Any tour of the modern world’s Seven Religious Wonders would include a stop on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. Here since 2005 has stood a colossal statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. The figure astounds not just by its sheer size—it is 354 feet high—but by the mere fact of its creation: it was commissioned and funded by a Chinese communist government long bitterly opposed to religion of every stripe. The statue of Guanyin is an object lesson in the new China’s radically changed attitude to faith—but also a warning to Christians who place their hopes in any future mass conversions in that vast country.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.