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Abstract

Watchman Nee (1903-1972) is one the most popular and widely-read Chinese thinkers outside of China. For over half a century, his writings have found widespread circulation in evangelical Protestant circles. Today, indigenous leaders and congregations on all six continents print Nee’s works and practice his teachings. Nee’s acceptance and influence can be explained by his ability to appeal both to his Chinese context and to the developing subculture of transnational evangelicalism. Nee’s work paralleled prevailing trends in secular Chinese ideology: nationalism, romantic love, and religious doubt. At the same time, Nee was deeply steeped in the theology and language of Western Christians like the Plymouth Brethren and Jessie Penn-Lewis. The resultant synthesis Nee propounded proved to be durable and adaptable. It tailored a transcendent mysticism to concrete practices and tightly-knit Christian communities. Throughout his life, Nee was thus able to build a significant following among his contemporary Chinese peers, while also creating a theology that combined familiar devotional tropes in novel ways for non-Chinese audiences.

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