rose, and Janet Saltzman Chafetz. 2000. Religion and the New Immigrants: Continuities and Adaptations in Immigrant Congregations. 3rd ed. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Foley, Michael W., and Dean R. Hoge. 2007. Religion and the New Immigrants: How Faith Communities Form Our Newest Citizens. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hiebert, Paul G. 1986. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. 17th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Hofstede, Geert, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov. 2010. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

International Monetary Fund. 2020. “World Economic Outlook Database.” International Monetary Fund. October 1, 2020.

Kang, Ezer, John J. Chin, and Elana Behar. 2011. “Faith-Based HIV Care and Prevention in Chinese Immigrant Communities: Rhetoric or Reality?” Journal of Psychology and Theology 39 (3): 268.

Koser, Khalid. 2016. International Migration: A Very Short Introduction. 2nd ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Liao, Yiwu. 2011. God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Marshall, I. Howard. 1978. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Exeter, UK: Paternoster Press.

Muse, Erika A. 2005. The Evangelical Church in Boston’s Chinatown: A Discourse of Language, Gender, and Identity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ng, Kwai Hang. 2002. “Seeking the Christian Tutelage: Agency and Culture in Chinese Immigrants’ Conversion to Christianity.” Sociology of Religion 63 (2): 195–214.

Pew Research Center. 2012. “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths.” Pew Research Center. July 19, 2012.

———. 2015. “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project (blog). September 28, 2015.

Plueddemann, James E. 2009. Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Preston, Peter W. 2016. The Politics of China-Hong Kong Relations: Living With Distant Masters. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Priest, Robert J. 2011. “‘Who Am I?’: Theology and Identity for Children of the Dragon.” In After Imperialism: Christian Identity in China and the Global Evangelical Movement, edited by Robert R. Cook and David W. Pao, 175–92. Studies in Chinese Christianity. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Rambo, Lewis R. 1995. Understanding Religious Conversion. Reprint edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Stein, Robert H. 1992. Luke. Vol. 24. The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Trompenaars, Fons, and Charles Hampden-Turner. 2012. Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2020. “INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION 2020: Highlights.” New York, NY: UNITED NATIONS.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2017. “Census Records.” U.S. Census Bureau. May 17, 2017.

Walls, Andrew F. 2002. “Mission and Migration The Diaspora Factor in Christian History.” Journal of African Christian Thought 5 (2): 3–11.

Wan, Enoch. 2003. “Mission among the Chinese Diaspora: A Case Study of Migration and Mission.” Missiology 31 (1): 35–43.

Warner, R. Stephen, and Judith G. Wittner, eds. 1998. Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Yang, Fenggang. 1999. Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

Yang, Fenggang, and Andrew Abel. 2014. “Sociology of Religious Conversion.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion, edited by Lewis R. Rambo and Charles E. Farhadian, 140–63. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Yu, K. Kale. 2016. “Korea’s Confucian Culture of Learning as a Gateway to Christianity: Protestant Missions in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.” Studies in World Christianity 22 (1): 37–56.

Zhang, Xuefeng. 2006. “How Religious Organizations Influence Chinese Conversion to Evangelical Protestantism in the United States.” Sociology of Religion 67 (2): 149–59.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Witness: The Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education