rice Christian

Some terms of Christianese are particularly evocative, and I find rice Christian to be one of those terms. Sadly, in evangelistic efforts, there are occasionally impure motives at play.

People sometimes “receive Christ” for mercenary reasons, like obtaining rice, soup, blankets, or alms. And a few missionaries down through history have resorted to bribery in an effort to tally up converts. I pray that by documenting these terms, I can help people become more aware of how we talk about mission work and evangelism, and hopefully we can avoid making some of the mistakes again.

Take a look at the draft entry for rice Christian below. Do you find anything interesting about it? Maybe in North America we don’t automatically think of “rice” as being something worth feigning a religious conversion for. Could there be a North American equivalent? Is there something people want to have that they’ll pretend to become a Christian in order to obtain it?


curry-and-rice Christian n. Also: *rice-and-curry Christian. A person who pretends to convert to Christianity in order to obtain food or other benefits from the missionaries.
1838 Maitland Letters from Madras, During the Years 1838–1839 (1846) 70 : There are very few natives who are even nominal Christians, and still fewer whom we can reasonably believe to be anything but what is here called “curry-and-rice Christians.” 1857 Drew Memoir of the Late Rev. W. H. Drew 257 : He heard remarks, the burden of which was—“They are only poor pariahs. It is easy getting such converts—curry-and-rice Christians. They have every thing to gain and nothing to lose. There can be little confidence in their sincerity.” 1879 Evangelical Christendom (1 Sep.) 280 : Bishop Sargent described the famine work in Tinnevelly [India], and the subsequent instruction of the people. He said that 14,000 converts had been gathered in, although great care had been used to sift out the “curry and rice Christians.” 1892 Mockler-Ferryman Up the Niger 259 : Southern India is a land where famines unfortunately are not unfrequent, and I am afraid the converts there are in a great measure, as I once heard them described by a clergyman, “curry-and-rice CHristians.” 1969 Edwardes Bound to Exile: The Victorians in India 44 : Among them were the missionaries and their converts—who were usually known by the self-explanatory name of “curry-and-rice Christians.”
famine Christian n. A person who pretends to convert to Christianity in order to obtain food from the missionaries.
The term has been used by those who are critical of missionary work (see citations for 1938 and 1984) as well as by missionaries themselves (see 1901 citation).
See also *rice Christian.
1900 The Missionary Herald at Home and Abroad (Oct.) 411 : Most of these [converts] cannot fairly be called “famine Christians,” for they have no worldly gain to expect from us. And yet they might not have come to us but for the famine. 1901 The Sixth-Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. 155 : The Christian community, including those in the outstations, number 80 at present. Of this number 45 are in the communion of the church, which is a slight falling off from last year, occasionally some of the famine Christians taken in during 1897 renouncing Christianity or rather going back to their heathen friends or ways. 1938 Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts The S.P.G. Story Told to 1938 000 : But they [= potential converts] could not be baptized during the famine, as we did not want them called “famine Christians.” 1984 Mukhopadhyay Mass Education in Benhal, 1882–1914 147 : The missionaries secured a number of converts as a result of their famine relief and life-saving activities, but these converted Christians, popularly known as “Famine Christians,” came mainly from very poor and depressed classes of the society.
loaf-and-fish disciple n. Also: *loaves-and fishes disciple. A person who pretends to convert to Christianity in order to obtain food or other benefits from the missionaries.
The term probably comes from John 6:27: “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (kjv).
See also *famine Christian; *rice Christian.
1855 Quarterly J. Am. Unitarian Assoc. 2/1 (1 Oct.) 63 : He said that the other denominations held out strong temptations, by gratuitous boarding-schools, for instance, to the natives to become “rice-Christians” (loaf-and-fish disciples). 1870 The Sunday at Home vol. 17 : So lessons wore sedulously given on the use of soap and water and other sanitary matters, and new shirts bestowed on the best behaved. This again was a little mistake, and the number of loaf-and-fish disciples again increased.
loaves-and-fishes disciple n. Syn *loaf-and-fish disciple.
1947 Barnett House London Children in War-Time Oxford 9 : Inevitably these attracted a few “loaves and fishes” disciples, but the majority of the people were too self-respecting and independent to become mere scroungers.
rice-and-curry Christian n. Syn *curry-and-rice Christian.
1860 Hough Hist. Christianity in India vol. 5 as quoted in The Christian Observer vol. 60 (Jun. 1861) 426 : Yet, painful as it is to relate, this apparent success melted away after his death, and originated the reproachful epithet often flung at native converts, “rice-and-curry Christians.” 1905 Liberal Rev.: An Organ of the Independent Thinkers of Am. 2/1 (Feb.) 92 : The “rice-and-curry Christian,”—a man who will sell his religion for his stomach’s sake.
rice Christian n. Missions
1. A person who pretends to convert to Christianity in order to obtain food, clothing, money, housing, education, or some other benefit from the missionaries.
The term has been used by those who are critical of missionary work (see citations for 1885, 1886, 1903, 1907, 1911, 2010) as well as by missionaries themselves (see citations for 1913, 1916, 1986, 1995).

