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 teaches at Penn State and is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He is the author of The Great and Holy War and The Many Faces of Christ.