China has been looming large in my imagination of late. The Middle Kingdom, as it was called by the ancient emperors, has been in my brain ever since the transfer of control of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom back to China. This massive country of over a billion inhabitants has been the topic of political and economic angst and opportunity seeking. It has also been the locus of an explosion of Christianity in the underground house church movement. The nation has deep roots going back just as far as our Greco-roman and Mesopotamian roots. It is big and complex and baffles the mind.
Last week’s Economist featured a cover story on “America’s Fear of China”. But the article that caught my eye was a little one-pager titled “Confucius makes a comeback.” Apparently during Chairman Mao’s tenure, Confucian studies were almost wiped out. Mao’s goal in his cultural revolution was to clean the map, to obliterate any memory of the mythic past and found society anew in the soil of Marxist revolution.
Funny how these cultural purges never seem to work. Mao felled the tree, but he didn’t eradicate the stump, and now new shoots of Confucian thought are growing quickly. The article talks about Yu Dan’s summary of Confucian thought – it sold 4 million copies already. Confucian studies programs are cropping up all over China. Even top Communist Party Officials are subtly incorporating Confucian language into their slogans and speeches. “The relevance of Confucian ideas to modern China is obvious,” states the article, “Confucianism emphasizes order, balance, and harmony. It teaches respect for authority and concern for others.” The article goes on to wrestle with whether this development will assist the Party in shoring up it’s bankrupt ideological base.
Of greater concern to me is the missiological perspective. While Christianity is exploding in China, it only accounts for a fraction of the total population. Thousands of Chineese students trek from their homeland to study here in the US. These students present a grand opportunity for us to demonstrate the love of Christ through hospitality and openness. Our church has been involved with International Friendships here at the University of Cincinnati, and the great majority of students touched by that ministry are Chineese.
It seems that it would be wise for us to raise our cultural awareness of China for many reasons – it is a rising economic power with which we must do business, it is a formidable political force in the world, but also for the missiological reason of sharing the good news of Christ with students who come to our country. Raising cultural awareness is a bit more than reading the Chineese zodiac placemat while you wait on your order of Moo Goo Gai Pan; it requires more effort than watching Mulan with your children. Perhaps we all need to read a little Confucius; perhaps some of us need to open our homes to some Chineese students and ask them lots of questions about home. Perhaps we should pray for the ingathering of Chineese peoples to Christ “the banner for the nations.” (Isaiah 11:10-12)
Soli Deo Gloria
PS -- a genuine unofficial Eagle and Child No-prize to the first person who correctly identifies the song from which the title to this post is quoted (and also the artist).