Rice Christian is a literal translation of the Portuguese expression Christianos de arroz, which was an insult coined by local non-Christians in Portuguese-influenced areas of East Asia, specifically India and Macao who saw that the poorest and lowest members of society (such as the caste-less people called pariahs) were making professions of faith for the sake of the rice handed out by the missionaries. The Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries operated in India and Southeast Asia from the early-16th century to the mid-17th century, so the term was likely coined during that period.

From India and Macao, this quaint expression spread throughout the Far East, and by the early 18th century had been translated into English. (A similar Portuguese expression coined around the same time, Christianos de pan y mantequilla ‘bread-and-butter Christians,’ never caught on in English apparently.)
By the beginning of the 20th century, the term was being used in Africa (see 1908 citation).
More terms for people who pretend to convert to Christianity are:
*curry-and-rice Christian;
*famine Christian;
*loaf-and-fish disciple (and *loaves-and-fishes disciple);
*mission stiff 3;
*rice-and-curry Christian;
*souper 2;
See also *famine Christian.
1731 Picart The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Several Nations of the Known World: The Ceremonies of the Idolatrous Nations III. 271 : Besides these Mestizos, who are the real posterity of the Portuguese, there are also others who take upon themselves the name of Topas. These are the Parias, of whom mention has already been made. These, whenever they turn christians, immediately wear hats; whereby, from the lowest and most contemptible rank that is among the Indians, they are rais’d at once to the quality of Senhor-Soldad, a dignity of no small consideration among the christians of the country. They are, however, had in the utmost contempt by the rest of the Indians, who know very well, that most of them who embrace the christian religion, are a set of beggarly wretches; for which reason, they give them the name of Christianos d’Aros, that is, Rice-Christians; intimating thereby, that the sole motive of their changin their religion, was in order to procure themselves the necessaries of life with greater ease, and to be sure of having some rice to eat, for we never hear of bread in that country. 1757 Grose Voyage to the East Indies 293 : Many of such were … of the poor sort, who in times of famine, were won over by the Romish priests, who for the purpose watched and relieved their necessities on condition of their conversion…. As for those proselytes to be proverbially known in India by the appellation of Christianos de Arroz, or Rice-christians. 1813 Christian Observer (Jul.) 12/7 416 : Notwithstanding all his power and influence, Mr. Swartz was not able to make any converts to Christianity. He had, it was true, followers in the times of scarcity, drawn from the lowest classes of society, and who were called Rice Christians, because they were fed by him; but as soon as plenty returned, so surely did these persons desert him. 1840 Davis The Chinese: A General Description of China and Its Inhabitants 223 : A few Catholic missionaries still make converts of the lowest and poorest Chinese, who occasionally appear at the churches, and receive, each of them a small donation of rice, for which service they are sometimes called, in Portuguese, “Rice Christians.” 1852 Calcutta Rev. vol. 18 312 : In Calcutta … the epithet “rice Christians” applied to Native Christians was handed down from the Portuguese, who called such persons Christianos de Arroz. 1855 Yvan Six Months Among the Malays, and a Year in China 318,319 : The Macaists give the name of Christâo de arroz (rice-Christians) to certain Chinese families, whose conversion has been traced to interested motives. This singularly original epithet arose from the following circumstances. When the Portuguese first occupied this part of the country, they displayed more zeal than wisdom in offering high rewards for the encouragement of religious fervour; for this purpose, they established a sort of common fund, by means of which, every Chinese who had been baptized, might receive, weekly, a small present of rice; as might be expected, conversions now became so very frequent, on account of the inducement offered, that the poor Macaists were obliged to give up their ruinous plan, and no sooner did the supplies begin to fail, than they began to discover the extreme frailty of the converted; almost all the Chinese returned to their old superstitions, and when the renegades were remonstrated with, and asked how it was that they had abandoned their Christian practices, they quietly replied—“You did not continue to supply us with rice!” … Christâo de arroz, that name being the usual one in Macao for all Christians of doubtful character. 1885 The Agnostic J. and Eclectic Rev. 17/17 (24 Oct.) 265 : In India starving wretches often become Christians for a supply of rice, and are contemptuously referred to by their fellow countrymen as “rice Christians.” 1886 Taylor China’s Millions 121 : The opprobrious epithet, “Rice Christians,” has gained almost universal currency in the East, as expressive of the foreigners’ estimate of the actual results of missionary work. 1896 Brewer Hist. Note-Book : Hindus and Chinese who profess to be converted for the sake of the rice given by the missionaries to converts. Followers of Christ, not for his doctrines, but for the loaves and fishes. 1897 Twain Following the Equator lxv. 652 : Protestant Missionary work is coldly regarded by the commercial white colonist all over the heathen world, as a rule, and its product is nicknamed “rice-Christians” (occupationless incapables who join the church for revenue only). 1903 The Assembly Herald (Jan.) 18 : Consul Goodnow, of Shanghai, though not himself a professing Christian, recently said he would never again call Chinese Christians “rice Christians,” as their conduct under persection had abundantly proved that this term was a slander. 1908 Mullins The Wonderful Story of Uganda 144 : “What type of Christians are they?” “Real and true, I trust. We have not had more than three backsliders that I can remember. Daudi Mbasa, the first convert, refused an important chieftainship and put away a number of wives. He is now a teacher. Our Christians are not ‘rice Christians.’” 1911 Tarbell Tarbell’s Teacher’s Guide to the Intl. Sunday-School Lessons 367 : The Chinese have a scornful name for those of their race who have become Christians—Rice Christians they call them, meaning by the term that the motives of the converts, are purely selfish, that they are professing to be Christians only that they may obtain food at the hands of the missionaries. 1913 Munson Jungle Days: Being the Experiences of an Am. Woman Doctor in India 116 : Frequently in magazines and newspapers appear sarcastic comments on foreign mission work, which intimate that the converts to Christianity are merely “rice Christians,” that is, men who accept Christianity for the worldly benefit they receive by doing so. I admit that many of our converts began as “rice Christians,” but … from a “rice Christian” he becomes as true a follower of Christ as the majority of Westerners reared in the faith. 1929 The Am. Mercury vol. 18 413 : So there arose in teh land a term “rice Christian,” which to this day sounds like leprosy to the missionaries. It designates those Japanese—or Chinese in China—who have embraced Christianity solely for the educational advantages or daily rice that conversion carries with it. Among the Japanese the term is not opprobrious; it is simply a confession of expediency. 1981 Winter, Hawthorne Perspectives on the Christian Movement: A Reader (1st ed.) 750 : Some have justly criticized relief efforts coupled with evangelism for producing “rice Christians.” A “rice Christian” has become a Christian to assure himself and his family of getting a daily dole of food. This is obviously not the best sort of evangelism. 1986 Adams Shepherding God’s Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling, and Leadership 244 : But—and this must be marked well—the pastor ever must be on guard for “rice Christians.” The so-called rice Christian was named this because on the foreign field he made a pseudo profession of faith merely in order to receive the bag of rice that the missionary of former days handed out. 1990 Dobson “Suffering in Solidarity” Third Way (Oct.) 18 : Dr. Silva … does not want to produce “rice Christians”—new converts who join up because of the practical help they are getting. 1995 Hale On Being a Missionary 130 : Missionaries not only harm the national church by criticism; they also harm it by unwise generosity. This leads the church to depend on men instead of on God. It breeds “rice-Christians.” It invites the accusation that missionaries are merely “buying” converts, and that converts are merely out for rice, or a job, or a scholarship. 2010 Rudin Christians and Jews: Faith to Faith 113 : The Japanese who did convert to Christianity were derisively called “rice Christians” by other Japanese.
2. A genuine Christian convert in a part of the world where rice happens to be a staple food.
1798 The Christian Magazine: or, Evangelical Respository (5 Mar.) 143 : I procured a little intelligence respecting the Malays, and … I learn, that at Ceylon there are about 40,000 Rice Christians; and 100,000 of the same tribe at Negapatnam, on the coast of Coromandel.
  • sam

    very interesting

  • tim

    I wonder if there could be a state of affairs in the U.S. where we are concerned about the growing number of X-Box Christians, which are people who convert to Christianity solely for the free X-Boxes that progressive churches are giving away in return for you being baptized…

  • Laurel

    Thanks. It is a term I had never heard before. I think in modern times when some religions require conversion before marrying one of it’s members, or for the community acceptance, or even community safety are still prevalent. Go with God.

  • joshua

    I sometimes use the term ‘social Christian’ to describe people who dont express serious trust in Jesus, but still call themselves Christians for the social benefits it involves. This I’d reckon is the western equivalent of a rice Christian.
    When I told my mother I wanted to be baptised, she asked if the reason I wanted to be baptised was so that I could date a Christian girl. That wasn’t the reason :)